3 Pivotal Words. Could You Say Them?

We can all say three words, right? Seems pretty simple. What if I tell you these three words could be the most arduous words you may need to say? What if I say these three words could mean the difference between hope and despair, security and endangerment, and possibly even life and death? Could you still say them even if they may wreak havoc on life as you know it?

When the pain and distress of facing my abuser each day at home outweighed my fear of his threats, I made my first disclosure of the abuse. I wonder how often this is true. When the pain is so great and the threats no longer seem to be the worst thing that can happen, how often is that the point that disclosures occur? It makes sense. I can remember thinking that if my abuser killed me (as his threat implied) at least I would be free. It felt like I had absolutely nothing to lose when I wrote that letter in the fifth grade.

I remember that day (although I don’t know the date) as clear as yesterday. My abuser and I had been in an argument over something likely trivial, but it was the breaking point. It just could not get any worse in my child mind. I went to my room and scribbled a letter that began with an apology before detailing incidents of abuse.  I delivered the letter to an adult in my life. In that moment, it felt like I was putting my life in someone else’s hands.

Unfortunately, for the person who received the letter, it was just too hard to believe that someone like my abuser could actually be an abuser and the things I wrote simply could not be true. Therefore, no action was taken to end the abuse. My abuser later learned of my disclosure. Instead of hurting or killing me or my loved ones, my abuser learned that he had total control of me. Because now, I had said something but no one believed me which abusers often warn will happen.

In that moment following my disclosure, the only three words I needed to hear were “I believe you.”

So, here’s what happens when the words “I believe you” do not follow a disclosure. I learned my abuser was right… in so many ways. I learned the abusive acts were not bad or wrong, they must be normal because no one said otherwise. I learned my abuser was right, no one would believe me. I learned my abuser was right, this is what I was made for and what I was supposed to do.

I don’t write this post to blame or bash people who don’t or haven’t immediately acted on an abuse disclosure. I have forgiven the person who received my first letter and have a relationship with that person to this day.

I write this post to challenge you to commit to the response a child needs even when those three words take every ounce of strength in you to voice.

Take this journey with me. It is not going to be easy. It will be uncomfortable. It may be the most difficult thing you do today.

Imagine receiving a letter from a child that your best friend or your sibling or husband or child’s coach or pastor has been abusing said child. Take a moment and imagine that that.

I know it’s incredibly hard. It is not something anyone wants to imagine. It is something we usually believe will never happen or could not happen.

Then decide, in that moment, what words, if any, are going to flow from your mouth.

Will you question the child’s truthfulness? Will you say, “no way, he/she could never do such as thing.” Will you push the letter away and say tell someone else? Will you say, “if this is true, then…” Will you begin digging into the who, what, when, where, how, and why?

I have made a commitment to myself (and I hope you will too), that if I ever encounter such a situation, the three words from my mouth will be “I believe you.”

It is my belief that if a child has trusted me enough and/or has reached a place of seeing no other way out it is my responsibility to believe them in that moment. I know a lot can happen in the days, weeks, months, and years after disclosure, but in that moment, I am going to fight for that child with every ounce of my being.

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I’m very interested in hearing other perspectives and thoughts on disclosure and responses, so please share them. Leave a comment or drop me an email under the contact me tab.

 

Independence Day. Milestones. And a Hope for Change

On July 4, another milestone was reached on this blogging journey- 5,000+ views… Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that the words I’ve been able to write and share, through the grace of God, would have had this reach. To kick off the next 5,000 views, I want to share about a news article I read recently that has reignited my desire to fight for stricter laws pertaining to the sex offender registry.

If you follow me on social media, you may have seen my post about a brave young woman fighting against her abuser once again. Upon his release from prison, her abuser (now a registered sex offender) was permitted to move into his mother’s home next door to her family home. There are absolutely no current statutes that prevent this from happening in her state.

Can you imagine- as a child being abused by a relative, courageously disclosing the abuse knowing the threats your abuser made, fighting through a court case, and then coming home one day and seeing your abuser sitting on his new front porch right across the street?

I can only imagine the fear, anxiety, disappointment, disgust, and absolute agony one must feel amongst a myriad of other emotions in this situation. We must do better. Our legislation, across the United States, has come such a long way in the fight for the rights and security of people impacted by sexual abuse, but there are still significant changes that need to occur.

From what I have read in various articles so far, only 5 states have laws preventing this from happening. My hope and prayer is that all states will laws preventing sex offenders from ever being able to move in close proximity to their victims. So, if you are reading this and have involvement with legislators in your state- please consider taking this issue to the podium and let’s make this change happen.

For more information on Danielle’s story, please follow the links below:

http://www.cnn.com/2017/06/22/us/sex-offender-moves-in-next-door-to-victim-trnd/index.html

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/oklahoma-law-allowed-girls-molester-to-move-in-next-door/

 Thank you for reading, praying, encouraging, sharing, and joining with me on this blogging journey ❤

 

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One of my favorite pictures from Independence Day.

