Telling the Secret: What I’ve Learned About Disclosure

If you have been keeping up with my blog, you may have noticed that I have not spent much time discussing my personal disclosure of abuse or what I think on the topic in general. I have purposefully not shared my disclosure experiences because I just did not feel ready. However, I have come to the conclusion that I want this blog to continue to be a place that people can learn from successes and failures in my story. There are many mixed views about the appropriate responses when a child discloses abuse and I appreciate the respectful dialogue that can occur through differing opinions. This post consists of my ideas about disclosure based on personal experience and the beliefs that I have come to adopt through the healing process.

It was not until last year that I realized just how difficult the issue of disclosure can be and the many emotions it fuels. When a friend was accused of committing sex crimes with a minor I did not want to believe it. It is hard to believe that someone you love and care about- whether it’s a friend, spouse, family member, teacher, pastor, coach, etc- could commit such atrocious crimes. Honestly, the default in us may be to say “no way, that’s not possible.” We want to see the good in people. There is good in people. I believe that. But, I also know the amount of courage it takes to mutter the words “I am being abused” (or however it comes out). I also know the immeasurable fear that ensues as soon as those words are muttered. There is also the knowledge that you have broken the rule and the legitimate possibility your abuser will follow through with their threats. Disclosing abuse involves a person making the decision that they are willing to risk their abuser’s threats becoming promises in hopes of the opportunity for freedom from the pain.

My first disclosure took place about a year or two after the ongoing abuse began. I wrote a letter after a bad fight with my abuser. I did not exhibit any of the typical signs or symptoms of being actively sexually abused and therefore no significant safeguards were put in place to end the abuse. After my first disclosure, I vowed I would never tell anyone what happened to me. Thankfully, my eighth grade year of school I was able to identify a teacher that I trusted. I took that chance once again and as mandated reporters, my abuse was taken seriously, investigated, and ultimately resulted in my abuser being charged.

So here is what I’ve learned about disclosure and my thoughts:

  1. The first words, despite the likely feelings of shock, need to be “you did the right thing by telling, this is not your fault, I believe you, and I am here for you.” The child, or adult, likely feels some sense of trust and safety if they are disclosing to you in the first place.
  2. Never use the word “IF.” If implies disbelief such as “if this happened…”
  3. Do not make promises you cannot keep. You may not be able to ensure the person’s complete safety from the perpetrator. If you can make that promise, it is really comforting, but only make promises you know you can keep.
  4. Let the appropriate parties do the investigating. This may depend on your role, but if it is not your responsibility, don’t begin the investigative questioning. Safety is the most important element immediately following disclosure.
  5. Do your absolute best to maintain a calm and comforting composure. I am certain it is much easier said than done, but a child needs to see a strong adult. This doesn’t mean you have to be hardened and stoic. Be real, but don’t become an emotionally distraught in front of the child.
  6. Continue to support the child or adult in whatever ways you can. If a person discloses their abuse to you, know that they did not just pick you randomly. There is likely a reason they felt safe with you and you have the power to be a influential force in the child’s life. Again, this will look different depending on your role.

Too many times disclosure does not occur until years or even decades after the abuse first occurs. This is not okay. If children can know that they will be believed and someone will act on their behalf and in their best interest, maybe, just maybe, disclosure will occur sooner. Unfortunately, right now, too many disclosures are overlooked. When a child witnesses another person’s disclosure being dismissed that decreases the likelihood they will ever gain the courage and trust to tell their experiences.

Again, these are just my views and I know the many alternatives. Although I don’t necessarily agree with them, I can see where people come from in forming their beliefs.

What are your thoughts on disclosure? Can you think of any other helpful tips in handling a child’s disclosure of sexual abuse?

1939576_10203468787825202_1168607805_o
Healing is possible. True joy returns. ❤ my siblings

A Plea for Justice, Impact Statement Pt. 3

In the final part of my victim impact statement I decided to begin with the day I was freed from my abuser. While I was so thankful to have someone believe me and take action against my abuser, it was also one of the scariest days of my life. Things did not get better on that day and at the time it felt like life became immensely more difficult. I want the judge to see that my abuser’s actions did not just effect me, but they also significantly impacted my family.

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.

Next I wanted to convey to the judge my concerns regarding the potential of my abuser harming another child. I want the judge to see that my abuser was very skilled in manipulative tactics. It provides me with some peace of mind that my abuser is listed on a public sex offender registry. I also want the judge to look at the picture below and see what I looked like a year after the abuse began. I want the judge to see that I was just a child.

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 XXXXXXX. 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.

In conclusion, my abuser added me to a list that I never wanted to be on. If I ever go before the judge, my plea will be that my abuser remain on the sex offender registry for the duration of his life.

