The Most Difficult Words to Hear in Court

They were the most difficult words in the entire court hearing to hear. I literally gasped for air and I fought with all my might to hold back the sobs, the tears were already falling. My advocate from the District Attorney’s office reminded me to take slow, deep breaths. Inhale … Exhale … A week later I had to ask two people who were in court with me if what I remembered hearing was spoken or had I experienced a nightmare. In retrospect, the answer was yes and yes.

Unlike some petition hearings, the judge in my case called for witnesses rather than simply relying on “lawyer speak” to assist in the findings for his decision. The first person called to the stand was my abuser. As he sat on the stand just twenty feet away from me, directly in my sight, I became overwhelmed with emotions. This was the first time and last time I saw him take the stand.

After some initial introductory questions, my abuser’s lawyer had the opportunity to portray his client as an upstanding citizen, no longer posing a threat to public safety. Then, the Assistant District Attorney had the opportunity to cross-examine my abuser. Below is part of that dialogue:

 

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“Not to my knowledge.” -My Abuser.

Earlier in the cross-examination, my abuser acknowledged that he was charged with 6 counts of indecent liberties with a minor which was ultimately pled down to 3 counts of the same charge. However, when asked about the specific allegations regarding his actions, he was unwilling to admit his guilt.

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“I feel like it’s in the past, and we should all move forward.” -My Abuser

This was the statement that I questioned whether I had heard correctly. I still struggle to read those words. It rings eerily similar to a cliché I will never live by- “forgive and forget.” I will advocate 100% for a person to find healing and keep moving forward with his or her life. But when one has experienced sexual abuse or any other type of trauma, it is impossible to forget. Not only does our mind remember the horrors, but as science proves, our bodies remember too. When a person believes that it’s okay to leave unrepentant sin “in the past,” the person sets themselves up to repeat old patterns. This should be a red flag regarding a sex offender’s likelihood of reoffending.

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“Well, I — I — anything I’ve ever done to anyone, especially a child, if I’ve done anything to harm them, I have great remorse…” -My Abuser

These are the words that took my breath. These are the words that felt like a knife being thrust into my heart. These are the words that won’t soon leave my mind. These are the words that told me, my abuser is still a threat to society.

At first glance, these words may seem like a decent apology for a child abuser. However, in context, these words only came after a considerably defensive response from my abuser about feeling like he was on trial again, which only continued after this exchange.

Because my abuser was not permitted to have any type of contact with me following court in 2006, for which I am thankful, he had not had the opportunity to apologize. What greater opportunity did he have than in that moment in the courtroom to issue a public apology to his victims. Instead, he took a road of generalizations and impersonal descriptions of remorse. Would I have felt different if my abuser had sincerely apologized for abusing me? I like to think I would have, however, I will be the first to admit that I likely would have viewed it as suspect because I came to know him as a master manipulator. But I do believe that when a person is willing to admit their specific sins, apologizes, and seeks forgiveness- it is more indicative of repentance and transformation than what my abuser displayed.

Why am I sharing this with you all today? Because these are the words from a person who is no longer listed on the sex offender registry. They are the words from a person who swore to tell the truth on the stand. This is the attitude of a person who abused more than one child who now wants to attend your child’s sporting events. I don’t know how many more offenders have been removed from the registry just like my abuser. This is why I am committed to fighting for strengthened laws and raising awareness about childhood sexual abuse. And I will not stop until we see change.

June 15, 2018. Redeemed.

This past week I received a copy of the transcript from the court hearing last month in which my abuser successfully petitioned for removal from the sex offender registry. Eventually, I will share some of those words found in that transcript and the impact it has on me. It is more important for me to share in this post how God has continued to show me that He is working on my behalf in ways that I can never fathom. With this most recent revelation, God has provided me with peace beyond understanding, comfort to the depths of my soul, and a strengthened my trust in His fight for me.

Almost a year ago, I submitted my first abstract to present at a national conference in New Orleans. I was so excited and honored to be selected as a presenter. As the conference neared, I was scheduled to speak on Friday, June 15, 2018 at the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children National Colloquium. I shared my story of healing from childhood sexual abuse. I discussed the roles various advocates played in facilitating my healing. Most importantly, I informed the attendees about the laws governing the sex offender registry petitions. I distinctly remember the anticipation I felt when I told the group that my abuser had not filed a petition though he was eligible at any time. This was a monumental day for me. My voice was heard.

