Keara’s Story

Just over a year ago, I went through a traumatic sexual violence experience. What started out as a care-free night out with my best friend turned into a nightmare. We started out bar-hopping in Lincoln Park- hardly a rarity for two girls going to college in the city. Without going into too much detail via email, I went from being buzzed yet coherent to waking up the next morning in a strange apartment not remembering a single thing. There was a man on the floor next to the bed I was on. I recognized him as the bouncer from the bar we were at. I was woken by my friend who was sobbing and terrified. I soon was overcome with terror as well. She told me she had just been raped and that we needed to leave. I was disoriented and couldn’t see straight, but we both managed to leave the apartment and catch a cab home- the price of our ride home was over 30$.
After spending an entire day in the hospital, I learned that the man had attempted to rape me, raped my best friend when she intervened and that we had both been drugged.
My experience with the cops and investigators was one of the most upsetting parts. That was the first time I encountered the traumatizing effects of rape culture and victim blaming. Investigators would not arrest or look for the man, even though we knew where he worked, because we had been drinking with fake IDs. Two college students at a bar underage seemed to be deserving of what happened to us. A female investigator even told me, “You know you’re lucky. I usually deal with cases where people die. You could really have gotten yourself in a bad situation.” I began to believe that I was to blame for everything that happened. That this was how the world worked, and I got in the way.
I now know this to be untrue. I went to counseling, and am currently seeking more outlets to help me cope with what happened. I’ve taken on a project to help coordinate an event on behalf of ALMAA (Advocacy, Living and Mentoring After Assault). I now run their twitter page, @ALMAACares and try and update it as much as possible. Sometimes it’s hard to go through and read articles and statistics and events that are still going on. But I know I want to fight rape culture and create a light for those effected by sexual violence. I have so many amazing people in my life right now who have proved that my fears aren’t true, and that there are amazing souls and good people out there who care. I’ve learned to stand up for myself and others and what is right. I still get scared, I struggle with extreme anxiety, but I wake up everyday wanting to move forward and fight for my happiness. I only hope that all humans are able to experience what they deserve: unconditional respect, compassion, love and acceptance.
Thank you for your time and hearing part of my story. If you are a survivor yourself, please know: you are not to blame. Though the world at times may seem like a dark and terrifying place, there is always a light. First and foremost within yourself, and your will to fight on through trauma, and also within the loving people who are there for you without judgement. You are beautiful, you are strong, you are breathing, you are fighting. You are life.”
Written by: Keara McGraw

Through the Eyes of a Survivor Named Kendra

Many survivors find it extremely hard to open up about their own rape or sexual assault personal experience and the way that they decide to deal with the situation is different for each person. However, after talking to an amazing sexual assault survivor named Kendra Ely, you (as a reader) can get an exclusive insight to how she felt when she first came forward after approaching RAINN (Rape, Abuse, Incest, National Network) for advice and how they helped her through the healing process. Kendra openly shared about how she felt when she first came forward.

“I was always scared and had lost my sense of security when I first came forward. It was hard for me to do it but RAINN really helped me feel comfortable about doing it and were very supportive to me at the time.” – Kendra

What Kendra was feeling at the time, is a normal part of the healing process for any survivor to go through when coming forward. The possible reason for this; is that sometimes it feels easier for a survivor to stay quiet because it is less painful and a way for them to try and forget it ever happened to them.

“To live as a sexual assault survivor I feel so ashamed. I feel people can see right through me. I feel so dirty.” – Kendra

This is a common type of coping mechanism that many survivors do to protect themselves from not only pain (both emotionally and physically) but an even bigger factor, is also because they are scared. Reasons for being scared are different for each individual survivors but for Kendra, she expressed that when she came forward, she was scared about what it will do to her as a person, how it will affect her life with future intimate relationships, how people will interact with her after finding out, and whether she can trust people especially men at all.

“After a traumatic event, it is typical to have feelings of anxiety, stress, or fear, making it difficult to adjust or cope for some time afterwards. In particular, survivors of sexual violence may experience severe feelings of anxiety, stress, or fear, known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).” – RAINN

No matter how badly beaten or barely showing any physical damage that is seen after surviving a rape or/and sexual assault encounter, the person attacked is always going to be scared and fearful. As soon as someone has been attacked, they instantly lose their power of control because the predator has automatically taken the control off them. Because of this, some survivors like Kendra start to feel insecure with themselves as a person and constantly put them-selves down in a negative way.

“Because your personal boundaries were invaded when you were young by someone you trusted and depended on, you may have trouble understanding that you have the right to control what happens to you.” – RAINN

By having a great organization like RAINN there for assistance as a helpful support system for survivors like Kendra, they can help get survivors past this negative way of thinking. It is the support that RAINN provides, the encouragement they share, and the hope they give to survivors, that give people like Kendra the hope and strength to overcome negative thoughts and start to move forward to thinking in a positive way.

