Would you believe her now?

I have written many letters on my healing journey. Letters to my abuser of things I wish I could say. Letters to the future victims and my hopes for them if he does not change. Letters to myself, to remind me of the healing and strength, when I find myself in dark places of hopelessness. As I have shared before, I don’t often write words onto paper the same day the blog forms in my mind. Sometimes, the words demand to be read and I am restless until I write them. So here I am, when I should be preparing for another day of PhD class in the morning, writing a letter to a group of people, I’ve infrequently addressed on my blog. I often talk about this group when I am presenting at conferences, especially when I discuss the losses that primary and secondary victims experience following the disclosure of abuse.

My former aunts and uncles.

Aunts and uncles, and those that act as aunts and uncles, play a valuable role in the lives of children. They are often people children feel they can turn to when they do not feel like they can turn to their mom or dad. They are held in high regard and children relish their attention and love. I loved my aunts and uncles when I was a child. And I loved them after my disclosure of sexual abuse, too.

When a child discloses intrafamilial abuse (especially in blended families), families often split- the children go with the non-offending caregiver or another family member and contact ceases with the perpetrator’s side of the family, unless that side of the family believes the child and discontinues contact with the abuser also. Unfortunately, in my blended family, it felt like battle lines were drawn.

Did you think about what it was like for my siblings and me (and our mom) to lose so much of what we knew in a single night?

My family was not immune to holding the battle lines, but their motive was primarily the safety of my siblings and me. I recall seeing ya’ll in the store on occasion and I desperately wanted to hug you and say to you, “please believe me, I am telling the truth.” I wondered whether deep down there was a sliver of doubt about the story you were told.

Did you know that I secretly hoped you cheered for me also at the volleyball games?

I was your niece; you were my aunts and uncles.  High school looked a lot different than I envisioned when you were still considered my family. I thought I would have a chance to attend school with my cousins, but the abuse I experienced and disclosed removed that relationship. I am thankful we were able to function as teammates for the betterment of our team, but I always wondered if everyone felt the same tension I did.

Court- the loss of hope.

I do not know why I hoped that before we went to court the first time I would have the opportunity to talk to ya’ll- that we could be reconciled. I try to imagine what it would be like if I learned my brother abused a child. I hope that I would always have the courage and conviction to believe the child. But I also know how tight sibling relationships are and it would be absolutely gut-wrenching to walk that path. At least, that’s what I imagined it was like for you all. But, when I saw you in court when I was 15, I remember feeling like I was the most hated person there.

Court- the sting of hope lost.

The second round of court in 2018 brought a new hope that maybe you all believed me now. The first day when I showed up, none of you were there and I really thought that signified that somehow in the decade since we last crossed paths, you realized I was telling the truth. Disappointment reigned the second day of court when you all sat by his side.

Would you believe her now?

If your granddaughter came to you tomorrow and said her great uncle was making her touch him, would you believe her? If you can believe her now, can you believe me for then?

My gut says that you would believe your granddaughter. For her sake, her future, I pray you do, without hesitation.

As a 13–18-year-old navigating living in a small town until high school graduation, my path crossed with my former family. These emotional reactions were impactful and disrupted my life. My healing journey has not required acknowledgment of who believes me and who never did. But, I believe it is important to continue to raise awareness of how primary victims (me) and secondary victims (my family) are impacted following disclosures of abuse.

Reclaiming Safety in My Body

I do not know why I ever start a series on my blog because each time I do, a different topic feels important to discuss. From now on, I may wait until a series is complete before I post the first entry. So, here is a detour on words that I felt needed to be written.

One of the most difficult aspects of healing after childhood sexual abuse or sexual assault is reclaiming felt safety in the body. When a person’s body is sexually violated, it feels like someone else has busted the front door down and taken up residence within it. The body may not feel like it belongs to you anymore. The autonomy you once rested in, is stolen.

To complicate matters, one of the prime coping mechanisms for dealing with sexual trauma requires the disconnection between a person and their body. Dissociation. The good thing about dissociation is that it does allow us to disconnect from our body during events that are painful, full of betrayal, and that overwhelm our capacity to function. The bad thing about dissociation is that it allows us to disconnect from our body even when the external threat has subsided. People who have experienced trauma, specifically sexual trauma, often have seasons where they remain somewhat disconnected from the present moment because a perceived threat remains. Sometimes that threat may feel like yourself.

When I was a little girl, one of the beliefs abuse instilled in me was that I no longer had the privilege to choose what happened to my body. I no longer had the right to refuse what my abuser wanted. As my brain developed, that belief generalized to people outside of the walls of my house. I have written numerous times about an incident at a hotel pool area when, as a child, I believed that whenever a man did things like my abuser, it was my duty to “help.” In elementary school, it did not feel like my body was really, truly, my own.