Little did I know that on this same day, in my hometown, my abuser was filing his petition with the court to be removed from the sex offender registry. On the exact same day. June 15, 2018. During court, I thought I heard the attorneys state June 15 as the filing date, but my brain and body were overwhelmed with stress hormones pulsing through my body and that information didn’t “stick.” The significance of that statement did not register until I began reading the transcript of the hearing.

Only God knew the date my abuser would file the petition- over 2 years after his eligibility. Only God knew that I would be selected to speak at the conference and then be scheduled to present on June 15. Before I ever knew that day would need redemption, God was working. There is no other explanation for how or why these two events would collide on a single day. On the day my abuser would attempt to silence my voice once again, God provided a huge platform for my voice to be heard- louder.

It has been a difficult six weeks since court. I have experienced more emotions that I can name. There have been ups and downs. There were days when I felt like my world had crumbled on me and I was buried under a pile of rubble. Then came the days where I found the light shining through the rubble. Lately, there have been more days where I no longer feel defeated. I have been able to look forward toward changing the laws. But this revelation of God’s beautiful redemptive work has changed me. It is the act that has pulled me completely out of the rubble and the ground feels solid beneath my feet.

Friends, I am not sure what you are going through right now. There is so much pain in so many lives. It can be hard to trust that God is with you or that He is currently working and will continue to work through such deep hurt. Keep going, keep fighting. The day is coming when you will be able to look back and see exactly where God was working. God’s timing is impeccable. If I had clearly heard the attorneys say my abuser’s petition was filed on June 15 when I was sitting in that courtroom, I can tell you, with certainty, that it would have crushed me. I would have seen destruction rather than redemption. Instead, God allowed six weeks to pass before this information was delivered in a very clear format via a court document. His timing. His action. His love.

Redemption. A thread that God continues to weave through my life and story of trauma and healing.

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Giving Thanks

It has been a week since my abuser was granted relief from the sex offender registry. This last week has been filled with more emotions that I can write and a pain deeper than I have felt in a long time. Now the shock has worn off and I am beginning to feel human again. In the midst of the pain, I have remembered, and I have been reminded of things for which I can give thanks. There has been and will be a greater good that God will allow to come out of this experience. So, in this post, I want to share a few of those things with you. In future posts, I will share about the hearing and what took place in the courtroom and suggestions I will make to legislators to better serve victims of childhood sexual abuse.

  1. I have to give all the thanks to God because He was at work even in the court room. Whether it was the comfort He provided my family, friends and I or the strength and courage He placed in my heart to take the stand in front of my abuser- I can’t imagine having faced that battle without my personal relationship with Him.
  2. I was surrounded physically by an amazing army of family and friends during each trip to court. They sacrificed time off from work, time spent relaxing or with their families, to sit on an insanely uncomfortable bench for HOURS in the court room. I was surrounded by so many people in spirit who lifted prayers and sent words of encouragement throughout the week reminding me that I was not alone.
  3. The Duplin County District Attorney’s Office walked with me every step of the court experience. From allowing me to enter early to avoid running into my abuser or his family in the halls, to explaining each aspect of the hearing, to fighting as hard as they could to ensure that my abuser would remain on the sex offender registry. They have stood with me for years as I prepared for that day. I don’t question a single action they took on my behalf and I am not left wondering whether there was something else they could have done.
  4. While the judge’s ruling was incredibly tough to listen to, the judge was fair and made a decision completely “by the books.” He did not take my case lightly. He delayed the hearing so that he could ensure he had a complete understanding of every law governing this specific type of hearing. He did not speed through the hearing, simply relying on what the defense and prosecutors presented to him. He made my abuser take the stand and face an open court where he was questioned about the abuse. He allowed me to read my victim impact statement in its entirety. While I disagree with the ruling, I know the judge made a decision based on the law (which has to change).
  5. I’m not sure anyone would have anticipated me giving thanks to the defense attorney, but his character was admirable. The defense attorney could have asked for portions of my victim impact statement to be omitted, but he did not object and allowed me to read it in its entirety. He also could have cross-examined me, but he chose to rest the case instead.
  6. While I wish with everything in me that my abuser would be registered as a sex offender for life, I am finding freedom in knowing that I will never have to face my abuser in court again. Based on the current state of the laws regulating/governing the sex offender registry, my abuser would likely have been removed from the sex offender registry at 15 years. Had his petition been denied last week, my abuser would have been able to file another petition for removal 365 days later. It spares me 3 extra petitions if he would ultimately be removed anyway. While it still hurts incredibly bad that he no longer has to register, I am relieved that neither I nor my family and friends, will have to go through this again.
  7. I am thankful for the woman that came and gave me a hug after I gave my statement. I don’t know her name or her story, but she thanked me for being brave. If I was supposed to go through all this so she knows she’s not alone and that her voice deserves to be heard, then it was all worth it.

