Singer-songwriter Gloria Estefan has revealed she was sexually abused aged nine by a person her mother trusted.
The Cuban-American superstar spoke for the first time publicly about the abuse and its effects on her during an episode of the Facebook Watch show Red Table Talk: The Estefans which aired on Thursday.
The singer said: “He was family, but not close family. He was in a position of power because my mother had put me in his music school and he immediately started telling her how talented I was and how I needed special attention, and she felt lucky that he was focusing this kind of attention on me.”
Ms Estefan, who was born in Cuba and moved to Miami with her family when she was a toddler, revealed the abuse at the start of the episode titled Betrayed By Trusted Adults.
Sitting at the round red table with her co-hosts — daughter Emily Estefan and niece Lili Estefan — Ms Estefan opened by saying that “93% of abused children know and trust their abusers, and I know this, because I was one of them”.
“You’ve waited for this moment a long time,” her niece told her.
“I have,” Ms Estefan replied.
The three held hands with tears in their eyes.
Ms Estefan did not name her abuser but described how she tried to stop him. She said the abuse started little by little before moving fast, and that she knew that she was in a dangerous situation after confronting him.
“I told him, ‘This cannot happen, you cannot do this’. He goes: ‘Your father’s in Vietnam, your mother’s alone and I will kill her if you tell her’,” Ms Estefan said.
“And I knew it was crazy, because at no point did I ever think that it was because of me that this was happening.
“I knew the man was insane and that’s why I thought he might actually hurt my mother.”
Ms Estefan said she started making up excuses to avoid going to music lessons. Her daughter Emily asked if her grandmother had any inkling something was going on.
Ms Estefan replied that people did not talk about those things back then.
She tried to reach her father, with whom she exchanged voice tapes while he was posted in Vietnam.
Recordings in Spanish from when Ms Estefan was nine were played at the show with English subtitles.
Ms Estefan could be heard saying: “I’m taking guitar lessons. I like them but the exercises are a little hard.”
Her father responded: “Mommy told me that the owner of the academy where you’re taking your guitar lessons is very proud of you.”
Ms Estefan said the level of anxiety the situation induced made her lose a “circle of hair”.
“I couldn’t take it anymore,” she said, so one night she ran to her mother’s bedroom at 3am and told her what was going on.
Her mother called the police, but officers advised her not to press charges, saying the trauma of testifying would be too harmful.
Ms Estefan said during the show that she did not like to be called a victim.
The singer said she did not tell the producers she was going to reveal her story on Thursday’s episode.
No-one knew about the abuse except for her family, said the singer, who has been married to music producer Emilio Estefan for more than four decades.
She also said that, when her mother started enquiring about this man within the family, an aunt shared that he had abused her years back in Cuba.
During the show, Ms Estefan recalled that she almost went public in the mid-80s, when her hit Conga with the Miami Sound Machine was at the top of the charts and “this predator, who was a respected member of the community”, had the audacity to write a letter to a paper criticising her music.
“At that moment, I was so angry that I was about to blow the lid off of everything,” she said.
“And then I thought: ‘My whole success is gonna turn into him!’
“It’s manipulation and control, but that’s what they do, they take your power.”
Ms Estefan said she had been waiting for the right opportunity and space to tell her story.
“This is one of the reasons why I said yes to the (Red) Table (Talk) at all, because we wanted to create this space where we talk about important things that hopefully will make a difference to everybody that’s watching out there,” she said.
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