“In most instances, the survivor never discussed the abuse with others while it was occurring. In fact, many survivors do not remember the abuse until years after it has occurred, and may never be able to clearly recall it. Usually, after being triggered by a memory, this individual learns how, as an adult, to deal with the effects of the abuse. It is important to speak with someone, whether it is a friend or counsellor, about the abuse and past and current feelings.” – RAINN

Once a survivor has their mind set on speaking in a negative way about themselves after being victimized, it is hard to go back to how they were without any help. Unfortunately this happens a lot because it is used as a defence mechanism as a way to prevent themselves (as a survivor) from getting hurt again. To a survivor like Kendra, it seems like the easiest answer and most logical choice because how they feel on the inside is generally what they are showing (physically) on the outside too. Survivors like Kendra do this because they do not feel beautiful but dirty instead as Kendra explained earlier. Just like many other survivors, they try to look less attractive in public to avoid sending out extra physical attention because it is a way of protecting themselves from being violated again. However with the help from an inspirational organization like RAINN (Rape, Abuse, Incest, National Network) they can help teach survivors like Kendra learn how to regain back control of their life and start to feel worthy as a person they truly are.

“It feels like I go through phases. Some days I feel like it’s all I think about and other days I doubt whether or not it even happened. I don’t feel great on the inside most of the time, especially when all I can think about is what happened to me. – Kendra

Whether it has been twenty years or a few days after being victimized, every survivor copes with it in a different way but no matter what way, the one thing that is for certain is that no survivor is at fault for what happened to them and that they are worthy. It is perfectly normal to be scared after being raped or sexually assaulted and whether you come forward straight away or twenty years later, it is never too late to get help. Organizations like RAINN are always going to be there to help and support those survivors who need it so for any reader who needs someone to talk to, please know that you can go to RAINNs online hotline at any time.

Just know: You are never alone, and it is never too late to get the help you need and deserve!

To contact RAINN:

Phone: 1 800 656 HOPE
Hotline: RAINN’s 24 Hour Hotline

PAVE My Stories: Military Male Survivor Speaks Out – Part One

Coming forward about rape or sexual assault is never easy for a survivor to do after it has happened to them, and in most cases that do or we hear of, are generally females. It is not just because males are less likely to be attacked, but for a male survivor to come forward it seems to be proven more difficult. However, thanks to James Landrith who was an active Military duty U.S Marine, he uses his voice to encourage other male survivors to come forward to come forward a give hope to others. James openly expresses how the  organization RAINN (Rape, Abuse. Incest, National Network) helped his journey to healing and how even being a survivor from a few years, can still bring up bad memories. However, by using techniques he has learned through professional advice, he knows how to overcome those feelings.

“I was drugged and raped by a woman who bought me a few drinks. She used blackmail and coercion to ensure my compliance once the effects of the drugged drinks wore off. I was an active duty U.S. Marine and she was a local civilian. Dealing with the aftermath of sexual violence takes on a different form daily. I never know when or if I will be triggered or by what.” – James Landrith

Unfortunately after being sexually victimized like James has been, survivors struggle to live each day without feeling the urge of suppressed feelings and thoughts about what happened to them. To many survivors just like James, this can cause an unexpected panic and stress attack that alarms/triggers the survivor to the feeling of being unsafe.

“I never know when or if I will be triggered or by what. As I type this now, I have been fighting a week long panic attack and I am unsure of its source. Some days, I don’t even think about it and go on about my business unhindered. However, on other days, it is at the front of my mind and I find myself checking for exits in any room I enter or elevator I ride.” – James Landrith

These feelings can raise so much stress on their body both physically and mentally because their mind goes back to when their encounter was/took place and struggle to come back to reality. However, with an organization as helpful as RAINN is to survivors, they are there to teach and provide information on how to prevent and decrease these types of symptoms as they arise.

“Re-Experiencing: This is a repeated reliving of the event, and interferes with daily activity. This category includes flashbacks, frightening thoughts, recurrent memories or dreams, and physical reactions to situations that remind you of the event.” – RAINN

Many people when they are in a public atmosphere or are surrounded by a crowd of people can suffer from both anxiety or panic attacks but to those who have been sexually assaulted or have been raped, the chances are significantly higher. It is sometimes hard to see straight away when you suffer with these (PTSD symptoms) as a survivor but to properly heal and gain back control of your life the support from others is essential. Having support from an organization like RAINN and other survivors like James, can not only help with the healing process but they can also help provide an understanding on what you (as a survivor) are going through and that all the horrible feelings you may be feeling are normal but as times goes by it will get better.

“There are many programs and organizations available to assist survivors. You can find local centers in your phonebook, or go online to RAINN.org and filter down to a local center. Also, many local governments offer crisis services. When a survivor decides to come forward, even if it is DECADES after the abuse, they may be in crisis mode. When I first decided to confront my own experiences, it felt like it had just happened and I was extremely raw. It might as well have just happened. I was clearly in crisis mode and found some via the local county mental health services.” – James Landrith

When you are at the stage of talking to a professional therapist about your sexual assault or rape, you may feel overwhelmed as that is a normal feeling to have, but if you do not feel comfortable with the person you are talking with then find someone you do feel comfortable talk with. It is essential to always feel safe and comfortable when talking to a professional so it is okay to keep looking for the right person but whatever you do, do not give up on yourself because like what James and other survivors discovered, healing is an individual process and everyone heals in different ways with different people, on their own journey.