Friends and Family, I cannot thank you enough for your outpouring of support over the years, but especially these last three weeks. This particular chapter has closed, but a new one is opening. Stay tuned to learn how you can help me change laws, make our states safer, and empower victims/survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

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Petition Filed

I’m catching a flight back to North Carolina early tomorrow morning and for the first time I am wishing I did not have to travel home. I’m dreading it. I’m nervous. I’m scared. It all started with a phone call I hoped I would never receive.

On July 3, my phone started ringing and I quickly noticed it was Duplin County District Attorney’s Office. “I’m calling regarding the Mr. ***** case… He has filed to petition the court for removal from the sex offender registry…” For two years, I have known that I could receive this call any day, but that preparation did not make it any easier to hear those dreaded words. In fact, I had finally reached a point where I could go an extended period of time without even thinking about the abuse or his potential petition- which was a significant improvement from where I was a few years ago. I had just started to believe that maybe he simply would not petition.

So, I will board a plane tomorrow. At some point next week, I will enter a court room as I did 12 years ago and my abuser will be sitting, waiting. His attorney will argue that he has been rehabilitated and has “behaved well” for 12 years. He will probably say something to the effect of “he deserves another chance” and “the sex offender registry negatively affects his livelihood.” The prosecutor will argue that my abuser should have to wait at least 15 years to petition for removal from the registry as the federal guidelines suggest. He will also express concern for the public’s safety should my abuser be removed from the sex offender registry. Then, the prosecutor will let the judge know that I am in attendance and I would like to address the court.

While I have a statement that I prepared two years ago, now that I am facing this moment, words suddenly seem impossible to express my experiences, fears, concerns, and plea for a denial to my abuser’s petition. And there is a chance the judge will choose not to allow me to speak- because I had that chance twelve years ago.

So friends, I ask that you pray. Pray for the judge to grant me the opportunity to speak and for me to have the courage to speak boldly. While I would love to ask you to pray for the judge to deny the petition, I have to ask you to pray for me to have peace with whatever decision is made. I certainly hope with ever fiber of my being that it will be a firm denial of my abuser’s petition, but that is not in my realm of control. Pray for comfort and peace for my family and friends who are experiencing the impacts of this denial as well.

The name of my blog was not randomly chosen. It’s a reminder of what I’ve been called to be and do.

Brave Girl, Speak.

 

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Misdemeanor MOTIONS: Petition for Removal from the Sex Offender Registry

Reaching Goals

Yesterday, I got to walk across the stage in a beautiful chapel, in front of family, friends, and amazing professors to receive a Master of Arts in Counseling: Specialization in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. It was a long five years of reading, studying, writing papers, giving presentations, counseling clients at two sites, attending weekly group and individual supervision, serving full time in ministry, reading some more, and yes- even memorizing the entire book of Philippians. I would not trade a single moment of the last five years of my educational and clinical experience. As I sat in the chapel, waiting for my name to be called, I could not help but reflect on the little girl that did not think her life would amount to anything.

But, God had and still has greater plans than anything Satan can attempt to stir up. God has transformed and redeemed the experiences that were meant to break me. God used His people to encourage me, support me and remind me of my worth so that I could one day see all that God desires for me. These special people have been there for me at my lowest of lows and my highest of highs and they continue to fight for me. I am so extremely grateful for each of these individual’s place in my life.

Now that I will have a break from writing papers, I look forward to blogging more- finishing the series I started about sex offenders and the church and other series. I am honored that I was selected to speak at the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children’s National Colloquium in New Orleans in mid-June (If you are planning on attending, let me know- I’d love to see you) to share my story and how advocates empowered me to find my voice. I will begin pursuing licensure in counseling this summer and will work towards acceptance into the Ph.D. program in the future. I am certainly the most excited about welcoming my nephew to the world in August and all the spoiling of this precious baby that comes along with becoming a first time Auntie.

