My Body Remembers Before My Brain

When I woke up this morning, I noticed that I just did not quite feel like my usual self. I had my coffee, dropped PJ off at the groomer and jumped into a busy morning of work. I initially chalked it up to left-overs from the migraine I had yesterday or the congestion I began feeling over the weekend. It was not until I looked at my Facebook memories for the day that I figured out why I felt off.

3 years ago today, I was packing my suitcase to fly to North Carolina the next morning as I prepared to face my abuser as he petitioned for removal from the sex offender registry. When I think about the moments before I left, I can still feel the anxiety and fear that filled me. The two days I spent in court for the petition hearing revealed brokenness in our judicial system. My breath literally escaped me and I gasped when the judge granted my abuser’s petition for removal from the sex offender registry. In shock, I turned to the victim advocate to ask “he’s off?”  

I broke for a moment. But I did not stay broken. During those two days in court, the same amount of time my abuser spent in jail for his crimes, my voice and my presence was unavoidable. I cannot imagine having to face that battle without the support which surrounded me. People across the United States and maybe even the world prayed for me and left words of encouragement that helped strengthen me. Benches were filled by “my people” who had walked this journey with me for nearly 12 years. When I took the stand, I looked in the eyes of those who believed me and were willing to sit with me on an uncomfortable bench in a crowded court room for two days and I knew I could continue with what I flew to NC to do- to have my voice heard. I am forever grateful for each person who was me with in person and in spirit.

While the pain still cuts deep when I think about the moment the judge made his ruling, the pain has largely been transformed into advocacy. 3 years ago, I had no idea the SAFE Child Act would be passed in my home state which would later allow me to pursue civil action against my abuser. I could have never imagined the opportunities to speak to audiences across the US and internationally that would be presented to me. If I had let the judge’s ruling and my abuser’s petition defeat me, I would have missed out on a lot of beautiful blessings in my life.

If you are in that broken place, please find a way to keep fighting, to keep healing. For me, my faith in God has been the ultimate source of healing; however, counseling has played a huge role in my life as well. It has been important for me to have safe, healthy people within my support system that I could turn to on days that were harder than others. I have learned to be patient with myself when I have days like today where everything feels off. I have learned that healing continues if I keep the momentum moving forward.

Exhale.

Yesterday marked the end of a nearly one-year long quest for justice made possible by the passing of the North Carolina SAFE Child Act in November 2019. It was not until I exhaled yesterday that I realized in many ways I had been holding my breath for the last year. It is so refreshing to breathe again.

In what I can only describe as divine intervention, I learned in July 2020 about how the NC SAFE Child Act directly affected me. On Twitter, I commented on a tweet about a person’s experience with their abuser petitioning for removal from the sex offender registry. I received a reply from an individual I had no other connection to on Twitter except this one comment I had posted. She informed me that my home state had passed a “revival window” in which any individual who experienced abuse in NC could pursue a civil suit before December 31, 2021, even if their statute of limitations had previously expired. This information created an opportunity for one last shot at justice through the judicial system. Armed with a recommendation for an attorney, I began a new fight.

I had no clue how difficult this fight would be. There were multiple times where I considered just dropping the effort and money put into the process because of how painful the work became; however, each time I considered quitting, I thought about the children my abuser has regular access to now, and I knew I had to keep fighting- if not for myself, for them.

You may be asking the question I started with- what exactly is a civil suit? You can google it and find all kinds of definitions and websites that will explain it to you with legal terms. For me, pursuing civil action meant I would have the opportunity to make the effects of the abuse I experienced known and to once again hold my abuser accountable for his crimes. Some people may ask, why now? Why did you wait until fourteen years had passed from your disclosure to pursue civil action? I had no idea this option was available to me. If you have followed my blog, you may remember a post from July 2019 when I met with a NC Senator to discuss my concerns about some of the legislation regarding the sex offender registry. In that meeting, he provided me with a copy of the draft of the Safe Child Act- it had not yet been passed. I read through the bill which included the information about the revival window for civil claims; yet it still did not register in my brain as an option available for me to pursue. It was not until my Twitter turned IRL friend told me directly, you can do this if you want and here is how you get started that I realized this bill was for me.

I am going to be sharing more about this journey in the coming weeks. Tonight, I wanted to leave a message for anyone who has experienced childhood sexual abuse in the state of North Carolina. If an individual abuse you or if an institution failed to protect you, there is a possibility that you can file a civil suit to recover some of the damages you incurred as a result of the crime you experienced. For many of you, the time to pursue civil action is limited. While I am going to be fighting to get the “revival window” extended, if that does not happen, your time will expire on December 31, 2021.

