About the Guest
Darkness can be full of delights: stars, sparklers, and fireflies. But for this young woman, the dark held terror. Nicole Braddock Bromley talks about the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her stepfather over the course of 10 years, and the circumstances that eventually helped her unlock her secret.
Nicole Braddock BromleyNicole is devoted to spreading a powerful and vital message of hope and inspiration across America and around the globe. In Nicole's internationally-recognized keynote speech, "Our Little Secret," and in her books, Nicole uses her own life story to empower others on a journey from victim to Victory Over Impossible Circumstances. Nicole is the founder of OneVOICE and also the founder and Executive Director of...more
Nicole Braddock Bromley talks about the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her stepfather over the course of 10 years.
Bob: We are going to hear an important story today on FamilyLife Today—a story that may be inappropriate for some of our younger listeners. It involves Nicole Bromley’s family. When Nicole was growing up, her mother had no idea that Nicole’s stepfather was a predator, who had evil intentions towards Nicole.
Nicole: One day when I came home from school, my mom was at the grocery store; and he was home. I remember the look in his eyes and thinking that he was going to try something with me. I felt very confused, and I felt very uncomfortable. I didn’t want to go through what I had a feeling was going to happen. It was then that he showed me a pornographic movie.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, March 2nd. Our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I am Bob Lepine. Today, Nicole Bromley shares her story in hopes that it can provide help and hope for other victims of childhood sexual abuse. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Wednesday edition. We are going to be visiting a dark place today.
Are you okay? I just noticed—
Dennis: I have a little bit of a cold—that now, I am on about Day 10 or 11. I thought by now I would be—
Bob: How about if I just move back over here and we will do the program—
Dennis: I don’t think I am contagious.
Bob: Okay; good.
Dennis: I was last week because Barbara now has it.
Bob: Oh, is that right?
Dennis: Oh, yes! Not good.
Dennis: Now that you’ve determined the fact that I have had something, we are going to introduce our guest, who is now wondering, “What is she doing in this studio with these two guys?”
Nicole Bromley joins us on FamilyLife Today. Nicole is the founder and director of One VOICE, which is a ministry that allows her to speak on behalf of those who are victims of sexual abuse / sexual violence. Nicole and her husband do live near Columbus, Ohio, along with their two children. She has written a book called Breathe: Finding Freedom to Thrive in Relationships After Childhood Sexual Abuse.
Nicole, Bob mentioned this is a dark subject. The word, “dark,” for you has always had a difficult meaning. You were afraid of the dark growing up; why?
Nicole: Well, I think for me a lot of the worst things I could ever recall happened in the dark. Growing up, being a victim of childhood sexual abuse, many times I can remember being in bed, being in the woods—different dark places at night. Darkness definitely is not a happy time for me, when I think about my childhood; but I am glad that I didn’t stay in those dark places.
Bob: Are your memories of these dark things that happened in dark places, do they go all the way back to your earliest memories?
Nicole: Yes; my earliest memory was five years old with my stepfather. My stepfather came into my life when I was three; however, I don’t have any memories before five.
Dennis: What happened to your father?
Nicole: My real father has actually been in my life this entire time. I would visit him every other weekend. My mom and my dad separated—they divorced when I was one year old.
He has been in my life. Throughout that time of going through the secret of sexual abuse, when no one knew about it, I sort of pushed my real dad out for reasons mostly of the brainwashing that my stepfather had given me—things like: ‘Your real dad doesn’t really care about you. He doesn’t really love you. He just wants to see you to get back to your mom,” and things like that. He really filled my head with a lot of lies about my real father, and I pushed him away.
After all of my abuse came to light, I began to really seek the Lord for healing. I saw that that was a relationship that needed to be healed too. He said to me: “Nicole, I don’t need to know what happened; but I want you to know that, if you ever want to talk about it, I am here.” Though I never took him up on that, I can tell you those words meant so much to me. They began a restoring process with my dad, and we have a great relationship today.
Dennis: So, as a little girl, you had a stepfather that entered your life because your mom and dad divorced.
Dennis: And that created what ultimately became a dangerous situation for you, as a little girl. Abusers are controlling. How did he control you as a five year-old girl?
Nicole: Through the issue of secrecy—in gaining my trust and telling me things like: “If you tell, you will never see your mom again. If you talk about this, no one will believe you. You know, you are just a little girl.” It is a lot of power and control based on his authority in my life.
Bob: As an abuser, was this a slow-onset kind of a thing, where he was taking one step at a time and progressing down a path?