I hope if you are reading this, that you too will continue pursuing those goals and dreams that you’re not sure you can attain. There is nothing that you can’t achieve if you seek God’s will, surround yourself with people who support and encourage you, and make a decision that you will not give up even when it gets hard.

 

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My sweet PJ worked just as hard as I did for this MA

 

The Call That Made My Heart Race

Two weeks ago, I received a completely unexpected phone call. It was an automated message. I did not recognize the phone number, so I did not answer the call. My phone struggled to transcribe the message because it was nearly three minutes in length which piqued my interest in knowing who had called my phone.

“You are subscribed with us to receive updates about an offender whose last name is                      and whose first name is                         . I’m calling to tell you that this offender’s registered address has changed. The new address is                                 . Please note that it is possible that this offender’s address has changed because the offender has been incarcerated and is now in a North Carolina county jail…”

From the time the recording gave my abuser’s last name to the end of the message, I experienced many different physiological reactions and emotions. I immediately felt my heart begin to race as anxiety and fear swelled within me. Before the recording told me my abuser’s address had changed, my thoughts (irrational due to my brain’s survival motivated response) created a whole scenario about how my offender had successfully petitioned for removal from the registry and the court failed to notify me. Talk about some angry thoughts flying through my head! Next, I felt significantly relieved to learn that only my abuser’s address had changed, not his status as a sex offender. Finally, I experienced frustration because I could not recall the 4 digit pin I needed to enter to let the victim notification program know that I had received the message- thus, ensuring my phone would ring and I would receive the same message until I could recall my pin number or call the victim notification program itself.

When I recovered from the initial shock of this call, I quickly typed in the address to see where my abuser now lives. I choose to know where my abuser lives for various reasons I covered in an earlier post. It brings me comfort and a sense of safety to know this information.

I share this experience for two reasons. My first reason is to express my thanks for this program. While I somewhat regularly check out the sex offender registry to view the status of my abuser, it is a relief to know that this program will notify me if anything changes in his status. And, they will notify me very quickly. Less that two weeks before receiving this phone call, I had checked my abuser’s profile because it was close to the time he was required to verify his information.

My second reason for sharing this experience is because I want people to have an idea of what it might be like to receive that type of call. I was not prepared in any way for that call and had it been earlier in my healing, that call would have easily destroyed my day or week. Even 13 years after getting away from my abuser, I still react when I hear his name or get a call about him. That fight or flight or freeze response was immediately ignited. If you have signed up to receive offender notifications, and you get this same call, know that it is normal to feel all the emotions.

If you would like more information on how to register for notifications regarding a specific offender, follow the instructions on this website: https://vinelink.com/#/home

Make sure you pick a 4 digit pin that you won’t forget in a moment that could be very stressful.

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My phone’s attempt at finally transcribing the voicemail recording

My Abuser Could Be Your Neighbor

The primary reason I started this blog was to raise awareness of laws regulating the sex offender registry. Did you know that in most states sex offenders can petition for removal from the registry? My abuser is currently eligible and could file this type of petition any day. He was in his mid-late thirties when he began abusing me. I was eight years old. If he successfully petitions, he could one day be your neighbor and you would not know that he sexually abused a little girl for years.

If you have read any of my previous posts, you will pick up on my strong support of survivor voices, particularly when it comes to court proceedings. When my abuser entered his plea of no contest and was sentenced to 48 hours in jail, 36 months’ probation, and was required to register as a sex offender, I was not prepared to make any type of victim impact statement, despite being afforded the opportunity.  There was no advance preparation and simply being in the court room, in the same building as my abuser was overwhelming. Not making a statement haunted me. And I had to accept that the opportunity was missed.

Years later, when I learned that my abuser was going to be eligible to petition for removal from the registry, I was distraught. Rather than letting my voice be silenced in this matter, I started making phone calls. I was determined to not let another judge make a decision about my abuser without hearing my voice.

I am thankful for an ADA who heard my voice and listened. I am thankful for an ADA who will stand beside me if the day comes that my abuser petitions before a judge. I am thankful for an ADA who took the time to explain all the possible scenarios and who explained the basics of a victim impact statement. I am thankful for an ADA who is fighting for my voice to be heard.

