Excerpted by Latoya Peterson
For a short period of time when she was a child, Latifah was the victim of sexual abuse at the hands of a teenager charged with her care. “He violated me,” she says of the abuser. “I never told anybody; I just buried it as deeply as I could and kept people at an arm’s distance. I never really let a person get too close to me. I could have been married years ago, but I had a commitment issue.” Eventually, she opened up to her parents, who separated when she was young. “When I was 22, my brother died, and I knew I couldn’t carry his death and that secret,” she says. “I had to get it off my chest. My mother felt terrible. She was kind of a country girl, so she wasn’t up on how slick people could be. When I told my dad, he said nothing.” Latifah says now that it was scary when her father didn’t respond. “He’s a man of action,” she says.
But Latifah doesn’t blame her parents for what occurred. In fact, she credits them with doing their best to protect her while she was growing up. She points out that one in four girls is sexually abused in some way. “That’s 25 percent of all girls. This is a real problem,” she says. Not unlike many victims of abuse, she wondered if she had played a role in what happened. Her talks with a therapist helped her find the unequivocal answer. “He said, ‘Imagine yourself as an adult and think about what a child can do to you. Can they beat you? Can they defeat you? No. Now, imagine yourself as that child.’ That really helped put things in perspective. I was a kid, and I had no power or control over the situation. I really wish I had the strength and knowledge to say something sooner, because I always wondered, Did he do that to someone else? But I accept that the time for action has come and gone.
—From “I’m the One That They Call Queen,” Essence, July 2009 Issue