If you are considering pursuing civil action against your abuser or an institution, please do not hesitate to reach out. I am willing to answer any questions you may have, and I can connect you with an incredible attorney, and others who have chosen to walk this path as well. Follow my blog over the next few weeks to learn what the process was like for me. Ask the questions now to determine if pursuing civil action is the right step for you at this time in your life because time is running out.

Recently, I returned to the swamp outside of New Orleans and got to spend some time in one of my favorite locations in the world.

A Letter to My Abuser’s Next Victim

Dear Brave One,

I pray this letter never needs to reach you, but if you are hurt, I pray someone shares it with you. The person who abused you, also abused me when I was a little girl. I want you to know that I believe you and you are so incredibly brave. I will fight for you, speak with you, and stand beside you. You are not alone.

Every single day, I ask God to protect you and keep you safe. I have often prayed for our abuser’s repentance and for his heart to change through the forgiveness granted by Jesus Christ our Savior. That change is the only hope I have that you will never read this letter. Unfortunately, at the time of me writing this letter, there have been no obvious signs of our abuser’s acknowledgment of wrongdoing. Therefore, I am afraid he still poses a great risk to other children. That is why I am writing this letter.

My heart aches for you because I know the hope-crushing pain our abuser is capable of inflicting, which you are likely currently experiencing. Sometimes, I struggle with an overwhelming since of defeat because I am unable to protect you. Over the last 16 years, I have literally exhausted every option available to me to hold him accountable for his crimes so he would never be able to hurt you. I have fought so hard for you to never experience this pain. I am going to continue fighting for you, but now it will be at the systemic level. Where the system failed me, which unfortunately has failed you too, I will advocate for change. I desire for your days in the judicial system to be empowering and healing. You deserve that.

Most importantly, I want you to know that I hear you and I am listening. The days ahead will be difficult and you will probably question if the pain will ever end. The pain— it changes. Through the years, my pain morphed into zeal for truth and justice. There will be better days. One day, this will only be a chapter of your life. There is so much more I want to tell you, but until then, Brave One: Keep Speaking.

The Cost of a Disclosure

Last week, a presentation I recorded in December went “live” at the International San Diego Conference on Child and Family Maltreatment. In my presentation I discussed the often-overlooked needs and losses experienced by family members after a disclosure of intra-familial child sexual abuse. I have decided to share parts of this presentation in this post for a few reasons: 1. Clinicians need to be aware of these impacts so they can help their client process them during treatment 2. Churches have the opportunity to minister to hurting families post-disclosure 3. Understanding the inevitable losses debunks myths about false accusations.

Relational Loss: many perpetrators do not act “all bad” within the family unit. In fact, they are often loved and trusted by family members. Following many disclosures in which law enforcement and child protective services become involved, the perpetrator and other family members are separated. In my family, my mom and siblings and I moved from the home we shared with my abuser. Despite the horrific crimes my abuser committed, he had been a constant in our lives for over 7 years. My siblings and I loved our cousins/aunts/uncles/grandma on that side of the family. In what seemed like an instant, those relationships were irreparably damaged. While the relational loss to my abuser was absolutely necessary and what we needed, the rationality of it did not squelch the pain of losing family. Young children will likely have great difficulty comprehending why they now can’t go visit Auntie who lives just up the street. Clinicians need to be prepared for complicated grief when relationships end abruptly due to child abuse. Churches can minister to families by increasing social support, filling the void that now exists.

Economic Loss: when the perpetrator is a primary caregiver/breadwinner, the family will likely incur significant financial impact. Because I grew up in a small, rural town where “everybody knows everybody,” I was signed up for counseling an hour away from home. This meant at least once a week, we were traveling over two hours round trip for mental health services. Gas money, co-pays, and time off from work = financial loss (though it was well worth the expense). Families may no longer have extra Children may not be able to participate in extra-curricular activities due to the loss of income. Eating at a restaurant may become a rarity when before the disclosure it was a regular occurrence. Birthdays may not be as extravagant anymore. Clinicians may consider offering a sliding fee for families seeking counseling after a sexual abuse disclosure. Even if the discounted rate is for a limited time, it will significantly help as a family begins rebuilding their lives. Churches can offer financial assistance to the family or sponsor a child’s fees for an extra-curricular activity. Churches can hire counselors or sponsor sessions so families can access mental health services without the additional expense.

