Living With the Shame
About the Guest
Seventy percent of abuse victims are abused before the age of 17. Such was the case for Bill Harbeck. Bill explains why he didn't tell anyone about the abuse, even though he desperately wanted to, and the shame associated with it.
Bill HarbeckBill Harbeck is a thirty year veteran of Christian Education. In that period he taught many grades through college, administrated as principal, and coached boys and girls at all levels. He has a passion to see that children and adults wounded by abuse hear a message of hope. He shares his story across the country encouraging the wounded to come out from the shadows and face the lies they have come to believe.
Seventy percent of abuse victims are abused before the age of 17.
Living With the Shame
Bob: Bill Harbeck was a victim of childhood sexual abuse as he was growing up; and as is the case with most abusers and their victims, Bill’s abuser was a relative, his uncle.
Bill: He was the type of man who was the life of the party; constantly joking—always had ten jokes. Everybody wanted to be around him. He was tickling people. He was a fun person. The amazing thing was that he promised me, probably at 18 or 19, that if I ever had a girlfriend and got married, he would never touch me again after that. So marriage became my “out.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, November 8th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Bill Harbeck joins us today and shares about the impact that his childhood sexual abuse had on every aspect of his marriage relationship. Stay with us.
Bob: And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We are hearing a story this week, Dennis, that, as you said earlier, is probably a story that parents will want to use some discretion about as to whether their children ought to be tuned in to what we’re talking about.
It’s a story that involves a young man growing up in an idyllic, suburban USA neighborhood who was groomed and preyed upon by a relative—in this case an uncle—who used the bait of high-thrill activities. “Let’s go to the Indy 500,” or, “Let’s go drive fast cars,” or, “Let’s go do things that other kids your age can’t do.” He used that as a lure to involve this young man in a sexual relationship. He preyed upon him as a sexual predator, and that continued for seven years.
Dennis: Yes, and I just think our guest on the broadcast today is heroic to step up, tell the story, put it in print, and then turn his life toward a ministry of helping those who have been sexually abused. Bill Harbeck joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Bill, welcome back.
Bill: Thank you. So good to be with you again.
Dennis: Bill is the Executive Director of Holding on to Hope Ministries. Explain what that ministry does a bit, Bill, because you’ve really dedicated yourself toward taking the harm that was done to you and bringing help to other people.
Bill: We have a three-pronged approach. We expose the prevalence. We train anyone that’s interested in helping a survivor; and then, we have a portion of the ministry that provides healing for survivors through retreats, through counseling, and through one-on-one ministry.
Dennis: You mentioned prevalence.
Dennis: Share with our listeners what you shared with us just before we came into the studio about the number of victims that are preyed upon by a sexual predator.
Bill: The average pedophile, I believe, has over 400 victims.
Dennis: In a lifetime?
Bill: In a lifetime.
Bob: And most of the time it’s a family member who’s involved?
Bill: Most of the time. Only 10 percent of the time would it be a stranger or what we would kind of think of as a sex offender that comes into the park. That’s not the case. This is a trusted family member, coach, doctor, dentist, lawyer, Sunday school teacher. Those are the abusers, unfortunately.
Bob: And, of course, in the news we hear about clergy involvement in this. There is some kind of a trust relationship that is the bond—it is where it all begins. I’m thinking, as a parent, “Well, I want my kids to grow up with other adults investing in their lives; but I’ve got to be wise in this culture about what that looks like.”
Dennis: Yes. One question I wanted to ask you around that, “When it comes to boys, are they generally preyed upon by men, or are they preyed upon by women?”
Bill: Mostly men. Occasionally, you’ll find and see in the news media where a teacher in a school has molested a boy. There’s a double standard that’s being kept there; so you don’t see that as much. Typically, for boys, they’ve been preyed upon by an older man.
Dennis: As Bob shared at the beginning of the broadcast, this was taking place throughout your teenage years. It started when you were 13 or 14 and continued on until you were 20. When you were going through high school—I mean, we all have buddies—did you ever think about talking to a buddy and saying, “You know, this is taking place. Let me just tell you what’s going on here.”
Bill: It never crossed my mind. My best friend down the street—literally, we were inseparable; together all the time. When I finally disclosed it, he was the first one to call me when he heard. He goes, “I cannot believe you kept that from me all those years.”