The belief that my body was “owed” to others and an indebtedness persisted.  This belief often holds hands with self-blame (which is what I plan to address in part two of the series). I could justify the belief that I owed my abuser because I was not physically coerced into the abuse. It was what just had to happen if I wanted to watch a television show with him. That message was reinforced by words my abuser spoke and eventually it transformed into a sense of obligation to others. My body did not belong to me and it was meant for others’ consumption.

While one may break the chains of self-blame and obligation to others, re-establishing felt safety within one’s own body has a different trajectory. It is not as simple as telling ourselves, the threat is gone and we are now safe. We can say that to ourselves, but our body is not going to embrace that belief because the dissociation severed the connection. First, we must restore the connection and allow ourselves to feel- period. Many of us will slowly wade into the pool of feelings because simply jumping in is too overwhelming. As we wade into the pool, we begin to feel what we have not felt in a long time. After a while, we start to realize we can swim in the pool of feelings. We can choose which area of the pool we want to visit. We have learned self-regulation techniques so that if someone jumps in and causes a huge splash, we can either embrace the water hitting our face or we can swim away from the commotion to a place that feels calmer. It isn’t until we lay on our backs, allowing the water to hold us up, as we float with the sun hitting our face, our eyes closed, that we feel safe. Safety comes when we trust that our body is not going to betray us, when we trust that no one is going to try and drown us, when we trust that we are not going to sink- that is when we are truly free.

Why Kids Don’t Disclose Abuse: A Series





  1. the state of having mixed feelings or contradictory ideas about something or someone.

One of the hallmark experiences of child sexual abuse is ambivalence. While some people still hold tightly to the idea that abuse occurs at the hands of the creepy, old man driving an ice cream van, many people have accepted the reality that abuse most often occurs within relationships. Abuse perpetrated by a stranger far less frequently results in feelings of ambivalence compared to abuse perpetrated by someone known, loved, and trusted. Ambivalence is a gift to the abuser, but superglue to the lips of the victim.

No one really likes ambivalent feelings. If you’re like me (as an adult), I just want to know things. I don’t enjoy being caught in the middle. I didn’t know what I felt as a kid had a name, and I certainly didn’t know how to navigate the complex and confusing feelings I held. Many adults struggle to navigate ambivalence. It can leave us feeling paralyzed. As a kid, it was incapacitating.

My abuser was someone I loved, trusted, and wanted to know and be known by. He was someone I saw every single day. My family accepted him and welcomed him.

If you’ve followed my blog or read previous posts, you know the excitement I expressed for the popular television show, Who Wants to Be A Millionaire. I literally could not wait for the show to air in 1999. We only had antennas and two televisions in the trailer where I could watch the show. One television was in the living room but that is where my siblings often did their homework in the evening. The other television was in my mom and stepdad’s bedroom. When my stepdad invited me to watch the show, it seemed like the best of both worlds. Time with the person I trusted and loved AND I got to watch what I believed would be the best show ever.

It seems strange to label sexual abuse as gentle, but from a physical perspective, it was, in the beginning. I didn’t leave the room that first night in any kind of pain. But emotionally, I was filled with ambivalence.

I LOVED the show, Who Wants to be a Millionaire.

I ENJOYED getting the undivided attention of my stepdad.

I TRUSTED my stepdad would never do anything to harm me.

I was DISGUSTED by the evidence of the abuse on me.

I was CONFUSED by the passive threat he made before I left the room.

I FEARED someone would find out about our new secret.

At eight years old, these were strong, complex emotions that totally overwhelmed my system. I could not assess what was true, right, or healthy. As a result of the ambivalence, I had to rest on my default belief which was based on a general trust of people older than me. I needed those people to survive. If I could not trust them, how would I make it in the world?

Kids should be able to long for and love quality time with a parent. It is normal and healthy for a child to desire those things. My need for that perception of love was normal. I chose what was normal over and over- quality time with my stepdad and getting to watch my favorite show. Though it came with other hard feelings, the desire for love and acceptance won, over and over again.

So, ambivalence kept me quiet for a long time. And it keeps a lot of kids quiet.

When you hear a child disclose abuse, please know they have likely fought through the power of ambivalence. It is an incredible step of courage and bravery to go against the defaults to tell their story. Please accept that the ambivalence will not disappear overnight. Healing takes time.

The Devastating Wake of Childhood Sexual Abuse

Childhood sexual abuse leaves a continual path of destruction long after the crime has ended. Most people acknowledge child sexual abuse is heinous, but when we educate others or use legal terminology to describe the crime, we rarely capture the devastation it brings. Many avoid reckoning with the long-term impacts of sexual abuse because it is uncomfortable, frightening, and a reality they do not want to believe. It is a lot easier to dismiss a victim’s story when you do not think about what the future holds for them.