 

 

 

Protect Your Child This Summer

This is an edit of a previous post, “Sexual Abuse in the Presence of Others,” because as summer begins it is important to pay close attention to who has access to children. Many children will venture off to various camps, spend time with extended family members, and travel on vacation with their family. Unfortunately, these are all places that sexual abuse occurs. They are places that we often don’t think about sexual abuse occurring because typically there are a). many people around, b). people we trust, and c). it’s all about the fun. Sexual abuse does not always happen “in the dark” or in isolated locations. It can happen in the midst of others.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network reports that “approximately three quarters of reported cases of child sexual abuse are committed by family members or other individuals who are considered part of the victim’s ‘circle of trust.” I know it is hard to imagine anyone in your family or extended circle of trust harming your child, but it has happened too many times to too many people and we can’t ignore this any longer.

I believe many people have the misconception that sexual abuse can only occur behind closed doors or when the abuser is alone with their victim. It’s interesting that I started this post the other night and today while scrolling through twitter, I saw a very similar post. We sometimes have the thought “well no one will try to do anything with so many people around watching.” Unfortunately, this is not the case. Abuse can happen in your presence and abusers are so powerful in their manipulation skills that no one will be wiser.

There were many times my abuser was brazen enough to abuse me in the presence of others. Some evenings when I was a child, we would sit around and watch television together in the living room. It became expected of me to grab a quilt and sit in my abuser’s lap during what should have been a safe and innocent bonding time. He was bold enough to do this because he knew how much he had manipulated me. I was so fearful in those moments that I would sit and act as normal as possible while he abused me rather than pushing the quilt away and screaming. Sexual abuse occurred in the presence of others.

In a previous post, “The Power in Truth,” I detailed an encounter I had with an older man in the pool area of a hotel. While it was only that man in the sauna and my siblings and I swimming in the pool, this was a very public location that a predator preyed.

If you have children, I hope you will take the time to talk about body rights and healthy touch. Empower them. Give them the choice of whether or not to hug a family member. Maybe a handshake or high five is more comfortable for your child. If your child appears fearful or nervous around certain people, do not brush it off as shyness- ask questions. Fight through the discomfort this type of conversation may bring and have these necessary conversations now.

My intention is not to make you paranoid about every person your child comes into contact with, but to make you aware that abuse does happen in the presence of other people. It is not always isolated incidents.  And just because it is a holiday or summer vacation does not mean an abuser will take a day off and abstain from abusing.

 

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Children deserve to know their body rights at any age. There are age appropriate ways to have these conversations. It is never too early to empower children.

 

 

 

Innocence Stolen.

This is my first attempt at poetry. I am amazed at how different it feels to write poetry than basic blog posts. There is so much emotion attached when writing in this style. So, here’s to a new adventure, we will see where it goes. The title of this first piece is “Innocence Stolen.”

Come to my room, my dear

You have nothing to fear

It’s our time together

Please, let me float like a feather

Through the air, with the wind

I can’t get away, I’m pinned

What is happening? I don’t understand

Don’t worry my dear, this is all planned

What happened in your bed

Where my mother laid her head

Took what was mine

When I was just nine

 

Secrets unspoken.

Imagination broken.

Innocence stolen.

 

No more teddy bears

Or rocking chairs

My life was changed forever

When you decided to sever

My safety and trust

Now I’m filled with fear and disgust

No words, just silence

I must prevent his violence

Hear what my eyes are saying

On the inside, I’m decaying

Perfect on the outside

Please, someone find where I hide.

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Let’s Talk About It

No means no.

Stop means stop.

A lack of yes or no, means no.

Yes means yes, until a person says no.

I don’t know, likely means no.

No does not mean try to convince me.

The lines have become so blurred in regards to what constitutes consent to having sex and what does not. It really is a simple concept. But our society is struggling with consent and rape. Not just the people in society, but the laws that govern our society as well.

I recently watched the documentary Audrie and Daisy. If you haven’t watched it, you need to. It’s available on Netflix. I’m not going to review the documentary, but I do want to share my thoughts on one interview that bothered me more than the others. An interview with the sheriff in the town of Marysville depicted the all too common view that rape is not always rape.

Here is one statement the sheriff made:

“One of the parts that people have really blown out of proportion in this entire case is that everybody wants to throw the word ‘rape’ out there. It’s very popular, ‘the rape,’ ‘the Maryville rape,’ ‘the Coleman rape.’ Nothing that occurred that night ever rose to the level of the elements of the crime of rape.”

And this, is one of his final statements:

“As far as I can tell, the boys are the only ones who want to put this behind them and try to move on with their lives and try to make things of themselves.”

I will let you watch the documentary to determine what you think about the statements. But when the sheriff of the town does not believe that being sexually assaulted while unconscious constitutes rape, then how can we keep moving forward in society where rape culture doesn’t exist.

Just imagine saying no or remaining silent and dissociating, or pleading to be left alone, or begging a person to stop, or waking up after being unconscious to that feeling only those who have experienced it know, or being shown a video the next day or week of the sexual crimes committed against you while unconscious.

That is rape. Let’s talk about it. Let’s call it what it is. Let’s hold rapists accountable for their actions. Let’s hear and believe the ones who come forward and report crimes. Let’s pray for and encourage those who haven’t spoke up yet. Let’s end rape jokes. Let’s make a difference.

