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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Master Manipulator

**Trigger Warning**

When I was a young girl, I would have to ride with my abuser on Sunday nights to take my friend home after sleepovers. I dreaded these rides so much that I would often offer my younger siblings any good I had that I thought they may want- from toys to candy to my allowance- if they would simply prevent me from being alone in a car with my abuser. They hated being stuck in the car and to a kid, 30 minutes is a LONG time; so I rode alone. Most of these rides were quiet and benign; however, one night my abuser executed his art of manipulation and made my fears become a reality.

I can’t tell you the month, much less the year this particular ride home occurred; however, my guess would be that I was in the 5th or 6th grade. Although I can’t tell you the date, I can still take you to the exact location on Hwy 903 in Magnolia, just after you passed the apartments on the left, that these words came out of his mouth; “so why’d you tell?” As quickly as he said those words, tears began pouring from my eyes. I knew my silence indicated to him that I had told someone about our secret. I did the one thing he told me to never do. Because nothing in my life had changed since my first disclosure, my abuser now knew that he could continue to get away with using me for his sexual pleasure. 

Rather than ending the conversation there, he continued. As tears poured from my eyes and fear that he would kill me before I could get home overwhelmed me, he continued his manipulative tactics. He calmly proceeded to explain to me that “that was our little secret” and that he “was only trying to help me out because he knew how curious little girls are.” He was telling me that he was doing me a favor, that me sexually servicing him was beneficial for me- a child… I was “learning.” For an already confused sexual abuse victim, this wreaked havoc in my mind. As if that was not enough manipulation for him, he continued before we could reach our driveway.

As he was driving down Hwy. 903, he exposed his genitals and asked/told me “if you want to touch or see it again you can, I’ll let you.” I clutched the passenger door and slid myself as far from him as possible. As soon as we reached the house, I barreled out the door and to my room and did not come out again until the next morning. Then, things went back to “normal.” 

I recall this experience so vividly. As you can see through this encounter, my abuser continued to implant the beliefs that what was happening to me was normal and okay. An abuser strives to do this. If they can manipulate the mind of a victim into believing they (the abuser) are actually helping the child out and doing him/her a favor, they gain significant control and the likelihood of disclosure lessens. An abuser may first use threats, such as “you better not tell anyone or else,” to gain the submission of the victim. If abuse is ongoing, the abuser is going to continue to manipulate their victim because eventually, the threats do not carry the weight they once did. At some point, injury or death may begin to appear more desirable than continued abuse. This is why the abuser works to normalize the criminal behavior and make the victim feel “special” because the abuser is “doing him/her a favor.” Once a victim begins believing the abuse is normal, it takes a major breakthrough for them to realize that what is happening to them is not normal.

We need to do more to equip our children with the education of normal behaviors and abusive behaviors. We need to create a better dialogue with them so they can come to us as soon as something feels uncomfortable even when someone tells them what they are doing is okay. Most importantly, we must hold those who choose to abuse children accountable for their actions in a manner that will deter future child victimization. 

 

This is an updated version of a post I first published in 2016.

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Moving Forward

It has been a while since I have taken the time to sit down and type. Life seems to have been moving at an accelerated speed lately. One of the goals of my blog has always been to convey hope to others who have been hurt. Hope that the pain will lessen. Hope that the offender will be held accountable. Hope that one day, the abuse one has experienced will only be a chapter of his/her life instead of a bolded header on each page. Some days my hope seems minuscule compared to the other emotions; however, most days, hope permeates my entire being. God continues to show me that He is in control and He is going to use my story to positively impact this world. Two days ago, He showed me, yet again, how He is at work.

On October 23, I sent my first email to a North Carolina legislator. I briefly shared one of my concerns about the sex offender registry petitioning process. I prepared myself for a delayed response. With the election less than a week away, I knew the Senator likely had more important matters to attend to at this time. I just hoped for a response one day. Just eight days later, I opened my email and with complete joy and surprise read an email from the Senator’s assistant. Not only is the Senator interested in hearing my concerns and ideas, but he is also willing to meet with me!

Now, God didn’t just allow for a quick response from the Senator. Hours before I opened my email, I FINALLY submitted my paperwork to the Louisiana LPC Board of Examiners to begin my journey towards licensure as a counselor. I became eligible to begin this process the day after I graduated with my master’s degree; however, after court this past summer it was imperative that I took the time to work through the trauma and allow myself some time to heal. I don’t really believe in coincidences. I see the two events as little nuggets of hope that God continues to give me to remind me of His love for me and His desire to see good come out of bad.

I have no clue what doors will be opened next. I am thankful for these steps forward. While I may still get tripped up on some days, the momentum is definitely towards making things better for other survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

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Non-Existent Address?