Through counseling, medication, and most importantly, my faith in Christ, I have experienced brighter days and I have rebuilt many parts of my life that I initially believed were permanently compromised. Each time I find places mutilated by my abuser’s crimes; it feels like I die another death. Because of Jesus, I am still here. It is through the assurance I have in God and His promise of redemption and goodness, that I press on, using this space and my voice to fight for greater awareness of the dynamics of abuse and its impacts, stricter laws, more victim-centered judicial processes, and for others to know that their voice matters and deserves to be heard.

I hope you will read the rest of this post, despite the discomfort it may cause. I hope when you hear about childhood sexual abuse occurring in your community, you will think about what the victim’s healing will involve before you think about what the perpetrator may lose. I hope you will have greater insight into why we cannot simply “get over it.” We did not choose this path- our perpetrators chose it for us.

I will never forget the day I realized my imagination had been broken, destroyed. I loved playing with Barbie dolls as a child. I could spend hours with a hundred different narratives to play out. When my abuser forced me to do things that a child should never know exists, it altered the lens through which I saw the world. The world was no longer a safe place. My playtime was interrupted by the new reality of what I believed (step)daddies and daughters were to do. When I looked at the barbies after the abuse started, I did not see a safe, loving, Barbie and Ken doll to take care of and nurture the little Kelly doll. That narrative was no longer my reality. Children need to engage in imaginative play for healthy cognitive, relational, and language development. Abuse steals imaginations.

I have shared in several previous posts about my experience of a man exposing himself while I swam in a hotel pool, and he was in the nearby sauna. I keep sharing it because it so clearly demonstrates how abuse destroyed the way I saw myself and my responsibilities. Though I was still in elementary school, I wholeheartedly believed that it was my duty to enter that sauna to do the same things with that man that my abuser had done to me. Had it not been for my younger siblings in the pool with me, and my desire to protect them, sweat and tears would have poured from my face in that sauna. I struggled to see a future beyond what abuse required of me. Abuse defaces self-image.

As I moved into my teen and young adult years, it became evident that the rules I lived by because of the abuse dismissed my desires in relationships. It is without question that childhood sexual abuse causes difficulties in trusting others, but it also causes difficulty in trusting oneself. I was taught not to trust my gut. My gut instinct as a child told me that what my abuser did to me was uncomfortable and maybe wrong. But the prevailing belief was that adults do not hurt children. The only way I could reconcile these conflicting experiences was to reject my gut feelings. In later relationships, I did not trust my gut instinct because the abuse narrative would hijack my cognitive processes and pressure me to yield to the desires of others. I did not believe I had the right nor the authority to reject what others wanted from me.  Abuse maims autonomy.

I think one of the most disheartening impacts of childhood sexual abuse is the sensory triggers that we literally cannot control. Over the years, many of the triggers that once plagued me daily have been desensitized- thanks to time, distance, therapy, medication, and God’s mercies. I can remember the days in high school and college when I would experience multiple triggers in a single day. Trauma triggers activate our sympathetic nervous system resulting in the perception of danger. Our fight or flight response takes over and our sense of safety evaporates. It sometimes feels like the abuse is happening again. Over time, I have learned to identify many of my triggers, but I am not always able to prevent them and I discover new ones each year. Triggers can disrupt a seemingly normal day at the most inopportune time. It is hard not to feel defeated because, in some ways, my abuser’s choices still impact me. Abuse dismantles felt safety.

I could continue with more examples of the long-term impacts of childhood sexual abuse but I do not like for these posts to be too long. I hope this post has provided a greater understanding of how childhood sexual abuse affects a person long after physical freedom from the abuser has been granted. I believe when we think about the future of survivors and the path they will travel toward healing, we are more likely to hold abusers accountable for the choices they make that leave such a path of devastation. Maybe then our courts will wield heftier consequences for this crime. Maybe then perpetrators’ futures will not be considered more highly than victims. Maybe then, more disclosures will be met with belief and support.  

Photo by Jim Richter on Pexels.com

The Call That Stole My Breath

Four years ago, I received the phone call that stole my breath. It was a call that I had agonized over for years prior, from the time I learned I may one day receive it. This call informed me that my abuser had filed a petition to be removed from the sex offender registry. I wrote about receiving this call back in 2018- you can read that post here. In that post, I asked for friends to pray that I would have peace with any decision rendered in court. Though I knew the judge could rule in my abuser’s favor, I truly could not imagine a world in which my abuser would be deemed “not a threat” to the public.

You can read more here and here about the judge’s decision and what the court experience was like as I delivered a victim impact statement and fought with all I had to protect others from future abuse by my abuser. It is still hard to always feel at peace with the judge’s decision. Often, I do not feel like it was the right one. I have questions that were not answered, and likely will not be answered for my case. But, these questions and the feelings of injustice motivate me to keep fighting and advocating so others might have a different fate.

