God is Faithful

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

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

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

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

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

Living the Serenity Prayer

ac· cep· tance | \ik-ˈsep-tən(t)s

Over the last few months, I have been learning what it means to live in acceptance of things that can’t be changed. I don’t like not being able to change things. I don’t like that my abuser is no longer a registered sex offender. But, I have to accept it. So, what does that mean? What does that look like?

Most of us are familiar with the Serenity Prayer- whether you have heard it in some form of media or at a recovery support group. You can find it plastered on magnets for a refrigerator or on paperweights for an office desk. I can recall my first time hearing the Serenity Prayer recited when I was a very young girl attending one of my Papa’s anniversary chip meetings/celebrations for his recovery from alcoholism.

“God, grant me the serenity to

accept the things I cannot change,

the courage to change the things I can,

and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Merriam-Webster’s definition for accept: to endure without protest or reaction; to give acceptance or approval to.

“To endure without protest or reaction.”

Living in acceptance of the court’s decision to remove my abuser from the sex offender registry has involved choosing not to protest or react. The idea of appealing the court’s decision was incredibly tempting at some points in this healing process. However, it became unmistakably clear that if I chose to “protest” the decision, my growth and progress toward healing would be stunted. Appealing the case would give me, at most, 3 years before my abuser would inevitably be removed from the sex offender registry.

I have learned that living in acceptance of the decision the court made has granted me a freedom that I would not have otherwise. I no longer have to worry about the “day my abuser might petition” or how I would have the strength to face him in court year after year. It is by no means easy to live in acceptance, but choosing acceptance allows me to work towards the second part of the serenity prayer.

While I am living in acceptance of the court’s decision on my case, I am NOT living in acceptance of this being the outcome in future court cases.

“God, grant me the courage to change the things I can.”

Legislation CAN change. Because I am living in acceptance of my case outcome, I can pour my energy into seeking change. Fighting things that cannot change will result in fatigue, discouragement, and hopelessness. I don’t know what change will look like regarding legislation, but I know that my experience in the courtroom has provided me with the insight needed to fight for change. God continues to grant me the courage I need to reach out to lawmakers and to take steps toward ensuring survivors’ rights in the courtroom.

“God, grant me the wisdom to know the difference” of when things can be changed and when they cannot.

It is easy to get overwhelmed with all the things I desire to see changed and the what-ifs. I strive to seek wisdom from God in knowing where to pour my energy. Recently, I learned my abuser now has an active Facebook page, which was formerly prohibited when he was listed as a sex offender. While it frightens me to think about the children he now has access to through social media, that is not something I can change. I can raise awareness about sex offenders and social media; however, I cannot waste energy worrying about the people he may “friend.”

These days, I am learning the Serenity Prayer is becoming a way of life. Each time something “new” happens as a result of my abuser’s removal from the sex offender registry, I turn to God to determine whether I need to find acceptance or courage while always seeking wisdom.

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God grant me the serenity to

accept the things I cannot change;

courage to change the things I can;

and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;

enjoying one moment at a time;

accepting hardships as a pathway to peace;

taking, as He did, this sinful world

as it is, not as I would have it;

trusting that He will make all things right

if I surrender to His will;

that I may be reasonably happy in this life

and supremely happy with Him

forever in the next.

Amen.


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:

 

transcript 1_LI

“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.

transcript 2 (2)

“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.

transcript 3_LI

“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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State of NC v. My Abuser

As most of you are aware now, my abuser’s petition for removal from the sex offender registry was granted by the court. In time, I will share more about this experience. Right now, the pain is too deep and there is much to process. For now, I wanted to share the impact statement I gave in court 7.11.2018. Through the healing God has orchestrated in my life and the encouragement provided to me by you all, I was able to take the stand and share my story. I thank you.

Today, when I entered this court room, I did not come in as a victim like I did twelve 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. Hundreds of 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 twelve 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 twelve 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.  

Registered Sex Offenders and the Church

I have been pretty hesitant about using my voice in this manner. It seems it would be much easier to just let people figure it out on their own. But I know God would not have placed it on my heart or placed me in the center of so many recent discussions about this topic. Please know that I have given much careful thought and prayer about how to present my views in a non-condemning, gracious, and open-minded way. I recognize that it will be difficult and uncomfortable for many to read and think about. But, I believe it is of utmost importance that we talk about sex offenders and the church.

Over the last month, I have found myself in multiple discussions regarding how to respond when a sex offender attends your church. This is not something I had given any thought to prior, primarily because my abuser did not attend church. It will require multiple blog posts to provide a well-informed and multi-faceted view of this topic. Between researching the legal statutes pertaining to registered sex offenders and the church, to studying the range of protocols currently employed by churches, to asking for opinions from individuals with backgrounds in law, law enforcement, higher education, pastors, and from fellow survivors.

I hope that by the end of the series, churches will begin having more conversations about how to protect children, empower survivors, and implement best practices if registered sex offenders are allowed to worship corporately.

In this post, I just want to introduce a few different scenarios that could occur in your church. I’m not going to post my responses to these scenarios today because I hope to hear some of your thoughts first.

