When You Tell


When You Tell

Today’s show is about something that’s really hard to talk about, but it’s a thing we can’t afford to not talk about. It’s about sexual abuse of children. Approximately 1 in 10 kids have been sexually abused by the time they are 18, and there is evidence that educating kids about potential predators can help prevent some of those incidents. And, perhaps, lessen their trauma if it does happen.


Zoe Zolbrod was sexually abused when she was a child, and she kept it a secret for most of her life. Her parents didn’t even know until she was 25. Now, in her 40s, she has written a book about what happened to her—and how it has impacted her life. Zoe’s memoir is called The Telling, and she has been touring the country doing readings, and getting a lot of poignant feedback from other sexual abuse survivors.


Listen to this episode to hear Zoe’s powerful story, and how sharing her secret has helped her to understand herself better as a daughter and as a mother.

Resources for talking to children about child sexual abuse
In writing her book, Zoe did a lot of research on sexual abuse, and how to talk to kids about it. Here are the resources she found most helpful. Please add yours in the comments!

Darkness to Light is an organization is dedicated to ending child sexual abuse. Their web site is rich with resources. On this page they cover addressing the topic with children.

Girlology/Guyology is an organization that helps parents provide “age-appropriate, medically accurate, engaging and cringe-free messages about growing up safe, healthy and informed, especially when it comes to puberty and sexuality.” As they say, “Sex Ed for Pre-Schoolers is Sexual Abuse Prevention.” Here they specifically address talking to very young children about their bodies and privacy.

Eight is Great is a Ted talk by the founder of Girlology, Melisa Holmes, about how and why to have a sex talk with your kid at this age.

RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, has help for parents who want to protect their children from being abused, advice for adults who suspect that a child is being harmed, and other resources, including for adult survivors.

NSCPP, National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, is a UK organization. It’s geared toward a British audience but has good tips for any parent. They also have a good research briefing in PDF form about when and how children disclose sexual abuse and why they may keep quiet. It’s dry but very substantial.

How do you talk to YOUR kids about sexual abuse? How did your parents talk to you?
Any differences? Let’s talk about this thing that doesn’t get talked about.

Our sponsors for this episode are Seedling (code: LONGSHORT), Third Love, Olive & Cocoa, Aeroflow Breastpumps and Little Passports. Use the promo codes at checkout for a special discount.

21 thoughts on “EPISODE #106: When You Tell

  1. Thank you for this episode. I was molested by my uncle when I was about 6. I’ve dealt with it with a psychologist all through my 20s in addition to the fact I told my parents about the abuse when I was 10 and they didn’t address it again until I brought it up in my mid teens. This uncle is in my life although I see him very rarely. I’ll be seeming him on Christmas Eve this year and after hearing your story I’m starting to second guess my decision to attend the family function he’all be at. He knows I’ve brough the abuse up with my parents who in turn have discussed it with other family members.
    I honestly feel sorry for my uncle. I’ve come to learn he was also molested by a family member which was a relief in a weird way. Currently he’s unable to work because he’s a hard core alcoholic who has chronic back pain. From what I can tell, he seems pretty miserable where as I have a very happy and fulling life.
    I have 3 kids and I’ve talked to them about sexual abuse and what’s appropriate and what’s not. I’ve also told them that I will always do my best to protect them and if something bad ever happens I’d deal with it and fight for them in every way I can.

  2. Thank you Hillary and Zoe for this episode and for “holding the space” to share and discuss this difficult topic. Though not a survivor of sexual abuse myself, my mother was sexually abused by her father growing up to the point she eventually developed dissociative identity disorder (aka: multiple personality disorder) early in her life as a way to cope with the perpetual abuse. She died from complications following a suicide attempt when she was 38. I was 12.
    I guess my point is that the ramifications of sexual abuse can be far reaching. I think the more we can openly and directly discuss it, it will help lesson the stigma and create opportunities for disclosure and, ultimately, healing. Thank you again for this powerful episode?

  3. Zoe,
    I’m late because I’m behind on my podcast listening, but I wanted to thank you so much for sharing your story. I am, thankfully, not a victim of sexual abuse, though as I’m well aware of the statistics, I frequently discuss sexuality in an age-appropriate way with my 5-year-old daughter, including the concept of “tricky grown ups” and ensuring her she’ll never get in trouble for telling my husband and I the truth.
    I’m writing, though, to echo your feelings about the election. Listening to you describe canvassing for Clinton with your daughter, not sleeping that night, and the difficultly in telling her the next morning – it was like you narrated my experience. I’m struggling with forgiving myself for hyping up the fact we were going to have the first lady President – how exciting! I also was so free in using black and white language describing Trump, stating that he was a bad man, a term that I wouldn’t use to describe any Republican, despite the fact I’m a deep-left Democrat. It just didn’t seem inappropriate at the time. Telling her the next morning was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do as a parent. The first thing she asked me was “Is he going to come here and get me?” It was gut wrenching, and I know I’m to blame for her reaction.
    Thank you for reminding me that I’m not alone.

  4. Thank you so much for this episode and for Zoe’s courageous telling of her own story. I am going through the tell right now myself because I see also how small I was and innocent in the eyes of my own daughter. Its a process of big jumps and small steps but for each of us that opens up we help one more who cannot.

  5. This episode was definitely hard to listen to but I’m glad I did. It gives me a lot to think about because I haven’t imagined having this conversation with my son (who’s a toddler) but know that one day I will.

  6. Thank you for sharing your story. It’s very similar to my own — from what you experienced as a child to how it has shaped your parenting. You are very brave, and you are not alone.

  7. Zoe –

    Thank you for sharing your story. It’s through the courage of survivors like you that we are able to start shifting our culture to one that is willing to talk about child sexual abuse in an effort to end it.

  8. I want to thank Zoe for sharing her story. Just when I was ready to share my very similar story with Longest Shortest Time, I was made aware that this episode had aired. I too struggle with parenting kids to make them aware that stuff like this can happen. I am thankful that at least I know and I am aware that this happens so I can help prevent it from happening to my children or other children. Having been through this experience makes you keenly aware of how other people see young children and extra cautious. You are so brave Zoe to share your story, thank you!

  9. This is a wonderful podcast to have! I was so beyond touched listening to Zoe. I felt we were soul sisters! I was sexually abused in this same time frame, and grew up in North Western PA, near the NY border. It was amazing the similarities of our thoughts/etc. Mine was from ages 6-12. It has far reaching consequences on those abused. I delt with it around age 30, with help from my then boyfriend, now husband of 20yrs. If anyone has had abuse, please go get counseling. You have to go ‘thru’ it, not just ‘get over it’…. I told my daughter last year, just not in detail. She was 14. It helps them to understand why we are the way we are. It will be up to her to ask me questions in the future, and I will decide how much I share… but the secrets is what keeps this happening.

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