Celebrating 15 Years of Freedom

November 10, 2004. The day before Veteran’s Day. The day freedom arrived for me. Freedom from abuse. Even though the years seem to fly by, on November 10 of each year, I am keenly reminded of just how far God has brought me in my healing journey. One month ago, I shared my story of finding my voice after abuse silenced me, with over 500 amazing individuals at a Child Abuse and Neglect Conference in Michigan. Fifteen years ago, I could not see past the day that was before me. My life was filled with uncertainty, fear, and confusion. Fifteen years later, my days look much different. However, I would not be where I am today without the incredible support system God has placed around me.

When I spoke in Michigan, I listed all of the people who have advocated for me in various ways, identifying them by the role they played. Teacher. Guidance Counselor. Social Workers. SBI Agents. Coaches. Youth Pastor/Leaders. Professors. Friends. Family. The list goes on. I have never had to walk this healing journey alone.

I do not believe healing from childhood sexual abuse simply ends one day. I do not believe it is something we can just check off our to-do list. My body and my mind will always remember what happened. But, living in freedom, I have a choice.

Daily, I get to choose to keep pursuing a life of light, renewal, healing, and learning. I refuse to fall back into the place of silence where shame and fear once held me captive.

I am committing my 15th year of freedom to the continued fight for reform of the NC sex offender registry legislation. It is a fight for survivor’s voices to be honored and heard a decade after a court case is closed when abusers are provided the opportunity to petition for removal from the registry. Until all voices are heard and honored, I will fight.

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One Room Where It Happened

The room that haunts me. The room where I spent hours upon hours with my abuser as he used me for his sexual pleasure. The bed where I laid during so many episodes of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”

The drawing that you see below is a recreated image of a task I had to complete during the forensic interviews when I was thirteen years old. When my disclosure of sexual abuse was reported to the local authorities by my middle school, the local police department decided not to investigate because of a conflict of interest. The case was passed to the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation; a move that, in hindsight, I am so grateful occurred. Through the SBI, I met two of my biggest advocates, the agents who were responsible for gathering all the details of what had transpired over the previous six or seven years. In my longest interview with K, one of the agents, she asked me to draw the locations where the abuse had occurred in our house. I meticulously placed every single detail of that room and that trailer on a piece of paper. It was a task I was able to complete with ease. So many nights I had looked around that room just waiting for the episode of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire to end so that I could retreat to the safety of my own bedroom. I struggled to understand how I could remember what seemed to be such unimportant information when I absolutely could not answer how many times I was abused.

What do I remember?

I can remember that there were almost always three blankets on the bed- a sheet, a light blanket, and the comforter. I can remember how the tv sat on top of the tall bureau filled with my abuser’s clothes. I can remember which direction the doors opened to the bathroom, closet, and bedroom. I can remember there was a gun in the desk; though I was told it was just a “scare gun,” I believed it could kill. I can remember the two framed pictures hanging on the wall by the bathroom door. I know there was pepper spray in the top drawer of the dresser. I can map out, not to scale, every room of that trailer even though it has been nearly fifteen years since I stepped foot in it.

I spent hours with K and S as they asked me questions and allowed me to share my story. In each of my interviews with the agents, K and S, I felt safe, heard, validated, and supported. Though I often wondered what they were doing with the pages of notes they wrote, I knew, without a doubt, they were fighting for me. They were advocating for me.

The way our brain encodes experiences of trauma can be extremely frustrating- at least it was for me. As a young teenager, I could not understand why and how I could remember every detail of that trailer, but I had absolutely no idea how many times the abuse occurred. I could remember all the emotions I felt and the words my abuser spoke, but I couldn’t recall what year my abuser confronted me about my first disclosure.

For years, I struggled with feeling like my brain had failed me. I thought something had to be wrong with my brain because I could not recall what I believed were the answers to the simplest of questions. I believed the criminal case against my abuser wasn’t “strong” because my brain was not cooperating. Through counseling and education, I have learned how the brain works and why some memories are easily accessed and crystal clear; whereas, other details of the abuse, I will never know. I discovered that my brain actually worked really hard to protect me as much as it could from the impacts of the abuse. With this knowledge, I was able to stop blaming myself for not remembering. I rest knowing that God designed our brains to work in this manner, it is no mistake.