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 XXXXXX 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.  

kendall-9

Not My Shame, Impact Statement Part 2

***Trigger Warning***

I am going to be authentic at this moment and tell you that it is scary posting the second part of my victim impact statement. I am definitely experiencing some anxiety just thinking about pressing “publish.” That feeling of shame resurfaced as I read back over the words I typed months ago. I choose to overcome and rise above because today I know it is not my shame.  

This part of my impact statement focuses on what I want the judge to know regarding my abuser’s actions. I did not want the judge to simply look back at the charges and see three counts of indecent liberty with a minor. The title of that charge does not convey, in my opinion, what really happened. If I ever stand before a judge to read my statement, I want the judge to hear what my life was really like during the years of abuse. I want the judge to know, it didn’t happen just three times. What I did not want to do though is recount every detail of the abuse. Because, I am so much more than what happened to me. I don’t want the judge to see me as a victim. When I go before that judge, I want him/her to hear the reasons my abuser should not be removed from the sex offender registry and I want him/her to see how strong I am today and how I am thriving. There is hope. Always.

So here is the first part of my statement, if you missed that post, and part two follows it:

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 Jeffrey, my former step-father, 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. Ten years ago, as a victim, I did not have the courage to stand before the court and speak about the heinous acts that were committed against me. Today, as a survivor, I have a voice that is ready to be heard. And it begins with that August night I watched “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” with my then step-father which 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.

It is still hard to see the words I have typed and to know that is a chapter in my book of life. But I find hope in the many chapters that follow. My chapter of accepting Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior and the journey of faith that follows. My chapters of graduating high school and college. My chapter of becoming a missionary through the North American Mission Board. My chapter of starting graduate school. My chapters of playing sports competitively. There are so many chapters in each person’s life. We can’t just look at one chapter and decide that’s what defines a person. We are more. 

In the coming days, or weeks (cue graduate school chapter of life), I will post the final part of my impact statement. 

Check out this song by Natalie Grant called “Clean

dandelion-761104.jpg

 

Finding the Words

“You will have the opportunity to make a victim statement if you would like,” the Assistant District Attorney informed me. After my abuser was read the terms of his plea bargain, the judge asked if there was anything else the prosecutor’s side wanted to say. The ADA turned to me to confirm before responding to the judge, “there’s nothing else.”

A year and a half had passed since my disclosure that resulted in being freed from my abuser. At 15 years old, I had absolutely no idea what a victim impact statement involved. I knew what the impacts of my abuser’s crimes were at that time- my world had been turned upside down; but where would I even begin to find the words to adequately say what I wanted to say. What do you say when you are a scared teen, in a court room in front of the judge, and sitting across a narrow aisle from your abuser for the first time in over a year? It did not feel like there were any words I could say that would make a difference.

Walking out of that court room, watching my abuser walk out of the same court room with his family, I immediately wished I had said something when the judge asked. I still didn’t know what I would have said, but I realized the “case” was finished. In my mind it seemed that maybe if I had just told the judge the details of what my abuser did, he would have responded with a harsher punishment. Instead, I was leaving the court house knowing my abuser would go spend 48 hours at the local jail.

Over the years, this regret was something I grappled with continually. I could not find peace in the outcome of the case or my silence in the court room. 10 years later, I recognized a truth I had known all my life- God’s timing is perfect. 10 years after registering as a sex offender, my abuser became eligible to petition for removal from the sex offender registry. As you read in my earlier posts, this was a tough reality to accept. However, it provided me an opportunity to find that voice that sat silent in the court room.

While speaking with the Assistant District Attorney that would handle the case if my abuser filed for petition, I was informed that I would have the opportunity to make a victim impact statement before the judge if I chose. Over the next few weeks, I am going to share the statement I have prepared if the day comes that my abuser files a petition. It was a rollercoaster to write.  I was googling examples of statements, contacting people in the District Attorney’s office, trying to figure out what comprises a victim impact statement. When I finally sat down and began to write, the words flowed freely and effortlessly. I have no way of knowing whether or not my statement will ever be heard in front of a judge and my abuser. However, simply writing the statement allowed me to find that voice that felt silenced in the court room over 10 years ago.

If you are at a place in life where you are considering writing a statement, even if you are the only person who will see it- I would encourage you to take that step. You will know when you are ready. If you aren’t sure where to start, stay tuned to see what steps I found helpful and the types of people I reached out to for assistance.

When What You Remember Isn’t Enough


Throughout the court process, my case was always referred to as a “he said, she said” case because there was no physical evidence to corroborate my disclosure. Hearing those words always stung.

During some of the initial interviews, I was asked questions such as “when did the abuse begin?” A bulk of the investigation took place around my 14th birthday. When I was asked that question I struggled and began to feel like a failure because I could not remember the date my abuser hurt me the first time.