“One thing to remember is that a survivor owns their healing and they have the right to turn change therapists or counsellors if they do not feel comfortable or validated. Not every survivor/counsellor pairing is going to be successful. This does not make you a failure at healing; it just means you haven’t found the right partner. Keep trying!” – James Landrith

Please Note:  ”The Department of Defense (DoD) Safe Helpline is a groundbreaking crisis support service for members of the DoD community affected by sexual assault. Safe Helpline provides live, one-on-one advice, support, and information to the worldwide DoD community. The service is anonymous, secure, and available 24/7 — providing victims with the help they need, anytime, anywhere.” – RAINN

Coming Up Next: Part Two of this article will be based on “Private Practice” the February 2, 2012 Storyline in relation to James Landrith’s interview we did with him on his own personal survivor story.

RAINN Gives Hope to a Survivor Named Alyssa Marie

Waking up every morning may seem like something automatic to do and possibly something that can even be taken for granted, but to the innocent people who have been sexually assaulted or/and raped, this can be very challenging and an on-going battle. Whether survivors have come forward or are still in silence, the feeling of being alone and helpless is constantly being reminded to them as their fears keep re-surfacing from deep within flashbacks and memories of their attack. However, by having an inspirational organization like RAINN ( Rape, Abuse, Incest, National Network) who specialize in encouraging survivors to get the right help from professionals, survivors can move forward and start to have hope in their lives.

“It is vital you get yourself help if you are in an unsafe situation. I cannot stress strongly enough to get support after you come forward as a process so gruelling, cannot be done alone. Dealing with triggers such as songs, smells etc can cause flashbacks, which is hard to cope with sometimes but then I have the support of my friends and other survivors who help me through it.” – Alyssa Marie

No matter how young or old anyone is, sexual assault and rape is wrong and it is never the survivors fault. As a survivor, they tend to feel guilty, shameful, and feel like they are to blame for putting themselves into these dangerous situations, but the only one at fault for being raped and/or sexually assaulted is the one who does it. Although this is something that a survivor is constantly always feeling and can be hard to fully understand and accept, with great help-lines and organizations like RAINN, they can help them to understand that these are normal feelings to have after a traumatic incident. With the help from RAINN, survivors are not only taking the first step, but a first positive step forward onto their journey of recovery, healing, and hope.

“After a traumatic event, it is also typical to have feelings of anxiety, stress, or fear, making it difficult to adjust or cope for some time afterwards. Victims also might avoid places, events, or objects that remind them of the experience. Emotions related to avoidance are numbness, guilt, and depression. Some have a decreased ability to feel certain emotions, like happiness. However, Understanding what you’re going through is the first step to recovery.” – RAINN

In the moment of the attack, the survivor’s power is taken off them and is transferred to their attacker because the feeling of watching some vulnerable gives them (the attacker) a sense of power. Unfortunately for sexual assault survivor Alyssa Marie, she was unable to defend herself to her attacker because she was too young and the vulnerably was sadly unavoidable. Alyssa’s loss of security was taken away from her at a very young age because of these traumatic episodes that surfaced throughout her childhood years (until he was reported a few years later), but sadly he was never convicted due to lack of evidence.

“It started when I was 3 and it didn’t stop until I was 5 or 6. It was my dad and he was never convicted because I was too young to testify and when I was old enough it wouldn’t hold up in court so he is still in NZ however I am safe and I have a protection/restraining order against him.” – Alyssa Marie

For survivors who have been through what Alyssa has, (especially when their attacker is out in the community unpunished for their crime) their instant reaction is to keep quiet because they fear that if they speak up, no one will believe them. Many survivors who have been assaulted in their childhood or adult life generally do not share or report their attack straight away (if at all) because of this and therefore stay silent. With supportive organizations like RAINN, they are always making it aware that as a survivor, there is constant share of love to help them report, reach out, and guide themselves to the right kind of help that will benefit the recovery process. RAINN however, do not force survivors to report their attacker (although it is strongly encouraged) but are there to 100% support the survivor and make sure that they feel safe and have a place to go to if not.

“RAINN is helpful because they offer hotlines and services that are available. In my opinion you definitely need to seek professional help and also definitely do things that make you happy or do things to take your mind off it.” – Alyssa Marie

To a survivor, having hope is hard to contain because when you lose all sense of security nothing positive, seems possible and you feel like you should always expect the worst to happen. But thanks to Gorjana and Hollywood Actress/RAINN advocate KaDee Strickland they have made this possible for survivors to have hope because their collaborated RAINN Hope Necklace certainly brings light out of something so horrific.

“The RAINN Hope Necklace is a meaningful symbol and reminds me of what it means to be a survivor and it’s a constant reminder of how far each individual survivor has come.” – Alyssa Marie

The RAINN Hope necklace not only reminds survivors that they all survived, but also that they can get through anything and they never have to be alone because it is never too late to get help. To everyone who is not a survivor, it is also another way for anyone to show their support and help encourage survivors to reach out and gain back their control.