Environmental Changes: the non-offending caregiver and children may have to move from the home once shared with the perpetrator. If the non-offending caregiver is unable to care for the children, they may be placed in state custody, potentially separated from one another. Children may have to change schools, sports teams, churches, etc. My siblings and I went from each having our own bedroom to all living in one room with our mother for about a year. We were incredibly blessed to remain together and live in a home full of love; however, it was a major adjustment for us during a very stressful time. The part I grieved the most was the loss of my pets due to the environmental change. We left home one morning for school and never saw our pets again. We went from having way too many cats (in excess of 20, though they all had names and were loved dearly), bunny rabbits, and my sweet potbelly pig, Petunia (pictured below), to praying they would survive without us. To this day, I still refuse to let my mind wander about my Petunia because the pain is too great. Clinicians can help kids and families explore how their environment has changed and what impacts they notice. Churches can support families with supplies to make the transition smooth. Providing families with care kits that include hygiene items, clothes, food, toys, and other basic necessities can lift some of the burden. Sponsoring a month or a couple of months rent for a storage unit so the family can retain some of their belongings that can be retrieved when stability is established.

Clearly, this is not an exhaustive list of the losses experienced by families after a disclosure of abuse. However, I hope it provides a starting point for how you consider supporting families in need. The prevalence of false accusations among children who disclose abuse is minimal. Most children who make a disclosure realize there will be a cost associated with telling the secret. This post reveals a glance at some of those costs.

Petunia loved birthday cake, potato chips, and mudholes

The Road of Justice

All too often the concepts of justice and revenge are equated. In some circumstances, people may truly mean revenge when they talk about “getting justice;” however, in my personal journey and in talking with other survivors of childhood abuse, justice ≠ revenge. For us, the penalties our abusers face for the crimes they commit rarely amount to what anyone would consider revenge/penalty/justice. What length of a prison sentence would ever be “enough” for the pain a child experiences when the person they trust assaults them in the most repulsive ways possible? When journeying toward justice, our primary goal is rarely penalty for what an abuser did to us because there is no penalty a court could give that could undo the agony and pain we experienced during and after the abuse. When our abusers do face consequences for the crimes they committed, it facilitates the healing process and makes it a little less complicated.  However, we will face a lifetime of continued healing in the face of any judicial outcome. Therefore, our fight is not seeking revenge for the penalty we paid. Instead, our fight is for justice so no other child will experience the pain we felt.

Our journey toward justice is forward-looking. Our desire and motivation to seek justice is most often found in the experiences of our past, but our goal for justice is future oriented, for the children now. I once was the little girl that looked up to and trusted the man who ended up abusing me. I once was the little girl that crawled up in his lap to watch a television show with the family. I once was the little girl eager to spend one-on-one time with him. I fight for justice so the next little girl who desires those things from him does not experience the nightmare I lived and the trauma which continues to heal. I fight for justice so the penalties he may suffer will be a deterrent the next time he considers sexually abusing a child.

Justice is not sought only in the eyes of the court. I move further down the road of justice each time I hit publish on this blog. Each time I use my voice for the voiceless child I once was, justice occurs, because I’m no longer bound to muteness, living under the threats of secrecy.

Justice also comes when others use their voices with us. When elected officials and voters choose to enact laws that better serve survivors of childhood abuse such as the SAFE Child Act (S.B. 199) in my home state of North Carolina, they are seeking justice with us. To each official who supported this bill and each person who voted for it, I thank you. If you experienced childhood sexual abuse in North Carolina, I encourage you to read more about this bill at the following link: https://ncdoj.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/SAFE-Child-Fact-Sheet_Final_Nov2019.pdf Feel free to contact me if you have any questions about how it may impact you.

This is not an individual journey. It is one we must take together to ensure the protection of children who deserve a life free from abuse.  

Back to Blogging

I may have been silent for the previous six months on my blog but that is because my voice has been loud in other places as I continue to fight against childhood sexual abuse. The blogging hiatus is coming to an end and I will soon be sharing some life updates. Until then, I thought I would share some thoughts I had when I came across part of a poem, I wrote a while back.

Come to my room, my dear

You have nothing to fear

It’s our time together

Please, let me float like a feather

Through the air, with the wind

I can’t get away, I’m pinned

What is happening, I don’t understand

Don’t worry my dear, this is all planned

What happened in your bed

Where my mother laid her head

Took what was mine

When I was just nine

Secrets unspoken.

Imagination broken.

Innocence stolen.