In June, I served as a juror on a criminal trial. It challenged me to evaluate my views on a side of the judicial system I had yet to see so close up. Part of my journey has included seasons of questioning whether at 15 years old I made the correct decision in accepting a plea deal instead of going to trial. At 15, it was clear to me that going to trial did not guarantee a conviction and punishment; the plea deal would, though it meant significantly lighter penalties. After serving as a juror, I better understand what is meant by the burden of proof and what guilty beyond a reasonable doubt requires. I thought back to my own case as a victim and whether a jury would have looked at the evidence available and concluded my abuser was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. As a child, I thought if you were telling the truth, people were supposed to believe you. Going through the judicial process for felonious crimes exposed me to the harsh truth that so often more is needed when you are the victim. I do not know the answers, but I do long for the day when the judicial system feels like a more just place for victims of childhood sexual abuse.  

Making Room for Grief

I was not prepared for the losses I would experience as a result of my disclosure of the abuse I had endured. I do not recall what I believed would happen after I told a teacher at school about my life at home. Disclosures are not often accompanied by a long-term plan, most of the time, we are just hoping we survive breaking the chains of secrecy. If I had known what loss would include in the aftermath of my disclosure, I am not sure at 13 years old, I would have had the same courage to tell. I only share this thought because I still see in media and hear in people’s stories how negligently disclosures are handled. Disclosures are costly, but they are worth it.

Many emotional responses manifested before grief showed up after my disclosure. It was not until probably a decade after my disclosure that I realized there was grief in my healing. Sure, I recognized the sadness, anger, confusion, and fear. But I did not recognize the grief that accompanied the losses until much later. It is vital that anyone who works with trauma survivors creates a space for grief as part of the healing process.

On November 9, 2004, I had a large extended family. I never considered them my step-family. They were my aunts, uncles, cousins, grandma, and neighbors who were more like family. Before I closed my eyes to go to bed on November 10, 2004, what felt like an enemy line had been drawn. In a single day, fifteen close relationships were severed. The magnitude of the loss did not hit me all at once, thankfully. But I quickly learned that I would never again ride four-wheelers or hang out with the cousins or take the boat out on the river for water sports with an aunt and uncle. When I would see my former cousins at school, there was an unspoken understanding that we would no longer interact. At 13, I struggled to understand why the people I grew up with now seemed to hate me. All I had done was tell the truth. Throughout my healing journey, there have been many times I wished I could have one more conversation with the people who played a significant role in my childhood. Someone does not have to die for you to grieve the loss of the relationship you once had with them.

Grief after trauma encompasses much more than the loss of relationships and people in our lives. In previous posts, I have discussed some of the different types of losses, so I am not going to go into detail here. Instead, I want to share what has helped me make room for grief.

1. Gain an understanding of grief. It was not until I was an adult that I learned what grief looked like outside of experiencing death. Understanding the emotions and thoughts that often accompany grief helped me put a name to what I noticed within me. I found that many of the beliefs I had about grief were simply myths and expectations people typically hold about what grief should look like and how long it should last. Grief is often much more complex than we imagine.

2. Identifying the losses. I do not believe grief can properly begin until we are able to name exactly what has been lost. Relationships. Homes. Pets. Material items. Dreams. Safety. Naivety. Wellness. Economic status. Self-esteem. Trust. Job. Faith. Identity. Hope.

3. Identify what can be reclaimed. Some of the losses may be temporary or time-bound. Some losses may be reclaimed through counseling, time, and God’s provision. Some losses are permanent, and we move towards acceptance. There are some relationships that will never be safe or healthy to pursue reconciliation. My pets that were left in the care of my abuser are likely no longer living. While thoughts sometimes try to sneak in and convince me that my pets suffered in his hands, I choose instead to believe an alternative narrative that they all found loving homes in my absence. In this situation, I have no way of knowing what happened and I do not see any harm in choosing a more comforting narrative of what likely happened to them. The feeling of safety took a while to re-establish in my life. Trust has taken years to rebuild and often takes me longer to form in new relationships as a result of the way my abuser shattered my trust. My faith in Jesus Christ took years after my disclosure to establish.

4. Acknowledge grief when it shows back up and leave room for the ambivalent feelings. I was driving back to New Orleans after the holidays and was just a few miles from the house I lived in with my abuser when I passed a potbelly pig in someone’s yard. While it did not look like my sweet Petunia exactly, I was quickly hit with a wave of grief, wondering what happened to her and wishing my story with her could have ended differently. I have learned that if I recognize those emotions that arise in the wave, allow myself to feel them without judgment, acknowledge the thoughts that surface, and challenge any unhelpful cognitions, the intensity of that moment of grief relieves itself more quickly than if I try to shut the grief down. It does not mean the grief does not hurt, but it does not get to control the narrative of my life.