***Trigger warning***

 

  1. Mr. S is 65 years old and has multiple aggravated child abuse convictions that span over 20 years and involve multiple victims. He is classified as a Tier 3 recidivist sex offender. He comes to your church and shares his status as a sex offender with the pastor. He also shares how he has come to Christ and it has changed his life and he wants to join a church that will welcome him despite his past. His life has changed.
  2. Mr. T is 28 years old. He was placed on the sex offender registry at the age of 20 after he was found guilty of indecent liberties with a minor. He was 19 year old when he was in a sexual dating relationship with a “consenting” 15 year old. He shares with a church leader his status as a sex offender. He desires to learn more about God and be more involved in church.
  3. Mr. J is 48 years old. He was placed on the sex offender registry for multiple counts of indecent liberties with a minor. He was in his 30’s and the minor was 8 when the crimes occurred. He has completed his probationary requirements. He initially does not share with the pastor or church staff that he is a registered sex offender, but because he lives in a small town several congregants recognized his face from the registry. The congregants went to the pastor concerned.
  4. Ms. R is 30 years old. She was placed on the sex offender registry following multiple arrests for prostitution in her late teens and early 20s. She never abused a child. She grew up in church and wants her kids to have that same upbringing. She is concerned about how people will respond to her status as a registered sex offender, despite prostitution not being her choice. She states she was a victim of sex trafficking. She meets with the pastor to share her concerns.
  5. Ms. M is 45 years old. She was convicted of indecent liberties with a minor and sexual abuse by a teacher. In her late 20’s she was found guilty of having sex with a 17 year old student. She has abided by the requirements of the registry. She hopes to join a local church that will allow her to participate in various aspects of ministry and service. She does not initially disclose her offender status, however, when she began attending regularly she asked the pastor for a meeting.

***These scenarios are fictitious although similar or exact circumstances could arise at your church. These are just a few samples of the many possibilities that could occur. No case is the same.***

Who gets to worship regularly at your church? Who gets to join in membership and/or serve in some capacity? What regulations are in place to protect the children in your church? How will you address the concerns of other church members? Do you know what legal rights both the church and the offender have? Do you know how to access court documents that corroborate the offender’s story? How does the church extend grace as Christ would desire? How do we hold people accountable for their actions? How will this impact survivors of child abuse in your church family?

In my next post, I will share my thoughts on one scenario in which I wholeheartedly believe the registered sex offender should NOT be able to attend at a specific church.

Share your thoughts! I would love to hear them and value any input you are willing to share. Have you had any experiences like this? Leave a comment or connect with me via the “Contact Me” tab.

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This is my home church in NC. It is a place that fostered healing and hope in the most loving community I could imagine. It is my desire that every survivor can have that experience. 

Trust Your Gut

I’ve always heard the phrase “trust your gut” but it was not until I was an adult that I realized the magnitude of this statement and the immense truth it holds. Over the last several weeks, I have had very similar conversations with multiple people about the importance of listening to our instincts, or commonly referred to as our gut. In many cases, this gut feeling manifests and there is no explanation for having the uneasiness accompanied by internal alarm bells.

My thoughts in this blog are primarily spurred by a specific incident that occurred some time ago. I was in the presence of an acquaintance. In previous encounters with this person, I recall feeling some uneasiness- it is that feeling that you can’t exactly put into words, but you know something just isn’t quite right. It’s that gut instinct. But, because I could not identify a precise or logical reason for my feelings, I pushed them down and ignored what my body was trying to tell me.

With each encounter with this person, I pushed those feelings down even further because I could not find any reason to think this person was unsafe. In my mind, I questioned whether I was just overreacting because of the trauma I experienced as a child. There was nothing noticeable about this person that I believed should signal these alarm bells. This person did not act in any way that scared me or made me nervous. I never saw this person interact with others in a way that concerned me. There was nothing outwardly happening to cause this gut feeling, something just did not feel right.

Eventually, I learned that gut feeling was there for a reason. Those alarm bells were going off to protect me. Eventually, this person crossed the line and made me regret not listening to that gut feeling. From that moment on, I made the decision to listen to that gut feeling and not question it. I will thank my body for protecting me, rather than assuming it’s just some crazy overreaction.

Now, I need to clarify that I do not get this feeling often. Of all the people I encounter in a year, only a few interactions have ignited this gut feeling and internal alarm bells. This is why I have promised myself that I will never get mad because I have a gut feeling I can’t understand and I’m not going to push that feeling down out of fear that it may be wrong. Acknowledge the feeling, trust it, and do what you have to do to stay safe. butterfly

The Second Hand Keeps Ticking

I can’t believe today is the last day of 2016. This year has challenged me, strengthened me, molded me, and made me more brave.