A year and a half ago I posted my impact statement to my blog. While it was one of the most difficult pieces I have wrote and the scariest to post, I hope that seeing an example of an impact statement will help someone else write theirs. I found it to be healing to write. Hopefully, I never have to return to a court room and see my abuser. But if I do, I will be prepared and that is comforting.

If you have any questions or want more information about writing an impact statement, please don’t hesitate to contact me via the “contact” tab.

Impact Statement

Today, when I entered this court room, I did not come in as a victim like I did ten years ago. Today, I am standing here as a survivor. However, being a survivor does not mean that I am freed from the effects of long term sexual abuse at the hands of xxxxxx, my former xxxxxxx, my abuser. Rather, being a survivor means that through the flashbacks, depression, anxiety, guilt, and shame, I will choose to keep living, thriving, and healing. That August night I watched “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” with my then xxxxxxx forever changed my life.

What should have been an innocent bonding time turned into a nightmare that I lived every time the show aired and my abuser was home- sometimes five nights a week. While that August night is when the ongoing sexual abuse began, the intentional grooming process began long before that. When I was just six, seven, and eight years old, my abuser was preparing me for that night I would come lay in bed beside him to watch a television show- but leave a victim, terrified by his threat and feeling completely ashamed and broken. That August night I could have been covered from head to toe in manure and still I would have felt cleaner than I did as I washed my abuser’s semen off of me, at eight years old.

During the years of abuse, I would go to school every day and come home knowing what my abuser would expect of me that night. The threat and fear he instilled in me on that August night, and the years of grooming broke me down to the point that my abuser never once had to tell me to come back to the bedroom and perform sexual acts. I reached the point of believing that this was my duty and my abuser reinforced this belief by telling me that he knew “how curious little girls are” and that he was just “helping me out.” My abuser was never drunk, high, or under the influence of any mind-altering substance when the abuse occurred. Those things would not have excused the crimes, rather I say it to clarify that my abuser consciously chose to abuse me hundreds of times.

What I call my “Freedom Day,” came on November 10, 2004. I was a little over a month shy of turning 14. While I was freed in a physical sense from the hands of my abuser, I am still learning today that healing is life-long. Over 250 counseling sessions, a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) diagnosis, antidepressants, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, nightmares, flashbacks, panic attacks, shame, low self-worth- these are just some of the things I’ve dealt with in the last ten years. When physical freedom from the abuse happened, my entire world was turned upside down even more. My siblings, mom, and I were forced to leave a house we dearly loved, our belongings ended up ruined in storage, our precious pets were left in the care of my abuser, and we moved into a single bedroom in my grandparent’s house. And that was only the beginning.

I could spend a really long time detailing the last ten years of my life. There have been highs and lows but I’ve made it through them all, just like I survived the years of abuse. But that is not why we are here today. For nearly two years I have been anxious about this day. It absolutely terrifies me that there is a chance my abuser can be removed from the sex offender registry. There are hardly words to describe the peace of mind I have knowing that law enforcement knows where my abuser lives and that people who have children around him can know that he is a predator. It brings comfort to me to know that the likelihood of another child being abused by him is at least decreased some by him being on the sex offender registry. I am not his only victim. He also assaulted my xxxx xxxxxx. The abuse was not a one-time incident. I can look back at when I was an eight year old child and see just how manipulated and controlled I was by my abuser. He was brazen enough to abuse me not only in his bedroom, but also in the living room, in the swimming pool, and in the cab of his truck. The fact that he abused me despite the rest of my family being one room away shows just how capable he is of grooming another child and abusing them without anyone knowing- for years.

Not only does a denial to my abuser’s petition for removal from the registry protect other kids from the potential of being abused by him, but it also serves as continued justice for the crimes he committed against me. That August night when I was just eight years old, hoping to watch a television show and bond with my xxxxxxx, I was forever added to a list I didn’t choose- child sexual abuse victim. My xxxxxxx chose to put my name on that list. I will forever live with all that list brings. Just as I will always deal with the effects, I believe that my abuser should have to live with the ramifications of his actions, which landed him on a list. Even if my abuser is one of the very few predators that never abuses another child, it would be an injustice for him to no longer have to face the consequences of his choices that forever altered my life.  