Nicole: Yes. That is pretty typical for childhood sexual abuse when it is with someone the victim knows, which is actually about 85 to 90 percent of the time. It’s someone the victim knows, and the majority of those occur with a family member.
It is a process of gaining trust of a child, but also the trust of other people / the other parent. If it is a grandfather or uncle, it is getting the trust of the parents and the children.
Dennis: What you’re saying here is something I just want to underline here because those, who don’t come from this kind of background, hear these stories and they think: “How can this happen? How could Nicole’s mom not have known something was taking place?” because it occurred over how many years?
Nicole: Ten—nearly ten.
Dennis: Ten years!
Dennis: I mean, we are talking about someone who really methodically and on purpose deceives people, controls, and builds a story—
Dennis: —a reality that deceives other people; right?
Nicole: Definitely. You know, they are very good at what they do. I think that my stepfather had a problem / an addiction before ever meeting my mom.
To be able to gain her trust and to be able to get to her daughter—you are right—very methodical to the point where he would plan out excursions for him and me.
As a young girl—a five-year-old, eight-year-old, or however old I was in the different instances—it was easy for me to fall prey to this because, one, people don’t talk about sexual abuse. As a child, no one ever talked about this; I did not know it was wrong. When he told me he was teaching me and that this is what good dads do for their special daughters, I believed him. On the other hand, sexual abusers aren’t all bad. So that’s how it was for me with my stepfather.
If he was always a horrible, scary monster, who did awful things to me, he would never have gained my trust. I would have told right away because I would have known that he was a bad man; you know? A child would know that.
Nicole: But he was my stepfather—my mom loved him.
He was a good dad to me on the other hand. There were these instances that happened with him, where he was scary; but for the most part, he was my biggest sports fan. I knew I could talk to him about anything. He protected me—he always stood beside me—very, very supportive in school. He was a father figure. That is what makes sexual abusers good at what they do because they lead these two separate lives. Because he was a good man in our community, and had this reputation, and was a father figure, the other things that were happening sort of just fell into place and just happened.
Bob: You said that when you were young, your stepfather said: “This is what good dads do. I am teaching you,” and you believed him.
Bob: Do you remember the first time you thought, “No, this is wrong; and this shouldn’t be happening”?
Nicole: I do. I remember thinking that one day when I came home from school. My mom was at the grocery store, and he was home. I remember the look in his eyes and thinking that he was going to try something with me. I began to have those questions in my mind because I felt very confused / I felt very uncomfortable. I didn’t want to go through what I had a feeling was going to happen.
It was then that he showed me a pornographic movie. For some reason, by him showing me that—it was all of these other adults doing these things—and so then my mind—I think I was probably eight-, or nine-, or ten-year-old at that time—I began to think: “Well, I guess he is right. Everyone does this. There are these other people that are doing this, and he is just teaching me.” I remember that day—that he didn’t touch me.
What a lot of people don’t understand is that, even though he didn’t touch me in that circumstance, it was still sexual abuse. Sexual abuse is words, looks, touches—showing a child a pornographic movie is sexual abuse.
Nicole: You don’t have to be raped, or you don’t have to be touched; you know? Abuse covers a broad spectrum. Even if that was the only instance I ever went through, I could still claim myself as a sexual abuse survivor.
Bob: Had he touched you before that time?
Nicole: Oh, yes. Yes.
Bob: And in those times of touching, were you disassociating? What was going on in your little mind?
Nicole: I think disassociation is a very real thing. My belief is that God has created it for our protection. Children cannot come to grips with something as traumatic as sexual abuse. I do remember my mind almost floating off somewhere else into space. My body was going through something horrible that I did not want to deal with—
—my mind almost entering into the chandelier or a poster on the wall—and just almost separating from myself. Those memories did come back later when I finally did come out about my abuse to my mom.
Dennis: Nicole, you mentioned that, as a young lady, you felt confused. There is a word counselors use—they use the word, “ambivalence.” You experienced something that wasn’t intended for a little girl to experience; and yet, you were growing up during this time into a young lady. Young men were beginning to show you some interest. Now, you were 15 by the time this became public; is that right?
Dennis: What happened in your relationship with the guys during junior high and high school?
Nicole: I can tell you that I remember, in junior high and high school, thinking that boys didn’t really like me unless they wanted to be sexual with me—how twisted that was—my stepfather; you know.
If I wouldn’t give in—there were instances where I could get away from him in moments of abuse; and if I did that, he wouldn’t talk to me.
Dennis: You were punished.