By providing space for the grief as it showed up, I noticed over time it no longer took up as much room as it once required.

A 2021 Reflection

We have reached the final day of 2021. I have not found anyone who has described this past year as the best one ever. There are so many words I could use to describe this past year, but difficult seems to sum up most of my experiences. While I celebrated various feats and joyful moments throughout the year, they were not without challenges. We are not promised comfort and happiness in this life. We are shaped and molded through our responses to the difficult experiences we face. As I write my last blog for 2021, I just wanted to reflect on what God has taught me this year and what my hopes and prayers are for 2022.

2021 started with grief, trauma, and one of the greatest losses I have experienced. For the first eleven days of this year, I watched my aunt’s physical life deteriorate and eventually die from cancer. The days and nights were long. Everyone was so weary and heartbroken. The pain was palpable. At times, I found myself gasping for air. But in those moments, friendships were rekindled, and I witnessed the power of a family’s love. My aunt’s life and legacy are celebrated. The grief journey continues- it does not end, it just changes. One of the things God has made most evident through my grief is the importance of grieving with others. It is important to be able to talk about my aunt with people who knew her and to be able to share about her with those who did not get the chance to meet her. While she is not physically here, the memories and the impacts she had on so many remain.

The experience of loss was profound this year. In September, our BFH staff and volunteers lost a dear friend we had the opportunity to minister to for a couple of years. His death was tragic and unexpected. As we looked for his family and tried to understand exactly what happened, I was heartbroken by the reality that there are many people experiencing homelessness in our nation who will die, and their family and/or loved ones may never know. Thankfully, we were able to find our friend’s family and notify them about his death. God granted us the opportunity to minister to our friend’s family which allowed us to experience a greater level of closure as we mourned this loss. We were able to show his family recent pictures and give them an account of his recent years and they were able to share photos from when our friend was younger before he ended up on the streets. In the midst of sorrow, God is my great Comforter.

Less than two weeks ago, I received a call that another dear friend had died completely unexpectedly. I do not think the shock has worn off or the reality sank in that when I return to New Orleans this weekend, I will not get a text asking if I have made it back yet. As I anticipate the grief from another loss, this year, God has shown me that we can and do survive the loss, and the pain will not be insurmountable every single day.

When I look at the year as a whole, I believe there is a collective loss that we are all facing. We may not recognize it as grief, but I believe that is part of what many of us continue to feel. Most all of us have lost someone we cared for deeply this year, whether to COVID-19, terminal illnesses, or tragedy. Our lives have not looked at all like what we anticipated. We have had hopes that things were returning to “normal” dashed as new variants of the virus emerge. There is much for us to grieve. I hope as we enter this new year, we can hold a space for this grief. Extending grace to one another, treating each other with kindness, and loving our neighbors are needed more now than any other time I can think of in my lifetime.

I am not a stranger to hurricanes, even major hurricanes, having grown up on the east coast and having lived in New Orleans for almost twelve years. But this year, I experienced my first extended evacuation when my return home was not easily predicted. While I am so grateful to have only been minorly impacted by Hurricane Ida, the uncertainty of what I would return home to and the feeling of helplessness as I watched the storm from afar were difficult to process. While the rest of the world seems to move on, those who have been impacted by any natural disaster operate in survival mode for weeks and months. In ways I had not quite experienced before on a personal level, I saw the body of Christ respond to a need in tremendous ways. I had the privilege of watching Southern Baptist Disaster Relief and other volunteer organizations show up in unpleasant conditions to be the hands and feet of Jesus. I am so grateful for the people who prayed, donated, and served in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida and who continue to support the recovery efforts.

Despite the chaos of 2021, God opened amazing doors for me to share my testimony and empower people to respond in life-changing ways to victims of childhood sexual abuse. I never imagined this platform would exist and that I would be invited to step onto it. From virtual conferences for local child advocacy centers and churches to national conferences alongside my heroes, God continues to redeem my story and use it to hopefully make a difference in the lives of children and those who serve them today.

In 2020, through only what I can describe as a divinely orchestrated encounter on Twitter, I learned about the SAFE Child Act that was passed in 2019 in NC. While I technically knew about the Act prior to it being passed, it was not until a fellow advocate on Twitter messaged me that I realized this piece of legislation actually applied to me. As a result, I had the opportunity to pursue civil action against my abuser which reached a settlement this year. The process was lengthy and painful- exposing unhealed wounds and revealing new wounds. There was a huge toll on my mental and emotional wellbeing. There were moments when I wanted to quit- which was certainly an option. But it was more important for me to seek justice while I had this opportunity and to do anything possible to protect future victims. My hope and prayer are that we will continue to see statute of limitations reform throughout our nation that better reflect the science/data and reality of the impacts of childhood sexual abuse.