“I am not a survivor by I bought a hope necklace as my way of showing support to survivors who have one through the worst of things and need help to get their voice back.” – Lacey Ives

No matter if you were sexual assaulted or raped that happened 20 years ago or last week, there is always hope for you and it is never too late to get help. Please contact RAINN by calling 1 800 656 HOPE or on their 24hr hotline at www.rainn.org because once you have taken that first step, you will be able to start to heal properly.

To buy a RAINN Hope Necklace, please go to Gorjana’s website direct link: www.gorjana.com/products/RAINN-Hope-Necklace.html and for every necklace you buy, 80% of all the proceedings go directly to RAINN.

My Stories: Marnie and IMPACT Personal Safety

“As a survivor of stranger rape, I never had an interest in taking a self-defense class.  I teach people that being aware of your surroundings is critical. We live in a world where women must be on high alert. We teach women to avoid certain places at specific times, buddy up, and be safe rather than sorry.  However we don’t have the physical tools to fight back.  While I wanted to have every tool available to protect myself, the possibility of learning something that could have changed the trajectory of my history made self defense feel like a place I did not belong -to learn what could have been seemed tragic.  It was for those who haven’t been attacked.

Having a strong sense that self-defense would be cathartic for me, my husband convinced me to attend his Arnis class. As I surveyed the room – six guys, an instructor and a red duffle bag filled with knives – I fled through the front door. I was terrified. This was not for me. I did not have one survivor friend who went to self defense as part of their healing. His instructor recommended IMPACT Personal Safety, a program for women that he had been involved with. I watched their videos online. I was impressed with the intensity and focus of the course. Good for them, I thought, but not good for me.

Then I read IMPACT’s mission: men and women dedicated to ending the cycle of violence, a goal of many anti-sexual assault organizations I work with.  More specifically the goals of IMPACT are ones that this activist should know. The mission of IMPACT Personal Safety is to end the cycle of violence in society by empowering women, children, and men with the self-esteem and the tools necessary to take control of their lives through self-defense, boundary setting and the understanding that your life is worth fighting for.

I reluctantly signed up for the eight weeks basics course.  At the first class, I met 13 other strong, smart women who had been attacked or feared it, along with four instructors – one instructor, two assists, and our male instructor – the mugger.  Three and a half hours later, I wished every woman knew what I had just learned.  I left feeling exhausted but forever changed. We were taught surprisingly simple but highly effective physical moves to protect ourselves in real life situations that we chose and fought out with our fully padded and protected male instructor. I watched my classmates elbow, strike, and kick their way out of every scenario. IMPACT is not just about learning how to fight but arming yourself with verbal skills to deescalate a situation – and if all else fails – we were prepared to fight.  These boundary setting skills crossover to the every day – from a difficult boss to a needy friend, IMPACT taught us to assess situations and apply the right tools.

Every week I felt a little wiser, a little stronger, a little safer.  This class was about protecting myself in the present, and adding these skills to my activist toolbox. I went from vehemently arguing why the class was not for me to encouraging every woman to take the basics class. If anything the class reinforced that I skillfully survived the attack.  For survivors, this is an empowering moment: taking the power back. You don’t need to practice it- it’s muscle memory. Instead of freezing, your body has been taught to fight back.

The class ends with graduation – a mighty send off with an opportunity to show friends and family what you’ve learned. My husband, friends, and even a client attended.  I watched thirteen strong women I met just eight weeks earlier confidently and instinctively handle every scenario they were confronted with.  We were also applauding each other’s transformations and successes, from walking fearlessly through a parking lot at night, to changing jobs, to feeling a whole lot safer.  How many things can you learn in eight classes will change you forever?  Self defense is not a mandatory class all children learn in school; we learn what we are taught by family or friends, and then when one becomes a victim of a crime, we blame. We blame ourselves, and criminals know this. So then, how could you not take this class?  You want to find the survivor in you? Want to kick that fear through a brick wall?  Invest in you and find peace, happiness and some serious strength with IMPACT Personal Safety.”

- Marnie Goodfriend

If you are interested in learning more about IMPACT Personal Safety’s programs and how you might use then as a part of your healing process, you can learn more on their website. I’m linking you straight to their chapter locator page so you can click the one in your area, as each location offers different services. Click here.

 

 

 

 

PAVE My Stories: From Protect Our Defenders: Rebecca’s Story

One of the many ways that PAVE Affiliate Protect Our Defenders raises awareness about sexual violence in the military is by having survivors share their stories. Please watch Rebecca’s Story below:

Do you have a story to tell? Please email your written, recorded or video story to info@ShatteringTheSilence.org. Please include weather or not you would like the story to be anonymous or how you would like us to use your name.