Last week, I shared in a post about my experience with the victim notification system. However, I did not share the whole story as I found myself in a period of waiting to see how things would play out. What I did not disclose is that when I googled to find the mapped location of my abuser’s “new address,” I could not find it. I searched for the location via every method I could imagine- even dragging my cursor over the entire zip code seeking my abusers’ pin on the sex offender registry map. When my exasperated efforts failed to turn up any information on this new address, I reached out to someone familiar with my case who continues to work in law enforcement.

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When his efforts of finding this street address were thwarted, I became panicky and entered survival mode. It seemed that my abuser had listed a bogus address and was potentially non-compliant with the registry requirements. For what seemed like much longer than it actually took to get the answer I needed, my brain was in overdrive. I caught myself lost in thought trying to figure out why my abuser would at this point not comply with the registry requirements when he had for 12 years. I became frightened that either he had hurt another little child and was trying to get away or that he was possibly going to try and find me. I was annoyed that the registry had failed me because they “lost” my abuser- he was going to get away. The physiological trauma responses I experienced in years past returned rapidly. The whole situation caught me completely off guard and I struggled to find my ground.

As law enforcement sought answers, I informed the ADA of the latest happenings. I am so thankful for the law enforcement in Duplin County that monitors the offenders on the registry and the ADA. It is clear through their swift actions that they truly care about the people they serve. Thankfully, this story has a “happy-ish” ending- my abuser actually has not moved, the name of the road he has lived on for years is changing/has changed and technology simply has not caught up yet. While I find comfort in knowing that law enforcement knows his exact location, I find greater comfort in knowing that I still have advocates in my life fighting for me when I can’t. I find the most comfort in knowing that God is my greatest source of protection and that he has placed people in my life to help.

I wholeheartedly believe that God allowed me to experience this event because it exposed the area of my life that I am not entrusting to Him. During the waiting period I wrestled back and forth with God- trusting Him with the outcome then before I knew it, yanking it right back- wanting to take action immediately, rather than allowing for the appropriate chain of response patiently. When a person experiences traumatic events, control is often difficult to relinquish once it is regained- for obvious reasons, we did not have control in the trauma. My prayer is that I will continue to let go of the ropes that are not mine to hold.

The Words I Wish My Abuser Would Say

How do you wish to plea Mr. *****? “No contest, your honor.”

As a 15-year-old walking through the judicial system, I did not understand how a “no contest” plea was acceptable in my type of case. If you know he is guilty, why can’t you make him say that? This plea, however, is what was accepted to protect me from the trauma of a trial [insert mixed feelings here].

If you are unfamiliar with a “no contest” or nolo contendere plea, it is when the defendant neither disputes nor admits to the crimes he/she has been charged. The way I remember it being explained to me as a teenager is that my abuser was refusing to admit his guilt but was willing to take the “punishment” that would be imposed for a guilty plea. I can recall people trying to comfort me by saying that no innocent person would plea this way because “who in their right mind would agree to be penalized for crimes they did not commit?”. While that explanation comforted me some, it was not the same as my abuser stating he was/is guilty of sexually abusing me.  More than anything in the world, I wanted to hear him confess.  

Why did an admission of guilt from my abuser feel completely necessary for me at 15 years old and why is it something that I still wish would happen to this day?

At 15 years old, I primarily wanted him to confess so that his family, who had become my family, would know that I was not lying. When my mom, siblings, and I moved immediately following my disclosure at 13, I lost an entire part of my family. Family that I had spent holidays and birthdays with for nearly 7 years. They were my aunts and uncles and cousins. I just wanted them to know the truth.

Today, I still want people to know the truth without any doubt. Every time I share my story, there is still a tinge of fear that wonders if the hearers will believe me. I want my abuser to validate the abuse in a way that only he can. When it comes down to it, only God, my abuser, and I know exactly what took place those many nights when I was just a child.

In my opinion, our norm response to disclosures of sexual abuse- with more questions than comfort and a greater emphasis on finding reasons why the disclosure couldn’t be truthful than looking at the evidence that supports a disclosure- contributes to the desire for an abuser to admit guilt. A desire for my abuser to admit his guilt.

As I have worked on this post, I have gone back and forth on whether this is one that I want to post because I believe there is the chance it can be interpreted incorrectly. But it’s a chance I’m willing to take (so if you have questions or think I’m crazy, please don’t hesitate to reach out). 99 days out of 100, I don’t think about or mull over wishing my abuser would admit his guilt. But it is one of the residual effects that sits far back in my mind and resurfaces every now and again. Whether my abuser ever admits his guilt during his time on earth, I commit to keep living brave and bold and to keep speaking truth.

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Restoring Trust in the Judicial System

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Connecting the Dots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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