A little over a year ago, in December 2015, I sat in my local District Attorney’s office at the court house in the center of town. I anxiously watched the second hand move slightly with each tick as I waited for the ADA to call me back. As I reflect on this year, this particular meeting served as a launching point for some of the pivotal events of this past year for me. The meeting led to the creation and publication of my blog, which is now on the verge of 4,000 views. The meeting led to further research of laws governing the sex offender registry and allowed for contact to be made with a NC Senator. The conversation with the Senator placed me in contact with the North Carolina Conference District Attorneys. Nearly a year after my meeting with the local ADA in December 2015, I sat in another waiting room watching the second hand continue ticking. This time I waited for my appointment with the Child Abuse Resource Prosecutor at the NC Conference of District Attorneys office. It was somewhat surreal to meet and discuss further legislative efforts to better serve victims of child sexual abuse, not just through the court proceedings but in the years after when offenders reach the date of being able to petition for removal from the registry. During this meeting, I was given a copy of the publication in which my impact statement was featured. I was overwhelmed with emotion to see not just my statement, but line after line of words contributed by the local ADA I met with a year ago as he detailed the impact of our meeting. I hope to be able to share the publication soon, so stay tuned. I thank God for preparing me, strengthening me, and giving me the courage to sit in that office a year ago, bravely waiting for my name to be called as the seconds kept ticking.

Making my blog public earlier this year was a frightening choice, but I knew in my heart it was the next step God was calling me to take. Clicking publish has opened the door for me to educate others about laws governing the sex offender registry and the impacts of abuse that are not always discussed. It has given me the opportunity to be a safe person for people to share their story. Clicking publish has resulted in being given the honor of speaking at Triad Ladder of Hope’s 3rd Annual Gala Fundraiser on January 28, 2017. If you live in the area, I hope you will pray about attending or supporting this amazing organization. You can find out more information about the event here.

I am incredibly excited for what 2017 may hold. The blog will continue. The fight for strengthened legislation will continue. Thriving and braving this world will continue.

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Riding in the “Big Truck”

Recently, a trigger reminded me of one of the earliest abuse experiences I can recall. I am so thankful that this trigger no longer causes emotional turmoil and strong physiological responses. Instead, I could reflect on the incident and consider how I might provide useful knowledge that may help someone today.

My abuser’s profession when he first entered my life was driving trucks. I have many pleasant memories of traveling down to Wilmington on Friday nights with my immediate family in the “Big Truck” to eat at Western Sizzlin and pick up or drop off a trailer at the port. My siblings and I would ride in the cab on the bunk bed and occasionally we would get the chance to blow the horn. I can remember walking to and from the truck feeling like the coolest kid in the world. Unfortunately, that truck soon became a place I feared to enter.

If you knew me as a child, you may be aware that my favorite word was “go.” I was always excited to travel. One day I was given the opportunity to accompany my abuser to work, riding with him in the big truck to and from his destination for the day. We left the house around 3 or 4 am because the location was about three to four hours away. On the way, I slept in the cab of the truck. We arrived before the warehouse opened where we would deliver the shipment. During the time between our arrival and the opening of the warehouse, my abuser abused me. While I can identify grooming behaviors prior to this time, this incident is the earliest remembrance of being sexual abused.

What stood out to me recently, after being triggered, is the immediate feeling of fear, confusion, and guilt. As a child, I felt like I was thousands of miles away from what I considered my safety net and support system. I thought my abuser was a member of the “safe people” in my life. Yet, this incident caused me to question his status. I was conflicted with feeling like something was bad and wrong with the situation, yet I also believed that adults in my life would always do the right thing. I became confused about whether this was just a normal part of life. The guilt response has resulted in much reflection this last week.

This was the first incident of sexual abuse. All it took was this one incident for life to be forever altered. The entire ride home I felt like I, a 7 or 8 year old child, was going to be in the worst trouble when I got home. I can remember hoping and praying that my abuser would not tell my mom what had happened between us. I could not see this single event as a crime my abuser committed, instead I believed that I had done something wrong. One of the questions I’ve been pondering is how do we equip our children with protection from the response I had (and my others have had) as a result of being abused? I was trying to think about what I could have known or been told as a child so that when my abuser abused me for the first time I would have been able to tell an adult immediately rather than feeling like I would be the one to blame.

Honestly, I am not totally sure what the answer is to this question. I know my responses were normal for a child experiencing abuse, especially with an abuser that is a master manipulator and expert groomer. However, I want something different for other children. I want them to know that acts of abuse are never their fault. I want them to know (and I want to know) that a trusted adult is going to hear them when they speak up and believe them without hesitation and take action to provide them with safety quickly. When I was a child I was able to connect wrongdoings with consequences, generally some form of punishment. If I hit one of my siblings, I was going to be sent to my room for timeout. If I got in trouble at school, I would lose some of my extracurricular activities for a period of time. I had a feeling the abuse was a wrongdoing, but I was not able to perceive it as something my abuser was doing wrong.

I believe one of the important lessons to teach children at an early age is what to do if someone does something wrong to them. It will accompany educating our children about good touch/bad touch and ensuring they know who to turn to for help. I think we need to specifically state the abuse is never the fault of the child. If a person engages in bad touch- whether the abuser touches the child or the child is forced to touch the abuser- it is not the child’s fault (there are a multitude of other crimes against children that can be listed). The child is never to blame and they need to know they will never be in trouble for telling an adult about such incidents. If children fear adult’s responses, their opportunities to speak up about abuse are limited. An environment that fosters safe, open, and loving communication is absolutely necessary for children to acquire the courage to speak.

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