 

My Story: Senica Evans

Here is my story;

It was the middle of December 1995; I was a freshman at Whitney Young H.S. on the Westside of Chicago. I lived on the Southside which meant I had to take 2 trains to get to the other side of the city every day. I wasn’t alone in my travels though. My best friend from grammar school, RC, went to the same school. We took the trains together. When we would get to the end of the line, 95th St, we parted ways. I walked the 4 or 5 blocks home alone. There was a KFC and a Burger King on the last block of my daily trek. I frequented both of them, but on this particular day I decided to patronize Burger King. I ordered my usual and exited the store. As I crossed the parking lot, I passed a group of 4 boys. One of them called out to me since I had already passed them. I turned around and said “I’m not walking back so you can catch up“. He obliged. Then there was the usual banter of what’s your name, what school do you go to, etc. The exchange ended with us exchanging numbers. He was older than me, 20 to be exact. He called me that night and we talked for hours. We planned to see each other the next day.

 

The next day, I told my mother I was going ice skating downtown with RC. This was just a rouse as I was meeting him around the corner. We were supposed to go to the skating rink together. I left the house and he was right where he said he would be. He was in a gray 2 door Cutlass. We drove around to an area that was unfamiliar to me. We pulled up to a 3 flat apartment building and he parked the car. He said he would be right back. He had to run to his grandmother’s house for a moment.

 

I sat waiting in the car for what seemed like 15 or 20 minutes. He suddenly reappeared at the car. He opened the door and told me to come in for a second. I exited the vehicle and followed him inside. We walked up the stairs to the third floor. There were two apartment doors on both sides of the stair case. He knocked on one door and there was no answer. He turned as if he were getting ready to head down the stairs and threw me down. I tried to get up but he held me down with his body weight. I was squirming trying to get from underneath him but there wasn’t enough room. I was stuck between the wall and the banister. He held me by my neck with one hand and unfastened his pants with the other. Everything after that become a blur. He took from me something I could never get back, my virginity.

 

When he was done he jumped off me and said “c’mon, I’m gonna take you home”. I felt so low and dirty and ashamed. I walked back to the car staring at the ground. I wanted to run but I didn’t know where I was or how to get home. I got in the car and slumped down in the seat. The weight of everything that just happened hadn’t fully settled in yet. When we got back around my house, he dropped me off in the same place he picked me up. I walked the block home. When I got in the house, I immediately took a shower and went to bed. My mother didn’t have a clue what happened and I intended to keep it that way. I didn’t want a soul to know.

 

One month after the incident, my secret was still safely tucked inside of me. But things slowly started to change. I started sleeping more and was growing increasingly tired. I just thought I was getting sick and quickly dismissed it. Mom, on the other hand, did not dismiss this sudden change in my behavior. She began questioning my every step. There is truly nothing like a mother and her intuition. One day she asked me if I was pregnant and I quickly denied. Pregnant? No, I’m not pregnant! She handed me a pregnancy test and instructed me how to use it. Three minutes later it was confirmed. Yes, I was pregnant.

 

Again, my world came crashing down. I was 14 years old how could I be pregnant. I was a virgin! Well I was before it was stolen right out of my hands. My mother was livid so livid that her baby was not only having sex but also pregnant. She had done everything in her power to teach me about sex and having babies and diseases. But in her world, I completely ignored everything she said. She didn’t speak to me for an entire week. When she finally did talk to me I didn’t have the courage to tell her that as a result of me lying to her I was taken advantage of. She decided I was too young to be a mother. There was no way this was going to happen. I hadn’t even finished high school let alone got into college. The pregnancy was aborted shortly thereafter. I buried this entire incident in the deep dark recesses of my mind to never be talked about again. I hid the hurt, the pain, the embarrassment, and the shame.

 

Today, I am no longer quiet. I found healing through transparency. I have been able to be a shining light to other women and girls who have experienced similar situations. Unfortunately, this was not the end for me. I am a survivor of domestic violence and was married to an abusive controlling spouse. I survived it all. I am a stronger, wiser, better woman because of it. I released all anger, bitterness, and resentment for all the men who have wronged me in my life. Today my life is filled with peace, joy, and true happiness.

Senica Evans is an outspoken survivor, advocate, speaker and author. She has a wonderful website www.SennySen.com where she actively reaches out to survivors of domestic and sexual abuse. She recently released a book Married to Him, which is her story of overcoming a marriage filled with deceit, abuse, and infidelity to joy, peace, and deliverance. She also hosts a weekly Blog Talk Radio show entitled Let’s Chat Radio Show where she discusses all things pertaining to relationships from love to lust and romance to destruction.

Senica Evan's website logo

My Story: David M.

WARNING: This story contains some explicit content and could be triggering, please read with caution and self care.

“During my rough coming out my mom wasn’t treating me very well, so I started to become so desperate to get her to quit being such a royal snob to me I began talking to her friends over the phone when they’d call for her, just to get them to get her to quit it. I was 15 and desperate and didn’t know what else to do. One day it ended up being Fred I tried this with, as I tried this with about 3 or 4 friends, and Fred got me to open up to him about my gay troubles over the phone and he right away offered me work to do for filing and things, as he was a piano tuner. When I got there though, I was in his room, and he says to me “hey, want to get off?” he saw the look on my face and tossed it off as he was “being rude sorry”.