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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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Redemption. Thirteen Years.

Thirteen years ago, I was a terrified thirteen-year-old child. I believed it would be my last day on earth as I left the security of my middle school walls. Thirteen years later, I am walking into a computer lab to take the most important exam of my graduate school career. I am honored that God is providing me with an extraordinary glimpse at redemption. What are the chances that I would be taking the CPCE the year that the test date falls on this pivotal day in my life? It is a powerful remembrance and an ode to God’s healing in my life to look back on the frightened child I was to the person I am today- taking an exam that will provide me the opportunity to continue counseling hurting people. Only God could orchestrate this redemption of November 10.

On November 10, 2004 my family learned about the abuse I had experienced for the previous years. As I have mentioned in previous posts, I was finally freed from the hands of my abuser; however, I had learned to live with the pain of the abuse. I had no clue what the pain of healing would entail. There were times I did not think I would make it another day. But each time I reached that point, God showed me how and why I could make it another day, and another day after that. As the years passed, November 10 became a little less painful and a little more joyful. I slowly began to see progress in my healing and I found that there IS life after sexual abuse.

Today, I celebrate. I celebrate that I don’t have to live in fear of my abuser. I celebrate that I don’t have to go to sleep each night with a secret no child should ever have to keep. I celebrate not having to keep silent in shame of what my abuser did to me. I celebrate each day of the last thirteen years that have led me to where I am today.

I don’t know where you may be on your healing journey from sexual abuse, but please know that there is hope. The pain will eventually ease. Joy will be felt throughout your soul once again. Your days can be reclaimed. God is at work. Keep going. Don’t give up. Make it another day. You are not alone. 

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Effects of Sexual Abuse, Part 3: When Whistles Indicate Worth

When I think about how sexual abuse effected my view of self, there is one incident that most accurately depicts my identity struggles. For those of you who have followed this blog for a while, you will likely recognize this story.

I was around the age of 9 or 10 when I was on a weekend trip at a hotel with an indoor pool in Raleigh, NC. An indoor pool meant hours of entertainment for my siblings and me. When we entered the pool area, my siblings and I were ecstatic because we had the entire pool area to ourselves. As we played in the shallow water, I noticed a man in the sauna adjacent to the pool area. When our eyes locked, he slowly loosened the towel from around his waist exposing his nudity. Immediately, I equated this man in the sauna with my abuser back home. He acted the same as my abuser and within seconds a war was raging in my mind. “Am I supposed to go in there?” “I can’t leave my sister and brother alone in the pool.” “What if they followed me in to the sauna?” “I know what he needs me to do.” Thankfully another family joined my siblings and I in the pool area and the man in the sauna quickly left.

In my previous post, I talked about how after the abuse began I did not see myself as a child any longer. This incident with a stranger in a hotel sauna epitomizes the destruction of my identity resulting from the abuse. I was no longer a child. I was only worthy for sexually pleasing men. The view that my worth was found in men’s actions towards me lingered for years.  

 When I was a teenager I can remember being out at Myrtle Beach or even the Walmart the next town over. Nearly every time I was out, at least one person would holler some sort of catcall or whistle. It made me frustrated for a brief second to be yelled at like that; however, it rapidly triggered in my brain the neural pathway that screamed “yes, you are still worthy, you are still wanted, you are still needed, this is right!”  I would question what was wrong with me if I was out and did not have a catcall directed my way. This was my normal. The frequency of whistles and catcalls indicated how I viewed my worth.

I started writing this post last week before the #MeToo movement began. I find it so timely that it took off just as I was finding the words to speak. It has been overwhelming, but not shocking, to see friend after friend post #MeToo on social media. I know behind each of those statuses there are probably several others who can’t post yet because it is not safe or simply because they don’t want to- and that is ABSOLUTELY okay too- I believe you.

I hope we don’t get caught up in the hashtag. I hope that we keep this conversation going. I hope that we take action so the #MeToo will be in reference to something positive we can all experience.

The change that I desire to see is an end to the degrading catcalls and inappropriate language used to speak to and/or describe women. Every time I heard a catcall or whistle, the beliefs my abuser instilled in me were reinforced. Every whistle perpetuated the belief: “this is it. This is what you are here for. This is what you were made to do. Now, go meet his needs.”

So, before you whistle or catcall that person- consider asking her name and how her day is going.

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