This past year, I was reminded of the importance of flexibility and adaptability in the context of ministry. Through the changing protocols and guidelines due to COVID, we were able to continue to find creative ways of serving our community at BFH. Whether it was doing case management at a picnic table outside, reorganizing events, or re-assessing the greatest needs in our area, we found a way to keep the ministry going.

God has continued to provide the opportunity for me to pursue my PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision. Some days I believe I am ready to close the books, but most days I am so grateful for the opportunity to be stretched and challenged academically. In just a few days, I will be taking my qualifying exams which moves me one big step closer to completing this goal.

I do not know what this year will hold. While there are things I am looking forward to on my calendar, I nearly anticipate them to change- canceled, delayed, or turned virtual. I am resting in the truth that God is in control.

What Survivors Really Want

The song, “All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth,” popped into my head earlier this evening and I began thinking about what it is that survivors of sexual abuse actually want. Too often, I see news stories plague social media feeds and news stations where people are making assumptions about why survivors take certain actions and the motives that lie behind them. Quickly, I noticed a list of things flowing in my brain that better reflect what we want- and the list, it might surprise you.

Some of the wants on this list are, in reality, needs; but, needs can be wants too. While I am speaking from my personal experience, I believe what I will share reflects the thoughts of a large percentage of, maybe even most, survivors as well. So, let’s get started:

1. BELIEVE: many of us are told by our abusers that no one will ever believe us. The unfortunate reality is that they are often right. Many of us will experience the trauma of not being believed when we disclose our abuse. Some of us will experience this disbelief on more than one occasion. When the abusers are truthful in one statement, it makes their other statements seem more truthful as well. So, when they have threatened to harm or kill us and those we care about, the reality of that happening as well, seems more apparent. However, if our disclosure of abuse is met with belief, that challenges what the abuser has said, and it makes us question the truthfulness of other threats that have kept us quiet for so long.

2. JUSTICE: think of a time when you or someone you love has been sinned against, harmed, or threatened. Did you want that person held accountable for the pain they caused? There is nothing different about a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. We want to see justice served. As a Christian, I rest assured in the fact that my abuser will have to answer for his sins against me (I will also have to answer for my sins) and that is the ultimate justice that I can imagine. However, that knowledge did not diminish my desire to see earthly justice as well. Unfortunately, most of us will not see what we (as humans) perceive as adequate justice. Many times, it will feel like a slap in the face when our abusers are handed out meager penalties for their crimes. Others will never see an ounce of criminal justice take place. Please avoid chastising us for fighting for justice.

3. ADMISSION: more than anything, I wanted to hear my abuser say, “I sexually abused Kendall Marie Wolz for multiple years on a regular basis.” I wanted to hear my abuser admit his guilt. While his admission is not a requirement for my healing, it is something that I believe is important to include on this list of wants. In a majority of the situations where I was abused, the two people physically present in the room were my abuser and me. Therefore, he and I are the two people who know what happened. When we (survivors) are not considered credible, or our cases are labeled as “he said, she said,” the desire grows for us to hear our accusations are truthful.

4. HUMANITY: we don’t want to be seen as a case number or referred to as some victim in a news story. Despite the crimes we have had committed against us, we are still humans, just like you. See us as more than a victim. Help us see ourselves as more than a victim. Remind us of our worth and our wholeness.

5. COMPENSATION: this is probably the “want” that we receive the most flack for wanting. In many states, survivors of sexual abuse have the opportunity to file a civil suit which will typically involve financial compensation. Too often, I hear men and women filing civil suits for sexual abuse labeled as “money hungry” or “greedy.” But, when someone loses a limb due to malfunctioning equipment or someone loses their life due to another person driving drunk, we don’t ascribe those titles to them. So, why do we call survivors names and accuse them of having malicious motives when they have lost something too- some things you cannot see. Being a sexual abuse survivor is expensive. Many spend hard-earned money on therapy visits and medical expenses that they would not need if they had not been abused. I’m not saying we wouldn’t ever need therapy or have medical expenses, but we have these expenses that are directly related to the abuse we experienced. It is not wrong for us to want compensation for our losses. For many of us, this is the only place we will ever see justice through a judicial system. For many of us, the motive isn’t even the compensation, it’s the opportunity for justice to be served where it hasn’t been previously.

6. HEALING and FREEDOM: I am finally at a point in my healing journey, seventeen years later, where reminders of my abuse are not ever-present. I’ve been able to receive many of the “wants” on this list, but it has taken seventeen years to receive them. I recognize that I am one of the few who will receive these things. There is no timeline for healing. Perhaps the things survivors want most, after belief, are healing and freedom from the pain the abuse causes. We don’t just hurt during the time we are abused. The pain doesn’t end when our disclosure is believed. Too often, we are hurt again and again, by individuals, institutions, and systems, that don’t care well for survivors of abuse. I have always considered my journey of healing as lifelong because as I reach different developmental stages in my life, I recognize new ways the abuse impacts my thoughts, emotions, and behavior. But, there does come a day when the pain begins to subside, it dulls; though, in a moment’s notice, the throbbing can return. We long for the days before we knew abuse, for some, there are no memories of the before. We desire freedom from the trauma triggers. We desire a life filled with hope, joy, and trust- don’t you want those things too?