Nicole: Yes. He wouldn’t talk to me, and I would be punished. You know, I wanted my father figure in my home to love me—I wanted his attention / I wanted his affirmation. The only way I could get that from him was through these sexual things that he was requiring of me.
Dennis: So, did that occur then with the young men that you associated with growing up?
Nicole: In my mind it did; but at the same time, I wanted to be a good little Christian girl. I knew that I wasn’t supposed to do those things, but I wanted to be wanted that way.
Bob: Let’s talk about being a “good little Christian girl.” Had your family been going to church? Were you raised in a Christian environment?
Nicole: I was raised in a Christian environment—we read the Bible, we prayed together, we believed in Jesus Christ.
Bob: Including your stepfather?
Nicole: Yes. Oh, yes; definitely.
Bob: So, he was showing spiritual leadership in the home while he was sexually abusing you.
Nicole: To a point because he would not allow our family to go to church. We weren’t involved in the community of believers—we were lacking that. His leadership could only go so far.
Nicole: And I think—you know, my mom and I have talked about this a number of times—I think part of his reasoning for that might have been that, when you are in a safe environment, in a community of believers, that secret could have easily come out there.
Dennis: Was there ever, ever a moment, as you were growing up in that time, where you almost were able to call upon the courage to come out of the dark and expose your stepfather? Did you ever think about going ahead and opening the door and inviting some people in?
Nicole: Yes. There were a few times.
For instance, one summer vacation, when it was he and I in the ocean swimming, I came back to the beach where my mom was lying. She could tell that something was wrong because he had just fondled me in the water under my bathing suit. I had walked back to the beach after this had happened. My mom could tell, by the look on my face, and she asked me what was wrong; but as usual, I just said I would tell her later. There were instances where I could have—but all along, I thought my mom was happily married. We had a good family from what everyone in the community thought. We were very respected as a family—you know, everything looked really good.
Dennis: You felt like, if you opened the door on this, it was going to destroy—
Nicole: Yes—everything that had been built. I felt responsible, as a little girl, for holding our so-called “perfect family” together. I thought: “You know what? No one talks about this. No one brings it up. I don’t know if it is wrong or right. I hate it; but if I can hold our perfect family together and keep my mom in a happy marriage,”—which I thought she was in—“then I am willing to go through this until I am 18; and then I will move out.”
But that was actually—the family vacation I told you about—happened right before I did break the silence and tell my mom.
Bob: And what was the tipping point for you?
Nicole: The tipping point for me was when we were in the car—my mom and I alone. My mom began to express to me for the first time that she might not have been as happily married as I thought she was. She shared with me she wanted to go back to college. She talked with my stepdad about this. He became really angry, violent, talking to her in ways he had never done before. She said to me, in not so many words, that she was afraid of him. Then she said: “He has been acting so weird lately. Has he done anything strange around you?” I knew that if I were ever going to tell my mom, that this was the time; and I took it.
Bob: And what did you say?
Nicole: I basically hinted to the fact that, “Yes, he had done some things strange around me.” She turned to me, as she was driving—looked me in the eye—and she said, “Has he ever touched you?” I said, “Yes.” She slammed on the brakes and pulled the car over to the side of the road. That was the first time in my life that I knew it was wrong—what he had been doing to me.
Dennis: Why did she ask you that question?
Nicole: I think that God had really been preparing her. It ended up—I didn’t know this, but she had been talking with one of her friends over the course of the past few weeks about just feeling awkward around my stepdad. She had actually caught him, with a camera with a zoom lens on it, in one of the bedrooms. I was outside in my bathing suit, and she thought that was really weird. It just started to pique some questions in her mind about what was going on. I think God was really preparing her for this conversation. I believe it was that same week that we were in the car together, and she asked me that question.
Bob: When she pulled over to the side of the road—slammed on the brakes—did it all come out right then?
Bob: Did you tell her—
Bob: Ten years—
Nicole: Well, what I could remember because, honestly, a lot had been buried in my mind. You know, I had really pushed it out and denied it away for so long; but when I told her, it seemed like the floodgates began to open. Things that had happened to me started pouring back into my mind. I started telling her just a few of the things that I had remembered.
Bob: And she had to say, “Sweetheart, why didn’t you tell me?”
Nicole: I am sure she wondered that; but I think that her, being the wife of an abusive person, I think in some ways she understood maybe why I had kept it a secret because she wasn’t in the perfect marriage either. You know, he had been hurting her for so long too. She had never spoken about it. For her, she was wearing the mask of the perfect wife, with the perfect husband, and with the perfect family.
