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.

 

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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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.

Building a Firm Foundation

This past Saturday, I had the privilege and honor of attending Triad Ladder of Hope’s Fundraising gala as the keynote speaker. For nearly two months, I prayed and sought the Lord’s direction for the words that I would speak. When I was ready to back out or change my words to a less vulnerable topic, God would remind me of His plans and purpose. I am so thankful that God has allowed me to reach a place of healing where I can take the deepest places of pain within me and use them to show people how mighty and powerful He is.

I wanted to take the time to share pieces of my speech. I know many family and friends wanted to attend the event and were unable to. The theme of the gala was “A Firm Foundation.”

Childhood sexual abuse fractures the foundation upon which life has been built. Your body no longer belongs to you. It becomes difficult to distinguish whether a person is safe or not. Hope for a future without being hurt, deteriorates rapidly. Your foundation is now built on lies, fear, and survival.

This faulty foundation does not crumble over night in most cases. Many times, the fractures in the foundation occur over time through the grooming process that abusers use to gain control over their victims. My abuser began chipping away at the edges of my foundation not long after he married my mom. He began by blurring the lines between normal and abnormal, safe and unsafe, right and wrong. Because he was a person deemed safe and trustworthy, I held on to the belief that he would not do anything wrong to me. He was supposed to love me, care for me, and protect me.

Therefore, when he began exposing himself to me at various times, I did not feel the need to run in fear to the nearest adult to tell. When he once tried to kiss me on the lips, I just thought it meant that he loved me or maybe it was an accident and he was trying to kiss me on the cheek. I ignored the pulse of fear that jolted through my body, because I thought he loved me.

I shared at the Gala that I experienced an overwhelming and breathtaking moment when I was asked to be the keynote speaker. I was so honored to be asked. What took my breath away was being able to witness how God allowed part of my story to come full circle. I never fathomed that I would be speaking for an organization founded in the exact city where about 18 years ago I was abused for the first time in the back of an 18 wheeler truck. I am so thankful God gifted me with this opportunity to see firsthand His redemptive efforts in my life. The little girl that was terrified and confused in the back of an 18 wheeler truck got to bravely speak.

My foundation began crumbling when the ongoing sexual abuse began when I was 8 years old. In my speech, I shared how this faulty foundation impacted my understanding of my purpose in life. The rules my abuser enforced began to carry into other environments as well. I detailed in a previous blog post about an incident in a hotel pool area where I became so conflicted about whether I was supposed to “service” a man in the sauna when he began exposing himself to me or continue swimming with my siblings. I was 9 year old and believed that my duty/job in life was to sexually satisfy men.

While I was freed from the physical presence of my abuser at the age of 13, my foundation remained in dangerous condition for many years. If you knew me in my teenage years, you likely saw a girl that worked hard in school to keep straight A’s, played hard for any sports team I was a member, and attended church fairly regularly. I did not let people see the foundation rotting away within me. My sister recently reminded me of one of our “mixed/burned” CDs that we would jam out to in my little Chevy Cobalt. These CDs so perfectly represented my life and I did not know it at the time. The first few tracks on the CD consisted of some of the most degrading and objectifying lyrics I have heard in my life. Then the next few tracks would be the top contemporary Christian hits. This pattern would repeat. I so badly wanted to my life to align with the contemporary Christian tracks, but my foundation was still built on the lies that the earlier tracks supported.

It was not an overnight process to rebuild my foundation. It took years of counseling to get a grasp on the ways that abuse was continuing to impact my life. My foundation was not made strong until I was able to reach the point where I was able to see myself, my worth, and my purpose through the eyes of Christ. It involved a complete lifestyle change. Today, Satan still attempts to fracture using the lies that I once believed so strongly. But my foundation is now built on truth that reminds me that I am a Beloved daughter of the King, my worth is priceless, and my purpose is to serve the Lord in all I do.

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Connecting the Dots

             As I have been preparing my speech for the Gala, I have reflected on different chapters of my life. I remember as a young girl I would sometimes get activity books with connect the dots and color by number pages. There were many times I would draw lines between the wrong numbered dots which would sometimes significantly alter the intended image. I was quite a perfectionist, so usually a “missed connection” would result in me wadding the page up and moving on to another activity.

             When I was a young girl, my understanding of the abuse that was happening to me was much like that of my connect the dots activity sheet. There were some segments that simply were not connecting. Honestly, I am still somewhat perplexed that I sat through health education classes that detailed abuse and the types of actions that constituted this somewhat ambiguous topic. I could pass tests at the end of the chapter requiring a detailed definition of abuse. I wish I had an explanation that would satisfy my mind, but I don’t yet. Unfortunately, I know this is a very frequent occurrence- a person knowing what abuse is but not being able to connect the dots in his/her own life.

             Maybe the dots were not connecting because my abuser had warped my mind to near oblivion about the wrongness of his actions. Maybe the dots really were connected but out of necessity for survival, I refused to look at the image created. I know many other factors that played into my delayed disclosure. I no longer feel guilt or anger with myself for not disclosing sooner because I know I was a terrified little girl just trying to survive.

             My heart just aches knowing that there are so many girls and boys each day that have not been able to disclose to someone the abuse they are enduring. I have been spending more time trying to think about ways we can empower others to speak. Here are my thoughts:

             First, we must ensure action will be taken and that someone will hear and believe the child. This is something we can all do. Believe.

             The second thing we can do is to empower children with a detailed lesson on abuse. For me, the standard definition and examples used in books didn’t work. Be willing to take it a step further and have conversations about abuse. Acknowledge the discomfort and fear a person may experience when talking about abuse. Invite a guest speaker or someone from law enforcement that specializes in forensic interviews or investigations to talk if it is a group setting. Discuss the types of threats an abuser may use to maintain control of the victim. The mental impacts of sexual abuse can be more crippling at times than the actual crime committed.

             Third, provide opportunities for disclosure. When I disclosed the final time, a teacher made herself available for me to talk to her during her planning period. Normalize the fear the child will probably experience when thinking about disclosing and reassure the child that you will believe them.

             Last, know the actions you may be mandated to take following a disclosure. Visit my previous post on disclosure here to learn how important your response is for the child.

             Evil exists in this world and I do not know that sexual abuse will ever cease to exist. But that does not mean the fight is a complete loss like my wadded up activity sheets. Instead, it means the fight against abuse is even more needed. I know that if we all take a bold stand against abuse by talking about it more, educating our children, and creating environments where disclosure can happen and be met with belief and action, then maybe there will be one less child impacted by abuse.

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Be someone she can tell the nightmare she endures. Be someone that will stand up and fight for her, every single day.