If you want a quick overview of how trauma impacts the brain, I encourage you to watch this video.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-tcKYx24aA&t=290s

If you want one of the best resources on how trauma impacts the brain and the body, I suggest you read The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk.

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The purple marks indicate the places where the abuse occurred

The Power in Truth (updated)

It is so hard to believe that I have been blogging for 3.5 years now. In many ways, it seems like just yesterday I nervously clicked publish to share my first post. I initially shared this piece in July 2016; however, as I have been preparing for upcoming presentations I have reread many of my posts and I felt this one needs to be reshared. One aspect of my abuse experience that I think is important for people to understand is how perpetrators destroy a child’s system of beliefs, often through horrific forms of manipulation. While it often takes repetition over a long period of time to rewire our brains with new, healthy beliefs; it is a form of healing that occurs following trauma.

In a previous post, I discussed how abusers are master manipulators. Initially, abusers may use threats of violence or death to the victim or a loved one; however, they eventually incorporate attacks on the child’s belief system regarding “right” and “wrong.” They normalize the abusive behavior so the child no longer questions the acts the abuser imposes.

There were many nights when I feared that if “we” (no longer ‘he’) got caught, “I” (not him) would be in so much trouble. The script was no longer “little Kendall” and “mean abuser,” but now “bad Kendall” and “stepdad.” The impacts of this script change did not become evident until I started working through things in therapy. It was not until more recently that I realized how a completely separate incident cemented this view. This is what abusers strive to do- to make the victim believe they are to blame and they are no longer valued.

Once again, I cannot recall the year this particular incident occurred but it had to have been a year or longer after the ongoing abuse began. My younger siblings and I were swimming in a pool at a hotel. Just like I can take you back to the exact location on Hwy. 903 in Magnolia in a previous post, I can also take you back to the exact hotel and could likely still draw a near perfect blueprint of the pool and sauna area. Initially, my siblings and I were bursting with excitement because we had the entire hotel pool all to ourselves. After a few minutes of swimming, I noticed through the clear door of the sauna that there was a man in there alone. This man moved to a separate bench in the sauna where it became evident that he only had a towel wrapped around his waist and he began to masturbate. My immediate thought was to protect my siblings by distracting them in the pool. However, I quickly began wrestling thoughts in my mind trying to determine whether I was supposed to go in there and do what my abuser made me do. It was like two conflicting identities were trying to operate at the same time “big sister” and “bad Kendall.” I just remember thinking, “maybe this is what I’m really supposed to do.” Thankfully, before a decision could be made, a family came into the pool area and the man in the sauna quickly left. However, that thought radiated through the years and turned into “maybe this is all I’m going to be worth.” I am forever grateful for the people that pour truth into me and help me fight against this lie I was taught.

A child should never, under any circumstance, feel obligated to sexually service a stranger in a sauna because he has exposed himself to her.

But that is what abuse and a manipulating abuser can do to a child’s mind. My heart aches for the children and adults that are currently facing this battle. I believe so strongly in speaking truth. Truth is the only thing that can combat an abuser’s lies. We need to tell the children in our lives how precious, loved, valued, and important they are simply for being who they are as children of God. We need to tell them that it is not okay for someone to make them feel icky or scared or like they are bad. We need to educate them about abusers and how to tell an adult if someone hurts them or makes them think they will be hurt. We need to explain sexual abuse and teach them healthy sexuality so they aren’t left questioning what is right and what is wrong. These should not be one time conversations- they should happen over and over and over. The conversations should grow in depth and complexity as a child’s mind grows and as they are exposed to new situations. The abuser tells lies over and over to the point that in the mind of the victim, they become truth. The frequency we speak truth to children should exponentially outweigh the frequency of the lies abusers say. 

Children need to know, believe, and feel truths about their identity as a beloved child of God, worthy of respect, love, dignity, and deserving of safety.  And nothing can take those truths away.

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An Unexpected GPS Route

I don’t make the drive to NC often enough to be confident enough not to use GPS. There have been a few times I had a little too much confidence in my capacity for directions and the trips took much longer than they should. On my most recent trip to NC, I realized my GPS was taking me a different route than usual; however, it was not until I was miles off the exit that I recognized the road I would travel down.

The new route would take me right by the place I called home for several years.