Dennis: Help a listener understand why—why secrecy and silence becomes safe.
Bill: This is all rooted in shame. The Enemy makes it very clear that, “You’re the problem. This is your fault. Now that it has happened, you are disgusting. No one out there would even want to be associated with you. No one would want to be your friend.”
So there’s the great fear that exposure would—then I would lose my best friend. I would lose the family. They would not want me anymore. I couldn’t possibly tell them. So I keep it a secret.
Bob: During your teen years, you were spending weekends with your uncle in a variety of settings. You’d go down to his house or the two of you would go off and do something together. As far as you knew, you and he had this special relationship. You learned later that he was preying, not just on you, but on other young men?
Bill: You know, that—as counterintuitive as this sounds—I was hurt by that. When I found out, I was hurt for my fellow cousins; but, “I wasn’t the only one? He told me I was his favorite. He told me that I was the one.” When I found that out—that I was just one of many—that was very hard in the healing process.
Bob: You didn’t find that out until you brought your story to light. At that point, others who had kept the same secret you’d kept for years, they started to speak up; right?
Bill: Yes. A couple of them and I have met personally to sit down and discuss our own journeys. Unfortunately, several of my relatives just haven’t been able to progress past some of those very painful moments.
Dennis: At one point, you tried to actually count the number of times you were molested. What happened with that count?
Bill: I gave up. There were a lot of times I couldn’t even remember being away certain weekends. I finally thought, “I don’t know how many times it was.”
Dennis: Ten? Twenty? Thirty times?
Bill: Oh, no. It’s well in to the hundreds.
Dennis: We’re talking about a relative who completely did evil to a young man, a boy, growing up.
Dennis: Emotionally, today, talking about that—it’s been how many years ago?
Bill: Since it began? Forty.
Dennis: What’s going on inside of you at this moment?
Bill: There’s the pain, but it’s not the pain that I remember early when I began the healing journey. There’s a sense of relief at the same time. But it’s hard to describe; it is hard to even put into words. I’m feeling numb.
Dennis: What about your feelings toward your uncle?
Bill: (Deep breath) At this moment, I have resolved the fact that my uncle had chosen a pathway that was wrong and evil.
Bob: When you got married, that was a turning point in terms of your sexual abuse.
You were not spending time with your uncle any more. Did you ever see him at family functions? Was there any ongoing contact?
Bill: There was between him and my wife. Again, he was part of a very close-knit family. So, yes, it was very awkward for me in those situations. Yet, I behaved the way I always had—all of the time growing up—so nobody even picked up on it.
Bob: You just put on the, “Okay, here’s how I have to act in this environment; I’ll do it; I’ll get through it and be done.”
Bill: Yes. What worried me most was when my children were born, especially my son. I kept a pretty vigilant watch on him and did not allow him in situations with adults alone. I was pretty diligent about keeping an eye on that.
Dennis: Your wife had no idea this had taken place. We’ll talk more about that later. But you said your uncle had a relationship with your wife. What was that like? How did he relate to her? Were you ever afraid he was trying to seduce her?
Bill: No. He was the type of man who was the life of the party; constantly joking—always had ten jokes. Everybody wanted to be around him. He was tickling people. It was just—he was a fun person. So he was the same way with my wife. He would kid her and tell jokes. There was never anything physical that I worried about in that situation because they were not going to be alone.
The amazing thing was that he promised me, probably at 18 or 19, that if I ever had a girlfriend and got married, he would never touch me again after that. So marriage became my “out.”
Bob: It was your wife who proposed to you; right?
Bob: Tell us that story.
Bill: I met her when I was ten years old. So we grew up in the church together as church kids. I just slowly became attracted to her because she is a very outgoing person and tried desperately to draw everything out of me. I clammed up when this abuse started and became a very quiet, to-myself person. I didn’t want to be around people. She saw that as a challenge, “I’m going to get you to talk.” I thought, “Go ahead.”
This was great because she wanted to do all the talking, and I could just listen. This was perfect. This was fitting into the plan. We were at the lake on a summer day, and she was explaining on paper what it would cost if the two of us ever got married. I was in college. She said, “I’m a year older than you. I have my nursing degree. I will go to work. So would you like to marry me?”