When my abuser invited me to his room, I entered with enthusiasm, fearlessness, and an imagination strongly intact. When I left his room, my enthusiasm was replaced with confusion, my fearlessness was replaced with immense fear, and my imagination was completely shattered. His choices changed the trajectory of my childhood. His actions essentially ended my childhood. My ability to play with Barbie dolls or stuffed animals ended.

Trauma not only impacts a person physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually; trauma also closes one chapter in the book of life and opens a new one. Now, there is point in which life is measured in the before and after.

Experiencing how abuse drastically changed my life fuels my desire to fight this injustice. The chapter I now enter involves fierce advocacy and a continued fight for children still being abused. Little children should never be forced to hold secrets. A little one’s imagination should never be shattered. Innocence should never be stolen.

Stay tuned for more #bravegirlspeak

9/10 years old

Secret, Surprise, or Private

“Don’t tell                               . It’s a secret.”

“I’ll only tell you if you can keep it a secret.”

“This is our little secret, you better not tell anyone- or else.”

Secrets are dangerous. Secrets are heavy. Secrets hurt.

Most of us grew up with secrets. I definitely remember keeping secrets with my friends and siblings in early elementary school and even throughout middle and high school. Whether it was a secret about kissing a boy on the playground or about my plans for my next trick to play on my siblings, my secrets seemed fairly innocent and inconsequential. It was not until I was threatened with serious harm or death that I found myself inside the prison secrets create.

“This is our little secret, you better not tell anyone- or else.” -My Abuser

When my abuser sternly uttered those words after the first episode of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, I knew exactly what he meant when he told me this was our secret. I also knew what he was implying when he said “or else.” I was consumed with making sure I kept this secret. I worked hard at making everything look normal. I did not say things that would cause one to question me about my secret. In health class, I did not dare make eye contact with the teacher when we talked about the chapter on abuse.

Take a moment and think about a secret you have been holding?

A secret about something in your life or in someone else’s life.

What is the weight of holding that secret?

At a young age, I learned that secrets are things you do not break. If you tell a secret, someone gets mad at you or someone gets in trouble. Secrets are unspoken. I could keep a secret.

My secret placed me in a prison that was filled with pain, isolation, loneliness, worry, fear, and immense hopelessness. Breaking that secret only occurred when I was more afraid of keeping the secret than sharing it with another person. Breaking the secret is the only way I escaped the prison my abuser built.

I wholeheartedly believe that we should live a life without secrets. But, how is this possible without having everyone in my business?

Last week, I came across an incredible graphic from The Mama Bear Effect which distinguishes between secrets and surprises. It is included at the end of this post; however, I would like to add another category to consider, privacy.

So, what does this mean for us and more importantly, what does this mean for the children in our lives?

Let’s look at secrets first.

Secrets are tactics abusers regularly employ to ensure a child will not disclose abuse to someone else. Often, a threat is included with the instruction to keep a secret. In general, secrets are rarely positive, healthy, or encouraging. Research has identified 38 types of secrets that people tend to keep, ten of which are referenced in this psychology today article. As you can see from the list, many are painful. Most secrets are intended to be kept forever. We do not say, “okay, I’m going to keep this secret for two weeks.” Breaking a secret can feel dangerous and very frightening. There are major consequences for telling a secret. If the secret is ever revealed, it involves as few people possible.

Surprises are those things that we do not want someone to find out about, yet. We throw surprise parties and purchase gifts that will be the ultimate surprise. Surprises are usually positive and exciting. We may tell someone to keep a certain gift or event a secret from someone, but what we really mean is that we want them to keep it a surprise. Surprises are temporary and time-limited. When we share the surprise, we typically invite multiple people to participate. We do have to exercise some caution with surprises because abusers may provide a child with a surprise (a gift or special time together) and then instruct that it the”surprise” must be kept a secret from his or her family and friends. While it may seem strange to say “let’s keep this a surprise” because we are accustomed to using the word secret, it is something we should challenge ourselves to implement. The next time you and the kids make a Father’s Day gift, let’s teach the kids that we are making a surprise and when Father’s Day arrives, that is when we can tell/show Daddy the surprise we made.

Private things or privacy is fluid. When we were children, we had very little privacy. Someone put us in bed, someone helped us in the bathroom, and someone helped us get dressed. As we got older, our privacy increased. We began shutting the door when we used the bathroom. We were able to talk on the telephone without a parent being in the room. We could use the computer on our own. We begin to learn what conversations are appropriate for which environments. Privacy for children and teens is a privilege. Parents increase and decrease the amount of privacy allowed in order to balance freedom and independence with safety and discipline. Privacy includes who is allowed into our houses and our bedrooms. Clothing keeps some of our body parts private, exercising modesty. Privacy will look different in each family.