As I got closer to the place I used to live, my heartbeat quickened, and I got that feeling of unease in the pit of my stomach. Those feelings calmed as I remembered that the house was not always a house of horror. My mind was flooded with memories of both the good times and the times of greatest pain. When I think about that place, I first remember the abuse that took place within those walls. But then I remember the huge backyard, fields, and woods where I spent hours playing on the weekends with my siblings. I remember the twenty-something cats that were all named and loved. I remember my pet potbelly pig, Petunia, and how excited I was to get her. One of the things that makes disclosures even more complicated than they already are is that there are going to be a lot of painful losses.

I can recall my very first disclosure when my hope was that my abuser would simply stop abusing me. I didn’t want to have to leave my home. I just wanted the abuse to stop.

I know I have touched on this subject in previous blog posts, but I think it deserves being revisited. Disclosure is HARD.

Abusers aren’t always going to be the “bad” person committing crimes. An abuser is often personable, caring, loving even, and he/she creates positive memories with his/her victim too. My abuser attended my sporting events, he took my family out to eat on occasion, he played baseball in the backyard with us, we went to the lake and beach sometimes. He was there for holidays and birthdays. This dichotomy further confuses the victim and keeps him/her silent- how can this person be bad and good at the same time. It is a lot for a child’s brain to comprehend and the child often assumes the “bad person” role, thinking he/she must somehow be causing the bad things to happen.

When a child discloses sexual abuse and is believed, the common response by others is sadness over what has happened but thankfulness and joy that the child will not be abused by that person again. This response is completely appropriate. There is a focus on this newfound freedom. However, we often overlook the many losses the child will grieve in this new freedom. Don’t get me wrong, that freedom is EVERYTHING. It is the only way the healing process can truly begin.

I grieved deeply following my disclosure that resulted in my freedom. I never saw my sweet Petunia again. I missed my bed and my room. I missed a big backyard. I missed my pool. I missed riding the four-wheelers through fields. I missed my cats. I missed everything as it was except for the abuse. These things may seem trivial to an adult, but they are the important things in a child’s life.

If you are a trusted adult in a child’s circle following the disclosure of sexual abuse. Remember to make space for the grieving process of those losses the child has experienced.  Encourage him/her to talk about the things he/she misses about his/her “old life.” Remind the child that it is okay to have positive memories that involve the abuser (though it does not in any way make that person safe or justify the abuse). Doing these things will have long-term impacts on the child’s healing process. Doing these things will allow that child to one day drive past that house and be able to remember the good times and bad without feeling guilty, ashamed, or overwhelmed.

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This was home.

For My Brave Friends

If you experienced childhood sexual abuse and your abuser is currently listed on a sex offender registry, this post is for you. 

And if you didn’t experience childhood sexual abuse, you should probably read this too.

The issue that propelled the start of my blog is, in my opinion, one of the most overlooked issues within the judicial system with significant impacts for victims. I have talked with many people over the last several years regarding the sex offender registry and the most common phrase I have heard is: “I thought sex offenders were on the registry for life.” I held that exact belief and found comfort and safety in that notion in the aftermath of my abuser’s plea deal in which he was ordered to serve only 48 hours in jail.

Disclaimer: I have no formal education on the law. Everything I have written below is based on my personal research, personal experience, and conversations with people who do have legal expertise.

Only 3 states place all sex offenders on the registry for life without the possibility of petitioning for removal from the registry- South Carolina, California, and Alabama. Though, California will allow offenders to petition for a “Certificate of Rehabilitation” or a Governor’s pardon and Alabama will allow a petition for relief from employment restrictions.

Most states place sex offenders on the registry with a designated tier level depending on the “severity” of the crimes he/she committed, particularly if there was violence involved. Typically, the higher tier levels will be given a lifetime registration requirement; however, some states do allow even the most violent sex offenders the opportunity to petition after a specified time period. Nearly all tier 1 and 2 offenders have registry requirements of between 5 and 25 years with the opportunity to petition for removal at earlier times.

If you are a victim/survivor of childhood sexual abuse and your abuser is on the registry, below are some suggestions I have for you (from personal experience):

Disclaimer 2: If you have closed the chapter of your life involving your abuser- I completely support that decision. The following information is for people who may want to know the status of his/her abuser.

1. Check the sex offender registry of the state where your abuser resides. You can click here and access any state’s sex offender registry. Once there, look for the “minimum registration” or “tier level” of the offender. This should provide you with the length of time the offender is required to be registered.