“Sure! Sounds great to me. Let’s do it!”
Bob: Was there any part of you thinking, “Yes, I want to marry you because that will be the end of my abuse.”
Dennis: Now, wait a second. How long had you dated at this point?
Bill: It’s got to be four years at this point.
Bill: Because we grew up together in the church—so we had been to banquets together, and we went roller skating together. We were a couple.
Bob: Let me just ask you, “You’re adolescents—are you holding hands with her? Making out with her? Doing any of that?”
Bill: Sure! Oh, absolutely, by the time I was 17; but again, I was conflicted because now I am with a girl. All I knew about sex was with this man—so it was very, very confusing.
Dennis: One other thing that was also taking place during your teenage years—that you wrote about—was pornography.
Dennis: Talk about how you were introduced to pornography and how that impacted you.
Bill: It was a friend at school. We were by the lockers. He handed me a folder and goes, “Here, take this home. You’re going to love it!” I didn’t think anything of it. I got just outside the school building and opened it up and there was a whole package of pornographic pictures. I had never seen that before.
So, when I got back to him, I said, “What was that?” He said, “Oh, I’ve got all the stuff you want. I’ll be happy to get you whatever you want, whenever.” Well, that kind of fed into the secrecy thing.
I went to work in a post office; and wouldn’t you know the post office sends through pornographic magazines in the early ‘70s in a paper wrapper. That’s pretty easy access. So, as a postal deliverer, you had access to all of those magazines that were going out. That started me down the road, which led to the ‘80s and the VCRs, and the internet. All of that became a huge issue for me because, again, of the attraction. This was now what I knew of sex—just what you see.
Bob: So, with this as your background—seven years of abuse—introduced to pornography; feeding on that—you grew up in the church—you’re marrying the music minister’s daughter. You guys are starting off on the perfect Christian family—
Bill: Yes, it was going to be. Well, we were going to be the model in the community, in my mind.
Bob: Given that background, what were the toxic things that began to ooze out in this new marriage between these two Christian kids?
Bill: The biggest breakdown was the idea that, up until then, I was able to keep everything silent and to myself. Now, I had a partner who wanted to talk all of the time. This wasn’t going to work.
So, we would talk in normal communication terms; but anything that had to do with intimacy, spirituality, or deep concerns, I would avoid that any way I possibly could. She tolerated that for some time; but as the years went by, and as the children came in, and as the stresses of jobs and life comes in, that silence was no longer working. I couldn’t do it anymore, and she pretty much had had enough of that as part of the marriage.
Bob: You were angry as a husband.
Dennis: What do you mean by that? Outbursts of anger? Rage?
Bill: Both. And mostly occurred behind the scenes of our public life where I knew only a few people would see it. My children wouldn’t say anything about it because, “Well, Dad’s just like that.” I was a basketball coach. The worst profession an abused person could take on, in my mind, would be basketball coach because built into basketball coaching is losing.
So, if I win, you will see that I’m worth something and valued. As an athlete, that drove me. No one needed motivation for me to excel in athletics as an athlete because I was going to gain my self-worth. So I went into coaching and quickly discovered that we lost more than we won. (Laughter)
Losing—those were the moments when you would see the rage and the anger surface, whether it be at home, or in the locker room, or whatever.
Dennis: Emotionally, you abused your wife then, for sure—
Dennis: Did you ever physically abuse her?
Bill: No. No.
Bob: We’ve talked about the fact that coaches are among those trusted people who can become abusers. We also know that those who have been abused have a tendency to repeat the behavior. Ever any temptation in that area?
Bill: To be an abuser? Yes. I was an abuser. One of the darkest parts of my healing journey has been the realization that I had to confront that—that as a boy—and this happened when I was a boy at 14. When it all began, I acted out. I acted out on other boys. Yes, that becomes a major part of it.
Again, I kept that secret after years and years of the healing journey until I reached a point, “I can’t keep that secret anymore, either.” Yes. Again, it was temptation on that pleasure side. This was pleasurable. “Let me do that to someone else, and they’ll see how pleasurable that can be as well.” That has been the darkest part of the whole journey.
Bob: Your wife Jill—if she looks back at the first 20 years of your marriage—was this a secret for 20”—
Bill: Twenty-one years.