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Photo obtained from: https://sarphe.wordpress.com/2013/12/27/more-than-no-means-no-moving-toward-a-culture-of-consent/

 

 

 

Trust Your Gut

I’ve always heard the phrase “trust your gut” but it was not until I was an adult that I realized the magnitude of this statement and the immense truth it holds. Over the last several weeks, I have had very similar conversations with multiple people about the importance of listening to our instincts, or commonly referred to as our gut. In many cases, this gut feeling manifests and there is no explanation for having the uneasiness accompanied by internal alarm bells.

My thoughts in this blog are primarily spurred by a specific incident that occurred some time ago. I was in the presence of an acquaintance. In previous encounters with this person, I recall feeling some uneasiness- it is that feeling that you can’t exactly put into words, but you know something just isn’t quite right. It’s that gut instinct. But, because I could not identify a precise or logical reason for my feelings, I pushed them down and ignored what my body was trying to tell me.

With each encounter with this person, I pushed those feelings down even further because I could not find any reason to think this person was unsafe. In my mind, I questioned whether I was just overreacting because of the trauma I experienced as a child. There was nothing noticeable about this person that I believed should signal these alarm bells. This person did not act in any way that scared me or made me nervous. I never saw this person interact with others in a way that concerned me. There was nothing outwardly happening to cause this gut feeling, something just did not feel right.

Eventually, I learned that gut feeling was there for a reason. Those alarm bells were going off to protect me. Eventually, this person crossed the line and made me regret not listening to that gut feeling. From that moment on, I made the decision to listen to that gut feeling and not question it. I will thank my body for protecting me, rather than assuming it’s just some crazy overreaction.

Now, I need to clarify that I do not get this feeling often. Of all the people I encounter in a year, only a few interactions have ignited this gut feeling and internal alarm bells. This is why I have promised myself that I will never get mad because I have a gut feeling I can’t understand and I’m not going to push that feeling down out of fear that it may be wrong. Acknowledge the feeling, trust it, and do what you have to do to stay safe. butterfly

Restoring Trust in the Judicial System

It’s been a long while since I have posted a blog; although ideas regularly come to mind to discuss on this platform. Blogging took a back seat to full-time work in ministry, graduate school, counseling internship, and Mardi Gras season. I began writing this post with an hour and a half left of carnival and it has taken me 3 weeks to complete it. This is a post that is really special to me because it’s about building trust with the judicial system.

In a previous post, I mentioned an article that was published by the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys in which my victim impact statement is featured and a local Assistant District Attorney shared how our meeting influenced him. While I knew my statement would be published, I did not know the ADA would contribute as well. It was when I read his words that I finally felt like I could trust my case would be handled with care, commitment, and grit.

March 8, 2017 marked 11 years since I sat in the court room, watching and listening, as my abuser plead no contest to a deal I quickly regretted. For years following the plea, I felt like the justice system failed me. I could not comprehend that the case was actually classified as a win, when my abuser would only sit in jail for 48 hours. My trust was further broken when I inquired about the status of my abuser’s registration as a sex offender. I was informed that it would be my responsibility to check back in with the court regularly to find out if my abuser had filed the paperwork to petition for removal from the registry.

That last statement made me feel like there was no purpose in healing any further. All I could think about was the fact that for the rest of my life I would have to call the court-house every single week and relive the trauma just to find out if my abuser was working towards getting off the registry. I felt like the people who are supposed to protect the public were letting me down again.

However, things changed when I met Assistant District Attorney Robert Roupe. I scheduled a meeting in December 2015 with him, a few months prior to the date my abuser would be eligible to file a petition. ADA Roupe took time out of his busy schedule to sit down with me. He was not in the specific office when my abuser was prosecuted so he acquainted himself with the case. He asked me questions to better understand what the impacts of the abuse were for me from the time I was a child to the present moment as I sat across the table from him. He asked me how I would like things handled and provided me with options. He explained why the plea bargain was considered a win in the context of my case. Most importantly, he promised to notify me if and when my abuser’s petition reaches his desk. The moment that he took what I dreaded and stressed about the most, having to call the court-house each week, off my plate, I began to see that there was room for me to trust the judicial system again.

I would love to say that I immediately placed all my trust in the DA’s office as soon as I walked through the doors that December afternoon, but abuse significantly interferes with the ability to trust. It took a few months of checking in periodically and ADA Roupe assuring me over and over that he would notify me if the papers crossed his desk, before I started to notice that I had not fretted over the petition for weeks and then months. Then, in December 2016, I met with the Child Abuse Resource Prosecutor for the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys to discuss potential legislation changes regarding the registry. She provided a copy of the article below. When I read ADA Roupe’s words and how committed he is to providing me the opportunity for my voice to be heard at a petition hearing, I realized that I can trust the judicial system and they will stand up for me and fight for me with all their might. I don’t have to spend the remaining weeks of my life working up the courage to call the court house again. And I know that if I ever have to face my abuser in court again, I will have a strong team standing with me.

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PS: there are a few minor discrepancies of the dates, but nothing significant.