I’m sure there are more “wants” than this, but I hope this gives you insight into what survivors typically desire and the motives behind them. I hope you will challenge others when they spread false narratives, particularly when it involves civil suits. I hope you will support the survivors in your lives.

She wanted more than her missing teeth.

17 Years of Freedom

Each year, November 10 rolls around and I find myself thinking how bewildering it is that another year has passed. 17 years ago today, I went to school like any other day. Only this time, I would never return to the place I had called home- the place I absolutely loved, surrounded by fields of corn, filled with my pets, where I fell asleep each night. It was also the place where my abuser resided. This day is mostly filled with gratitude, but I would be remiss not to acknowledge the remembrance of the pain and suffering that I endured leading up to November 10, 2004 and in the time since.

The changes over the years in how I view this day, how my body remembers, and the meaning attributed, reveals the healing that I have experienced. I can acutely recall the third anniversary of my freedom and the immense pain the day brought. I was a junior in high school. I still had the pajama pants I frequently wore when my abuser used me for sexual gratification and I remember holding them in my hands and sobbing because even though I was physically freed from my abuser, I still could not see a future for myself where the impacts of the abuse did not haunt me. This was one of the lowest points in my journey. Throughout my story, there were people God placed in my life who guided me and helped me make it just one more day. That pit of despair is where an advocate met me and encouraged me to try a new counselor using a newer trauma-focused model. It was in this place where I discovered hope again. While it waned at times in the years following, I have never found myself as hopeless as I did at year three. This day is never easy, but it is different each year as the healing journey continues.

I often speak about the misconceptions we sometimes have about a person’s Freedom Day. All too frequently, we quickly celebrate and rejoice when a child is physically freed from the abuse they were experiencing. We should celebrate that freedom. But we must make room for all the chaos that comes rushing in quickly. Reflecting on what it felt like when I learned I would never return to my abuser, I do not recall it feeling celebratory at all. I had just spent the minutes prior hiding behind a shed with my younger siblings while our mom confronted my abuser. There were tears, fear, uncertainty, confusion, and anger in the midst of relief that I might now be safe. I literally went from believing one minute that my abuser would kill us to breathing a sigh of relief as he drove away. Physical freedom is just one part of being free.

Disclosures and freedom are only the beginning of a lifelong road of healing. It is filled with snares and valleys, caves and avalanches, mountaintops and scenic waterfalls. Please, allow room for all of it. If you are walking with a family or an individual after a disclosure of sexual abuse, I hope you will take the time to read through my suggestions for being the best advocate in their lives:

  1. Allow us to express all the emotions we feel without judging them. It is not helpful to hear, “well at least you don’t have to see your abuser anymore” or “you shouldn’t worry about your pets because you got away.” Chances are, we may be in a place in our journey where we are regretting our disclosure because our lives have been turned upside down and we just want things to go back to the way they were- at least there, life was predictable (this stage does not typically persist, but it is a common reaction). Let us grieve the losses we have experienced. Let us be angry when justice seems far away. Let us feel whatever we feel and not feel bad about it.
  2. Identify the needs the family may have and re-assess the needs often. Maybe you can prepare a meal for the family when there will be late afternoon/evening counseling sessions. Maybe you have somewhere safe you can store some of the family’s belongings until they get back on their feet. Maybe you can drive the siblings to extracurricular activities when the parent has meetings and appointments with district attorneys, law enforcement, child advocacy centers, counselors, etc. Maybe you can take care of the family’s pets until they have a place to call home again. The list of needs can be incredibly long, and the needs can persist for an extended time. It took nearly 1.5 years from my Freedom Day to the day my abuser accepted a plea deal in court.
  3. Be an encouraging, calming, loving, strong presence. We did not really talk about my abuser’s first court date with people in our community. But when I shared about my abuser’s petition for removal from the registry, the court room benches behind me were filled with people who chose to be present for me. Do not underestimate the power of your presence. It shows the survivor that you believe them, and you care about them. Those two things are protective and healing for survivors. Your actions say: you are worth it.
  4. Do not direct all your attention and focus on the “identified victim.” Intrafamilial abuse impacts the entire family as abusers must groom everyone to maintain control. Check in on the non-offending caregiver and the siblings of the victim. Their lives have been turned upside down too. They often experience ambivalent emotions and, in many situations, lack a safe place to express those feelings.
  5. Advocate FOR us until you can advocate WITH us. We will need you to be the louder voice for us when we start healing. When we see you advocate for us, it helps us learn how to advocate for ourselves. Help us find and continue to use our voice in whatever direction we feel led. Fight for just legislation that supports victims. Push for policies that prevent children from being abused in the first place, but also expose those who commit these crimes and protect others from future victimization. Support agencies and ministries that serve individuals and families impacted by abuse. Educate yourself- know the red flags, learn how to make a report of abuse, talk to children about their bodies and teach them to recognize abusive/manipulative behavior.