2. Look for the date of registration. If an offender was incarcerated, the registration date will not be given until release (usually). Sometimes offenders have a couple of days or weeks to register following a court ruling.

3. Find your state’s laws on this page or contact someone in the judicial system and ask for the registration requirements of the offender’s tier level. Your state probably allows the offender to petition.

4. Call the District Attorney’s office who prosecuted the case (where court was held). Ask to speak to a Victim Advocate if the office has one on staff. If one is not available, ask to speak to the Assistant District Attorney who handles child sexual abuse cases or sex offender petitions.

5.Request notification from the District Attorney’s Office if a petition by the offender is filed (if you want to be notified). If you do not want to attend, but want to be notified, you can request that. Make sure the office your current contact information and another person’s contact information who would be able to get up with you.

6. Write an impact statement. I strongly recommend writing an impact statement before an offender petitions for removal from the registry. I was so thankful I had been encouraged to write one years before my abuser petitioned. The week I learned he filed the petition, I was a wreck and there was no way I could write. You can find some helpful hints on what to put in an impact statement with a simple google search. Here is my impact statement as an example: https://kendallwolz.com/2018/07/13/state-of-nc-v-my-abuser/

7. If you wish for your impact statement to be read (either by your or someone else) at the petition hearing, send a copy to the District Attorney’s office to have in your file. It will be the judge’s decision as to whether the impact statement can be used in the hearing. Feel free to make edits and resubmit the document at any time.

8. If you do think you will attend the petition hearing and live in an area that will require travel- begin saving some money for this occasion. Depending on the state, the time between victim notification and petition hearing can be short i.e., expensive flights. I was notified on July 3 and appeared in court on July 10, and July 11. I had moved over 800 miles away. Because my case was technically closed, the Victim Advocate was unable to access crime victim’s funds to assist with travel expenses for me to appear in court.

9. Enlist support- now. Find people who are willing to pray for your continued healing. Ask people you trust to read over your victim impact statement. Sometimes another person can help you find just the word you were looking for. Be willing to ask/let people appear in court with you. I had family and friends that came to court with me. I struggled with wanting to ask people to attend because I knew I needed support, but not wanting to ask them to attend something I knew would be hard to see. Ask anyway! They were praying for me, offering words of support and encouragement, and their physical presence strengthened me during some of the most painful moments. A hug, a smile, and shared tears go a long way.

10. Put together a recovery plan for after the petition hearing. It doesn’t matter which way the judge rules- in your favor or not- appearing in court in front of your abuser is going to exhaust you.

If you think this is a situation that you could face and you want to talk to someone who has had this experience, please do not hesitate to reach out. You can send me an email via this page. I am willing to share what I have learned so far (I am still learning). This is a journey you do not have to take alone.

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A Roller Coaster Year- 2018

2018- where do I even begin?! This year I have felt like I was riding one of the fastest, scariest, most exhilarating, and most breath-taking roller coasters ever invented. It has been filled with twists, turns, ups, and downs. But as this year comes to an end, I am left with excitement about the future. I am walking into 2019 with the “feel goods.” It is not because I anticipate great things happening in 2019; instead, it is because of who I have grown to be in 2018. My spirit is stronger, and my hope is greater. I have seen God’s promises fulfilled. I have experienced the renewal of strength that comes only through Him. I have rested in His comfort and goodness.

At the beginning of 2018, I found out I would become an aunt for the first time. Pure elation is the only way I can describe my feelings following that phone call. My excitement grew each month we got closer to welcoming my sweet nephew into the world. Though Emerson’s arrival was a whirlwind, he has brought nothing but sweetness and joy to my life. I take the role of aunt very seriously and I am grateful that in 2018 it became a part of my identity.

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Early in 2018, I started playing volleyball for a club in the city. It has been the best form of self-care I have afforded myself in many years. I am so thankful for the friendships that have formed on the court. Being back on the court allows me to connect with some of the best memories of my teenage years. Though I can’t jump as high or dig as quickly as I could at 16, playing volleyball again has been so much fun.