Bob: Twenty-one years. She knew, “There is something in your soul,” but could never get it out of you. Did she ever say, “We either get to the bottom of this, or I’m out of here”?
Bill: Yes. Even after I told her, the healing wasn’t enough. She was packed with bags and ready to move out the door if I didn’t get some help.
Bob: What kept her from running?
Bill: I agreed to go. I agreed to go with her with the idea that I wasn’t going to engage with the counselor at all; I was just going to keep her—I didn’t want to lose her. Again, I was playing the games of manipulation and control—passively—in order to keep her in my life, which I had done for all of those years.
Bob: She put up with a lot for a lot of years.
Bill: Many, many years.
Bob: I’m just trying to go—there are a lot of women who would have said, “I’m not putting up with this,” a long time before she dug in her heels.
Bill: I’m amazed. Even this moment, sitting here thinking of, “What grace God has given me that kept her in my life.”
Dennis: She never gave up.
Bill: Still hasn’t.
Dennis: You know, as I listen to your story, Bill, I just keep thinking about the passage in First Peter, Chapter 5—and I’ve never really thought about this before when it comes to evil being perpetrated on a boy or a girl in the form of sexual abuse—Peter writes in First Peter 5, “Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”
You know, we typically think of the devil trying to tempt us in our faith, trying to move us to doubt; but there is just the absolute onslaught of evil that is perpetrated on us when we’re kids and vulnerable—on our children—when someone evil realizes they can get away with it. My predominant emotion—listening to your story—is sadness, accompanied with anger, and going, “Where’s God in the midst of this?”
And, yet, I have to move back from my emotion; and I have to go to the truth of Scripture that God is there. He’s there, and He didn’t want it to happen. It was not His perfect will that a little boy be abused hundreds of times; but it is His will now that it has happened for healing, for hope, wholeness, intimacy, and a marriage to be put back together.
Bob: It’s that great picture from Isaiah 61 of God taking ashes and making something beautiful out of those ashes. That’s what redemption is all about. That’s what you’ve experienced; and you share about that in the book that you’ve written, Shattered, which we have in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center.
I want to encourage our listeners—if you know somebody who has experienced sexual abuse, or if it’s your own experience and maybe you’ve never told anybody, get a copy of this book, Shattered, by Bill Harbeck. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to request your copy. Again, it’s FamilyLifeToday.com.
Let me also mention an additional resource. It’s a book by Dan Allender called The Wounded Heart. That is a book that I know, Bill, was beneficial in your life, and one that we’ve recommended hundreds of times to folks throughout the years. Again, you can find information about both books online at FamilyLifeToday.com or you can call us toll-free at 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY;”
(1-800-358-6329); 1-800-FLTODAY. We can make arrangements to have either or both of these books sent to you.
You know, I had the opportunity not long ago to be with a couple of our FamilyLife Today listeners (folks who live in Virginia). They were talking to me about how much they appreciate FamilyLife Today dealing with these kinds of issues. They said there are so few places you can go where there’s honesty, and candor, and a biblical approach to issues like this being presented.
Of course, that was very encouraging for me to hear how God had used the ministry in their lives as they had wrestled through some tough issues. They talked about using our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, and being able to search on the website if there was a particular topic they wanted to see addressed. They could search and find articles, or past programs, or resources that are available to help them in those areas.
I just want to say, “Thank you,” to those of you who help support FamilyLife Today. You make that kind of a resource possible for the couple I was talking to and for tens of thousands of folks who throughout the year come to FamilyLifeToday.com or who listen each day to FamilyLife Today. We appreciate your financial support. In fact, this month, if you’re able to help with a donation, we have a special way we’d like to say, “Thank you.”
Barbara Rainey wrote a devotional book a few years ago for families, designed to help us all cultivate gratitude and thanksgiving in our hearts. Of course, this is the right season of the year to be focused on that. We’d love to send you a copy of Barbara’s devotional book, along with a couple of Thanksgiving prayer cards, as our way of saying, “Thank you,” to you for your financial support of this ministry.
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We want to encourage you to be back with us again tomorrow when we’re going to hear more from Bill Harbeck. It’s a great conclusion to this story; so I hope you can tune in.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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