I had too—just in another way. Probably, in the back of her mind, she understood why; and she never questioned me.
Bob: I am trying to imagine—and you’re a mom today.
Bob: But just to put myself in that situation where, on the side of the road, it is all spilling out. I am sure you were in tears?
Nicole: Oh, yes! I was very fearful. I did not know what was going to happen. I knew that by telling, that I was setting us up for something all brand-new—and the fact that my mom believed me, and she was going to stand by me—I really trusted her to do that, and she did.
Dennis: And because fear was so great, you and your mom then went into hiding.
Nicole: Yes, we did. She reported the abuse. We left the home. She reported it to children’s services in our county. We were in hiding because I knew that, if he found us, he was going to kill us. I really believe that. Everywhere we tried to hide, it was like he was trying to find us. It was really scary; yes.
Dennis: It ultimately resulted in what dramatic event, though?
Nicole: —a week later. Oh, he had denied all the accusations; and then, a week later, he killed himself. That was a very dramatic ending. Though a lot of people would say, “Well, you should have peace and feel free,”—though I did / I did feel that—at the same time, I also felt completely lost. I felt alone. My mom and I were now here, trying to deal with our future and our life together alone and, “What does that even look like?”
Bob: And you had lost someone who had been a significant support and source of love and affirmation—
Nicole: Yes; thank you.
Bob: —as you said—in spite of everything else that was going on.
Nicole: Exactly; exactly! And that was what was hard. This was a whole new life for us; and though we were both free of an abusive person in our family, he wasn’t always like that. We had to grieve too.
It was very confusing—on one hand, being grateful for the freedom that we had and the peace that had been brought—but goodness! My mom was grieving the loss of her husband—a loving husband, for the most part——who had been a financial support and emotional support. For me, I was grieving the loss of a person who had been a father figure to me—a very strong support in my life.
Bob: He hadn’t been an all-bad monster.
Nicole: Exactly! And, typically, they are not that.
Dennis: You know, as I listen to your story and as I read about it, I am just grieved that a young lady, like you, had something like that happen to her; but I’m thrilled to hear of your story of redemption because that is what Jesus Christ wants to do. He wants to take the truth in our lives and, in relationships that are safe, allow us to find healing and hope.
Bob: Well, and of course, a big first step in that is finding the courage and having a safe place you can go to tell the truth. Nicole, you wrote about that in your book, Hush, where you tell a lot of the story you’ve shared with us today. Since then, you’ve written a book called Breathe—that talks about the after-effects of childhood sexual abuse and how that spills over into adult relationships. We have both of these resources in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. I want to encourage our listeners—go to FamilyLifeToday.com and find out more about how you can get copies of either or both of these books.
There are other resources we have available for those who have experienced childhood sexual abuse. Dan Allender’s book, The Wounded Heart, is a book that we have recommended for years. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information on the resources we have available. Or call us, toll-free, at 1-800-FL-TODAY—1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
And let me just encourage you—if what you’ve heard Nicole talk about today has a parallel in your own life, and you have never told anybody—I want to encourage you to consider that courageous step that Nicole took and finding a safe place and opening up the darkness to light because that is where healing and the kind of restoration that you [Nicole] have experienced can be found. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about Nicole’s books; or call us, toll-free, at 1-800-FL-TODAY.
And we want to say a special “Thanks,” to those of you who make FamilyLife Today possible—those of you who, through your support of this ministry, make programs like this possible on radio. You are indeed partnering with us as we seek to provide practical biblical help and hope for marriages and families.
We’re grateful for that partnership.
I want to say a special “Congratulations!” today to some friends of ours who live in Augusta, Georgia, and listen to FamilyLife Today on WAFJ—Morgan and Jami Whaley are celebrating 20 years of marriage together today. “Congratulations!” to the Whaleys.
At FamilyLife, we’re all about anniversaries—anniversaries matter. We are the Proud Sponsor of Anniversaries. We’re celebrating 40 years as a ministry in 2016, but the anniversary we really care about is your anniversary—this year and in the years to come. In fact, we’d love to have you sign up and give us your anniversary date. Then, as your anniversary gets closer—about a month out—we’ll send you a few text messages or some emails with ideas on how you can make your anniversary celebration the best one ever. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com and give us your anniversary date, or call at 1-800-FL-TODAY. We’d love to hear from you, and we’d love to help you celebrate your anniversary in 2016.
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to hear what happened when Nicole Bromley finally decided to tell someone what she had experienced—when she told her mom about what her dad had done. We’ll hear that part of Nicole’s story tomorrow. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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