Let’s empower our children by making a “No Secrets” rule in our families. Take away tactics abusers use to control their victims and give that power to the children. Lift that burden from a child’s arms so they do not grow weary and more frightened.

Let’s challenge ourselves to use the appropriate terminology. “Am I asking someone to keep a secret or a surprise?” Is this something that should stay private or can it be publicized?

Most importantly, have regular, intentional, honest conversations about abuse with your child encouraging them to always tell an adult when something or someone makes them feel uncomfortable, nervous, scared or sad.

For more information, I encourage you to check out the Mama Bear Effect for more resources.

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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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Life: 1 Year After Facing My Abuser in Court

It is so hard to believe that an entire year has passed since I returned home to North Carolina to face my abuser in court for the second time. Hearing the judge grant my abuser’s petition for removal from the sex offender was absolutely devastating. It is still infuriating and feels like a major injustice. It is terrifying to think about how he now attends little league baseball games as he stated in court that was one of his primary motivators for wanting to be removed from the registry. However, with time and healing, I have been able to turn those emotions into motivation and fuel to advocate for change. In this last year, God has opened doors for me that I believe are a direct result of my time spent in court a year ago.

I have had the incredible opportunity to begin speaking with a senator’s office in North Carolina. One of the primary goals I have set in advocacy is for victim notification of petition hearings. If I had not communicated with the District Attorney’s office in the years leading up to my abuser’s petition, I would not have been notified when my abuser was returning to court. North Carolina has an extremely helpful victim notification system that informs those who are registered to receive updates when the status of a sex offender changes. However, it does have a flaw. I received an update once when my abuser’s address changed. Then, I did not receive another update until I got the automated phone call letting me know my abuser was removed from the sex offender registry. There was no automated call to inform me of my abuser’s scheduled court date. I believe this will be a fairly simple “fix” to ensure that victims who want to be notified when his/her abuser petitions the court to be removed from the registry, he/she is informed in a timely manner. I fully support individuals who never want to be notified by a court again once a case is closed. However, I will stand firm in my beliefs that if a victim wants to be notified, he/she should be guaranteed timely notification. I will be forever grateful for the Assistant District Attorneys who listened to my concerns and promised to notify me as soon as my abuser was granted a court date for his petition. Even though the ruling was devastating, I will always rest knowing that I had the opportunity to speak truth in that courtroom.

The Lord has continued to ignite a passion in me to share my story so others can learn from both the strengths and weaknesses of victim services I received through the years. God has opened doors for me to engage with individuals on the national level. This October I will travel to Ann Arbor, MI to lead a breakout session and give a keynote speech for a statewide child abuse and neglect conference. In December, I will have the opportunity to lead a breakout session for the Center for Victims of Crime’s National Training Institute. I first attended this specific conference in New Orleans eight years ago. I never imagined that I would be given that same platform to educate people from across the nation about the impact petition hearings have on individuals who have experienced childhood sexual abuse.

In the days following the judge’s ruling, I flew back home to New Orleans and tried to launch back into my routine. Life did not fall back into place gracefully. I did not feel like the same person I was prior to the judge’s ruling. I felt like I had lost myself. Those feelings were a symptom of the trauma of reliving the abuse as I looked at my abuser from the witness stand. I was changed through that experience. Some of the plans I had for my life had to be delayed while I took some time to heal. God is so faithful and His timeline is always much better than any we can ever imagine. Six months after I appeared in court, I began seeing clients for counseling as a provisional licensed professional counselor. A couple of months after that, I was accepted into the Ph.D. program at the same school where I received my master’s degree. Later this month I will attend my first course as a Ph.D. student.

I know I have mentioned this before, but I believe it is worth mentioning again. If you had told 13-year-old Kendall who had just talked with a social worker at school about the abuse she was experiencing at home that one day she would be standing where I am now- I would never have believed you. Abuse teaches us that we are unworthy, ruined, dirty, and shameful, among other things. You don’t grow up believing you have a voice because it has been silenced by an abuser.

God redeems. God heals. God loves. God will lift the voice of those who have been silenced.

For those of you who have joined me on this blogging journey, your support means the world to me. For those of you who have prayed for me over the years, I can not thank you enough. For those of you who think no one will hear your voice, I am listening.

This journey continues. Stay tuned for more blog posts, updates on legislative activities, and future speaking engagements. If you ever have any questions or want to know how you can advocate for victims of childhood sexual abuse in your own community, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

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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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