After 5 years of balancing graduate school and full-time employment, I finally graduated with my MA in Counseling in May. There is no feeling like graduating with a degree that will enable you to do exactly what you are called to do. Getting to walk across the stage with friends by my side and in front of family and professors who supported me through this journey was certainly one of the biggest moments of 2018. While I have definitely enjoyed my last 6 months of “no school work” and I will certainly enjoy the next 8 months of “no school work,” I am eager to begin the next phase of my education and hope to begin working on my Ph.D. in August.

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In late 2017, I took a leap of faith and submitted my first abstract to present at a national conference. In June 2018, I had the honor of presenting at the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children 25th Annual National Colloquium in New Orleans. It was an incredible opportunity which allowed me to connect with people who are devoted to protecting children from abuse.

July is the month that still feels like it’s a puzzle piece that doesn’t belong. But, it does belong and the events of July are a major component of what made me stronger this year. At the start of 2018, I had finally found rest and comfort in the belief that maybe my abuser simply was not going to petition for removal from the sex offender registry. It had been nearly 2 years since he became eligible so there was evidence to support my belief. In July, I got the phone call that crushed that belief. Over two days, I walked in and out of a courtroom multiple times. I spoke the truth of what happened and the ways the abuse impacted me. I was able to do exactly what my blog title encourages, “Brave Girl, Speak.” It was traumatic to go through the “courtroom scene” again. There was no outcome that could be in my “favor.” Either way the judge ruled, there would be pain. Had the law prevented my abuser from being removed from the registry, I would have had 365 days of respite before potentially reliving the scene again. The pain of hearing the judge grant my abuser’s petition for removal was indescribable. I am finding greater freedom in the judge’s ruling than I ever believed possible. I have now gone through the legal proceedings I desire to change. Though I never wanted to face my abuser in court again or experience that type of hearing, I needed to so that I would know what HAS to change. In 2019, I am determined to make progress towards seeing that change happen.

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During the fall months, I was privileged to focus fully on working and healing. I needed the time to heal the wounds that had been reopened in court and to rediscover my identity after it felt so lost following court. In November, I submitted my application for a provisional license as a professional counselor. In December, I received my approval and will now begin the journey towards being a Licensed Professional Counselor. I am excited to resume something I love and to continue growing in my counseling skills.

2019 will be here in just a few hours. I want to thank each of you who have followed my blog this year and who have supported me through the year’s ups and downs. I am excited for the journey that will continue in this new year.

God is Faithful

Before the start of each semester as a counselor intern, I was asked whether there was anything I anticipated occurring that would impact my ability to work with clients. Multiple times I explained how there was a possibility that my abuser would petition for removal from the sex offender registry and if that occurred, I would be traveling to North Carolina with little-advanced notice for an indefinite period of time. Talk about an awkward answer to a question! I felt like I would be viewed as paranoid, but this was my reality. For over two years, I lived on edge, wondering when I would get that phone call to tell me the petition had been filed.

God is faithful. He is true. He is working even when we cannot see it.

There were days when anxiety and fear of that one phone call consumed me. I questioned how the petitioning process could ever be a part of God’s plan for my life. I felt anger that the chapter of my life I so eagerly wanted to close remained open.

In a way that only God can orchestrate, I received the phone call during an “in-between” time; a time when I was enjoying a break from all things school related after having recently graduated. It was a time when I was not counseling, as I worked on my application to apply for provisional licensure. If I was going to receive the phone call, it rang in God’s perfect timing.

I was also fortunate to have time and space to heal from the impacts of the petition hearing. Having experienced the process, I can attest that it certainly would have impacted my ability to counsel clients during my internships. I believe that God protected me and my clients from the derailment that would occur if I had received that phone call during grad school. There is no other explanation I can conjure for why the petition was not filed for over 2 years during a time of eligibility to file. God has been so faithful during this process. I was not able to see the intricate details He was working out at the time. But now, I get to celebrate and proclaim Gods faithfulness. The chapter of my life involving my abuser is closed. I do not have to wonder when my phone will ring from the DA’s office. I do not have to face my abuser in court ever again. I get to return to counseling, now as a Provisional Licensed Professional Counselor. Because the chapter where I was identified by the court as “victim” is now closed, I can begin the chapter as“advocate,” and fight for reform of the sex offender petition for removal from the registry process. And I know that I will be able to celebrate His faithfulness in this chapter too. I challenge myself, and you too, to celebrate and trust in God’s faithfulness not just when you see the results, but every single day.