This is clearly not an exhaustive list of how you can make a difference, but I hope it leads to action. During this year of freedom, I hope to help you become an advocate for children like I was 17 years ago, brave and scared. Stay tuned for posts with specific actions you can take to be the voice for those who have not been able to use their voice yet.

This is the child who would disclose her abuse one last time.

What You Should Know About Sex Offender Petitions

In my home state of North Carolina, there are several criteria that a registered sex offender must meet before they are able to seek removal from registry requirements. In this post, my hope is to raise awareness of one criterion that needs to be specified at the state level and enforced across jurisdictions.  If you find yourself stunned those individuals on the sex offender registry even have an opportunity to get off it, you are not alone. Unfortunately, many survivors of childhood sexual abuse may find themselves receiving a call like the one I received in July 2018.

A victim advocate introduced herself when I answered the phone. She called to tell me that my abuser had filed the necessary paperwork to petition for removal from the sex offender registry and a court date had been scheduled one week later. Thankfully, I had requested a meeting with an ADA when I learned, years earlier, my abuser would have the opportunity to petition for removal. In that meeting, the ADA explained the elements my abuser would have to prove to be eligible for removal from the registry and how the prosecutor’s office typically approached these hearings.  

Item 6 of the Findings of Fact on the AOC-CR-262 “Petition and Order for Termination of Sex Offender Registration” states: The petitioner is not a current or potential threat to public safety.

A couple of questions come to mind: how does one determine whether a person is a current or potential threat to public safety? What professional is qualified to make an assessment? What tools or research supports this type of assessment? Can anyone really say someone is not a current or potential threat to public safety? Is someone who committed sexual crimes against a child ever not a current or potential threat to public safety?

I am a provisional licensed professional counselor. I understand and appreciate the usefulness of assessments that help me track my clients’ progress and growth. Some assessments require additional training to administer. I have studied a couple of evidence-based assessments that are used to determine an offender’s risk of reoffending. While I do not think I would ever be willing to sign my name to a statement regarding a person’s potential threat to public safety, I can appreciate the science behind the assessments available for use. On most days, I am even okay with these assessments being utilized when offenders petition for removal from the registry. I am not okay when the evidence to support Item 6 comes from a professional opinion when no assessment has been conducted.

In my abuser’s petition hearing, his attorney produced a statement (regarded as an assessment) from a clinician that read “It is my professional opinion that (my abuser) does not pose a threat to children or to society.” The judge in this hearing initially pushed back against the gravity of this statement because there was no indication of a new assessment; instead, it appeared the document produced for evidence was a treatment completion report from 2009 (remember, this hearing was taking place in 2018). The clinician also wrote, “Without a doubt, (my abuser) showed re-assimilation to society, excels in the place of work and his family systems.” This is a very frightening statement, because my abuser did all those things during the time he was abusing me. He was not some creepy man on the fringes of society. He was a father figure, he was a husband, he maintained work, and he cared for the family- but during that time, he was also a child abuser. Those items cannot be our basis for measuring a person’s risk of reoffending. Following the judge’s pushback, a recess was granted so my abuser’s attorney could reach out to the clinic.

When we returned to the courtroom a few hours later, my abuser’s attorney relayed the information he gained from a phone call with the clinician. The following was reported to the court:

“Your honor, I can tell you I called (clinic), and was put in touch with the counselor or the doctor who did this evaluation – what I thought was an assessment. He advised me that because they had done the treatment over the years of (my abuser) [I think they meant the years 2006-2009], it’s their standard policy, unless specifically a new assessment is requested, to use their records, review those records, have a conversation with (my abuser) in May, to reach their conclusion. So they say based on that, they did not technically do a full assessment, even though that’s what we call it in scheduling. When he got there, what they did was review his records and have a conversation with him, but ultimately concluded that it is their professional opinion that he does not pose a threat to children or society.”

Did you know that your neighbor could have received one of these “assessments” and was granted removal from the sex offender registry, that’s why his/her name doesn’t show up when you visit the map of sex offenders’ addresses in your community?

This is why it is imperative that our courts ensure the safety and wellbeing of our children by requiring evidence-based assessments conducted by trained clinicians. While assessments are not foolproof, I am a lot more willing to place some faith in their results than I am a clinician reviewing records that are nine years old followed by a conversation with someone who is a master manipulator.

We must do better. We can do better. Our children deserve it. She deserved it.