Earlier we had talked about massage though so he offered to give me a back rub. When I flipped over at some point he noticed I had an erection, which he put his hand on, and then put in his mouth after undoing my clothes. I was terrified. He was a 60 year old man and I was silent and was at a loss for words. I thought it was my own fault because of my erection and now I know that it wasn’t and that he used me. He continued to go down on me in the coming months, and I was so hurt and torn and confused, thinking I wanted it but knowing that it hurt me, but feeling like I wanted it anyway. I didn’t want to be home with mom and dad who were being very unreasonable at the time; even tricked me into going to an anti gay seminar, so this was my escape from them I felt I needed, which I was convinced I wanted, although it hurt me horribly to deal with it, but he fooled me into thinking he was my friend and that I wanted it. He also gave me hope that I had a place to stay when I was 18 as I believed my parents would probably kick me out; so I continued to be his friend despite my torn and horrible self loathing feelings.

It took me about 10 years to fully grasp it was not my fault. I told the police about it and it was an investigation for a while but ultimately it was too late and nothing would happen with it. He is on the streets today.”

My Stories: Stacy M.

 

It seems that I can’t turn on a news program lately without hearing discussions about the Penn State University child sexual abuse scandal. Nor does it seem that I can browse the pages of this newspaper without finding several stories weekly about child pornography and pedophiles. It feels very much like we have reached a turning point as a society where we are beginning to become educated and speak openly about childhood sexual abuse, the perpetrators and victims and the psychology and complexity behind all of it. Sadly, the sexual abuse of children is far more common than most of us ever thought (I’ve read that one in four girls and one in five boys will be a victim of sexual assault by the time they are 18 years old) and by the time a child molester is caught, he has already victimized an average of 117 children. The good news is that these crimes are coming out of the shadows and hopefully as a society we will become less tolerant and more aware of how this happens and how to recognize and prevent it.

The Jerry Sandusky sex abuse accusations coincidentally have taken over the airwaves as I await the trial or sentencing of my daughter’s molester and the spotlight that has been put on these crimes has shown so many similarities between these two perpetrators, as well as others in the news. My daughter’s molester was her step-father for a little over a decade and if you would have asked me as recently as two years ago if he were capable of sexually abusing a child, I would have said absolutely not. He was educated, had helped in the raising of some of his younger siblings and his three biological children whose mother is a seemingly smart, professional woman, a doting and protective mother and certainly wouldn’t have knowingly raised children with a pedophile – nor would I. But we did. One of the detectives working on this case that specializes in helping child sex abuse victims worked with an officer for about eight years and was shocked when it was revealed that he was in possession of child pornography. Another detective specializing in internet child porn cases once had to arrest his next-door neighbor for these crimes – a person who had sat at his own dinner table and shared a meal with his family. That’s one of the scariest things about these predators – they are master manipulators and usually have everyone in their lives fooled. They are puppet masters, creating scenarios to get close to their prey and keeping others from unveiling their dark secrets. Jerry Sandusky started a charity for underage boys from dysfunctional families who were very easy prey for him. A recent local molestation story involved a man who ran a day care – a situation where parents literally handed his victims over to him. There was also a Pattee Canyon campground host who molested at least four little girls. Camping is a situation where kids run with a bit more freedom than usual and the opportunities were likely abundant for that predator. I remember my daughter’s molester telling me on more than one occasion that before being with me, he would often see young mothers and their children in grocery stores and always felt like that’s what he wanted for himself – a young woman with little kids. I had no idea that it was likely the children that appealed to him, not their mothers.

Watching an interview with the mother of one of Sandusky’s victims and hearing her talk about how her son told her that Jerry was a “weirdo” but she was unable to mentally make the leap and recognize that he was a molester was eerily similar to my situation. My daughter, at age seven or eight, told me one day that she didn’t want her step-father to give her a massage anymore. I asked her when he had given her a massage and if it hurt her or was uncomfortable. She said it was uncomfortable and, hearing our discussion, the step-father jumped in and said, “What? What is she saying to you?” I told him what she had said and my little girl looked at him and said, “I don’t want you to do that anymore”. He chuckled and said, “Ok. I’ve never been very good at giving massages.” That was it – a very defining moment because my little girl thought that she had communicated that something wasn’t right, I failed to make the mental leap that a bad massage meant that this man that I knew and trusted was a pedophile, and he took control. He had been starting the grooming process with her by increasingly expanding where and how he touched her, beginning with simply massaging her back but reaching just a bit further each time. I’ve recently learned that the next time he did that to her back then, he told her (in true pedophile fashion), “Don’t tell anyone, you almost got me in trouble last time.” For the next several years (until she was 14), my daughter lived in a cycle of bribery, confusion and blurry memories of waking up to this man fondling her. There’s no way of knowing what she, or other potential victims of his slept through or were too young to remember.

There were lots of arguments between him and me over the years because he favored my daughter over my son, giving her gifts and lots of extra attention. He claimed that it was because he had grown up with only brothers and always said, “Little girls are special – I always made sure my own daughter had nice things.” I struggled to figure out why my daughter had such a hard time concentrating in school and received average grades despite her obvious intelligence. He often blamed it on the absence of her biological father, though I’ve since learned that inability to focus in school is very common among sexual abuse victims. Over the years, I suffered from anxiety and a constant nagging feeling that something wasn’t quite right, but allowed my spouse to convince me that those feelings were my fault and that I was insecure and paranoid.

This man, like Jerry Sandusky, had good long-time friends, worked full time and was loved by his own children. There were many good times over the years – camping trips with all of our kids, birthdays, graduations and lots of sporting events. Never in a million years would I have guessed that things would end the way they did. It was as if the man I trusted and loved had two identities living in one body. That seems to be the realization with which people who know a pedophile must come to terms – these people can compartmentalize their two halves in a way that seems impossible. This man was a co-worker to many, an employee to some, a good friend and confidant to others. He was a father, a son, a brother and the majority of people who knew him would have described him as a good guy. We all hate pedophiles and child molesters in theory, but it’s a difficult journey to wrap your mind around the fact that you already know and maybe even love one. I’ve learned from several experts that pedophiles develop their attraction to small children (some prefer boys, others prefer girls) in their teen years and a huge majority of them were sexually abused themselves.

The road to getting caught for most of these molesters is long and rocky, as they will do anything to protect their secret. I spent the final year and a half with my daughter’s molester getting into arguments and defending myself against his delusions. Reintroducing alcohol into his life after many years of sobriety made it very difficult for him to maintain his two separate identities and his façade crumbled. Fearing his secret coming out and knowing that I wanted out of the relationship due to his drinking, he went on the offensive attempting to preemptively discredit me in the event that I learned the truth. He accused me of cheating on him with one man, then four or five, then dozens. Ugly fights occurred in front of my children and when I left him, he spread his delusions and lies among his family members portraying himself as a victim who had been cheated on then abandoned. That’s when it began to click. I remembered how he had told me similar things about another woman long ago – tales of infidelity and abuse, painting a picture of himself as a victim. I remembered him ranting many years prior about the fact that he felt that he hadn’t had any privacy and always felt under suspicion – essentially laying the groundwork for me to give him space and not question his behavior. These were the same things he was saying about me now, that I cheated, was abusive to him and snooped into his private business.

On Thanksgiving 2010, he sent my daughter a text attacking my character and that was the final straw for her. She told me that night that she remembered several times waking up to him touching her over the years. She said that the last time he did it, she was 14 years old. I confronted him about it and he claimed that one time, in his sleep, something may have accidentally happened. My daughter insisted that it wasn’t one time and it wasn’t an accident – she remembered him molesting her on several occasions over many years. I discussed the situation with my therapist and, following his guidance, we discussed these things with child protective services and then the police. This is one of the things about childhood sexual abuse that many people don’t understand. Why didn’t she say something sooner? Why are so many of Jerry Sandusky’s victims coming forward now, many years after the crimes occurred and after others were victimized? That’s all a part of the complex psychology of this kind of crime. When kids are very little and they are being abused in this way, they often don’t know that it’s wrong. It doesn’t hurt and sometimes even feels good. By the time they understand how wrong the behavior is, they feel as if they have been a participant in something bad because they didn’t speak up sooner. Some fear the repercussions such as not being believed, anger from those who care about the pedophile and potential revenge from the abuser or his supporters. Most suffer guilt because they often have an otherwise close relationship with their abuser despite the pain and dysfunction he has caused. In Sandusky’s case, he spent many hours, days and even years mentoring his victims. Many of Sandusky’s victims are now speaking up because they know that they are not alone. My daughter finally felt safe speaking up after she was sure that I was not going back to her former step-father.

After my daughter came forward, her abuser’s home was raided and a huge amount of child pornography was found – videos and images of little girls from toddlers to teens being raped and sexually assaulted. Police told me that some of the girls could be heard crying in the videos while being raped. He had saved much of it to CDs and much more was found to have been downloaded on his computer. This all hit me like a ton of bricks and has taken many months to process. How could I not have known? I thought back to all of the times that I watched the Dateline “To Catch a Predator” shows on TV and my daughter’s molester acted appropriately disgusted by the adult men preying on underage girls. He even once told me that those guys should be shot. I remembered a time when I told him about a man who tried to sexually assault me when I was very young and he said that he wished he knew who that was because he’d kill him.  He seemed very protective of his own children and step-children. Many times, I told them that they were lucky to have such a good father figure in their lives. None of it fit or made sense but it was all true – the evidence was clear and abundant and was followed by his confession.

There are several people in this man’s life who are still struggling with pain and confusion, looking for someone else to blame (many of them choosing me or my daughter), and who have a long road of grieving and breaking through denial ahead of them. The initial reaction by some of his supporters was similar to the crowds of Penn State students who rioted, turned over a news van and loudly protested Paterno’s firing. We received an onslaught of text messages and emails, some calling my daughter a liar, one telling me I belong in prison with him, and several disowning both of us. I was accused of “thriving” on the terrible circumstances and of allowing the abuse to take place because the perpetrator helped pay my bills. In reality, I paid a large portion of our household expenses and a significant amount of his earnings, I now know, was spent on child pornography and a gambling addiction he was hiding. And, any mother who has been in my situation can attest to the fact that they would NEVER knowingly allow someone to molest their child. Whether such an accusation is made out of ignorance, denial or cruelty, the additional pain caused to a pedophile’s victims is the same. People that my daughter loved have been cut off from her life and people who she thought would love and protect her have failed to show concern about her recovery or to reach out to her in any way, instead, they are more concerned about the fate of her molester and spreading rumors that the molestation charges have been dropped (essentially still suggesting that the crimes never happened).

Again, the similarities have come to light with the Sandusky accusations. Once the veil had been lifted and the truth revealed, Jerry Sandusky minimized his behavior, claiming to have “horsed around in the shower” with young boys. The local day care provider recently convicted of molestation claimed that the little girl he sexually assaulted was “four going on forty” and very provocative. The Pattee Canyon campground host who has molested at least four young girls said that when he has one drink too many, his hands “start to wander”. During his confession to police, my daughter’s molester said in regard to her, that he had “crossed the line a few times,” as if all adults are somehow teetering on the edge, resisting the urge to molest children. Regarding all of the child pornography, police asked if he had any pictures or videos of my daughter and he replied that the stuff he had was just “generic kids”.  I suppose the perpetrators of these crimes have to minimize their actions in their own minds in order to live with themselves and maintain their false image on a daily basis.

As disturbing and frightening as it is that these crimes are so common and the perpetrators are so difficult to identify, I am pleased to see that we, as a society, are beginning to become educated about this subject. I am thankful that my daughter was brave enough to speak the truth, strong enough to deal with the re-victimization she has endured and has a great therapist and many supportive people who love her and will help her recover. I am proud to say that she is now on the high honor roll in school and on track to graduate a year early. If more people feel safe to speak up and more people understand how to properly respond, the cycle of sexual abuse can began to be broken. Victims will have a greater chance of recovering and perhaps pedophiles will find the courage to admit what they are, deal with what happened to them and seek the help they need rather than continuing to harm our children and their own families.

- Stacy M.

My Stories: Debbie O’Dowd Michard

Read Debbie O’Dowd Michard’s brave account of her brutal attack, prosecution attempts and survival.

I was brutally attacked and beaten in Aurora,Colorado on March 14,1985. in back of the Cooper movie theater by a guy Greg Gregerson I had met and danced with at the Iliff Park Saloon. He insisted on giving me a ride home. I lived not far away in the Countryside apartments. I was going back Home to Fla after breaking up with my boyfriend. He pulled in back of the movie theater locked the car doors and started beating me. I somehow unlocked the doors and RAN as fast as I could. He caught me, beat me intensely banging my head on the ground making me have oral sex with him – ripped my shirt and pulled my jeans down. I said please don’t kill me My Mother will never understand and for a minute he stopped and I kicked him with my boot then he beat me more and pulled my jeans off I ran again when i got free and a miracle happened a police car was in the parking lot. Naked and soaked in blood but ALIVE Officer Dana Hatfield saved My life. He was brand new to the Police force and this scum of the earth Evil Monster got away but I survived. At the hospital,the rape crisis people were horrible but when I was leaving Officer Hatfield came to check on me and promised me he would find Him. I was released later with a concussion and multiple abrasions,black and blue face and body but ALIVE. I remembered then how lucky I was. The next day the TERROR set in. I couldn’t even open the blinds and look outside I was so SCARED. I left for home a few days later and was contacted by the detective in charge soon after they had found him and wanted me to come back to prosecute him. The DA was great and when I saw the photos of me I cried I looked dead,She told me he was on parole for rape from Michigan and she thought he intended to rape and kill me. I went back to court reluctantly and reunited with my boyfriend. It was TRUE HORROR to have to identify him and be in a courtroom near this maniac! I left and moved ot of state before the next court date and never continued with the prosecution. He told me he was in my apartment before it happened and it HAUNTED ME! I regret so much I didn’t have the support I Needed. I kept what was left of my clothes I was wearing for years and threw them away before DNA was used. I just buried it all inside and thought it would go away but it never will! I got a strange phone message with music years ago and knew it was him. I contacted Officer Hatfield when my first Grand Daughter was born to thank him for saving my life and he told me he was a sergeant and specialized in Sexual Abuse and Crime because of me and trained new officers and talked about what happened to Me. I was 25 on that horrible night, I am 52 now, married to a great man I love, have two beautiful daughters and two little grand daughters and a new grand son that Nana loves so much! I am Truly One Of The Lucky Ones Who Survived! I do want to say I want my police report and evidence. I asked Officer Hatfield to send me it and contacted the Police Department who said it was in the archives and I had to request and pay for it. I still live in fear that little young terrified woman will be forever inside me and I want to know where this monster is and I urge all Survivors and Assaulted to PLEASE PROSECUTE THEM! THERE IS SUPPORT AND STRENGTH TOGETHER NOW. THANK YOU IT FEELS GOOD TO TELL THE TRUTH AND LET IT OUT!!

DEBBIE “O’DOWD” MICHARD