As a child, time does not consist of hours, days, weeks, or months. Time as a child equals memories, holidays, vacations, playing on weekends, birthday parties, and ball games. The summer flies by, the school year drags on, and Christmas and birthdays can’t come fast enough. A child generally will not recall that on x/xx/xxxx, her stepdad tried to french kiss her in the kitchen. But- what she can tell you is everything that surrounded that moment… where she stood in the kitchen, who was in the house at the time, what her abuser was wearing, what she did immediately afterwards, the fear and confusion she experienced, etc. Unfortunately, the court of law needs cold, hard facts to prosecute offenders.

Not only could I not recall the date the abuse began, but Ialso could not give investigators an estimated number of times it happened. Later in my healing journey I remember thinking, “if only I had carved a tally into the wall at the back of my closet every time my stepdad abused me.” It is really easy to get caught into a cycle of blaming yourself for not keeping the “data” of your abuse so that you can have a strong enough court case with evidence to get justice. The way I am able to overcome those negative thoughts is to remind myself that I was just a little girl trying to survive. I also reflect on the knowledge I have gained in college and graduate school about the way the brain grows and develops and the impacts of trauma on the brain. In a future post I will share more about that.

Being somewhat of a perfectionist, more left brained than right, and a fan of math, the inability to precisely answer the important questions left me with a burden of guilt. The “if-then” statements used to rattle my mind regularly. I continue to strive to find peace in “not knowing” the answers to the questions that weighed so heavily at one time.balls-1284418_960_720

In exciting news, North Carolina has passed a law that prohibits sex offenders from frequenting parks, libraries, arcades, recreation areas, pools, and amusement parks. These places are now safer places for our children. You can read all about the new law here. There is also a section that talks about the petitioning process for offenders and how one Assistant District Attorney may appear in court 10-20 times for these petitions.  

The Power in Truth

In my last 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 probably 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 my last 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 poured truth into me and helped me overcome the lie I believed.

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. Simply talking once or twice about “safe touch,” “stranger danger,” and basic sexual abuse prevention education is not enough. These are conversations that need to be ongoing and adjusted each time to the child’s age. The abuser tells lies over and over to the point that in the mind of the victim, they become truth.

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.

girl-162474_1920

Deal or No Deal

One of the hardest and lengthiest parts of the healing process has been coming to peace with the decision to accept the plea deal the defense lawyer and prosecutor agreed upon instead of taking the case to trial. Any time I think back to the year and a half or so working with the court system, the “what ifs” creep into my mind. In my head, and sometimes even in my dreams, different scenarios play out. What if we had gone to trial and the jury found my abuser guilty? What if we had gone to trial and the jury found my abuser not guilty? What would it have been like to face my abuser on the witness stand? Would my abuser have ever admitted his guilt? The questions can keep rolling. Thankfully, I am getting much better at preventing those thoughts from permeating my mind. I am able to rest assured that despite any decision I could have made that day in March 2006, I live for a God that is just and He loves me, His daughter.

So I must admit, this is probably the 10th time in a week that I have changed this portion of my blog. I have just continued to pray for the words I’m supposed to write to come to me. I refuse to post anything on my blog page until I have peace that it contains the words God has provided for me to share.

I am not sure how many people have witnessed a child sexual abuse case as it moves through the court system in its entirety. My goal with this post is to share what it was like for me as a 14-15 year old. Every single case will be different, but I believe there will be some similarities as well. My hope is that the conversation can continue in regards to how we can make the process of facing an abuser in court less painful for the child that has already suffered more than they ever should. I’m very thankful for the strides that have been made by many courts to adopt a trauma informed, victim centered approach.

In the weeks following my disclosure, I endured hours of interviews by state bureau investigators and forensic psychologists. They were great at their job, but there is just no way any person can make talking about your abuse experiences tolerable at this point in the journey. Eventually, my abuser was arrested and charged with three counts of taking indecent liberties with a minor; thus, the start of the court case.

Much of the time leading up to the actual day in court remains a blur. Between delays in the case, a change in Assistant District Attorney, and all of the stressors of moving and starting high school, I simply do not remember each meeting at the court house. However, in the midst of all that, the District Attorney’s office was working on my behalf to work out a plea deal with my abuser’s attorney.

When the court date arrived, I remember being overcome with fear. The only knowledge I had of what court was like came from watching Judge Judy and Judge Mathis. I truly had no idea what to expect. Before we entered the court room, the ADA called us to a room and explained that my abuser’s attorney had submitted a change to the terms of the plea agreement. At 15 years old, I had to choose between accepting the new terms, which reduced the jail time to 48 hours, or take the case to trial. If I said “deal,” it would all be over in less than an hour, they said. If I said “no deal,” the outcome of a trial was uncertain as the case was a “he said, she said.”

At this point in my journey, I had not regained my voice that was taken from me by my abuser. I had the opportunity to make a victim impact statement, but I declined; barely able to mutter the words I accepted the deal. I just wanted the nightmare to end.  It did not take long for me to realize the court experience was just one chapter in the healing process that was closed. And truthfully, the chapter isn’t completely closed today. With the way the law is written, there is the possibility I could have to face my abuser in court once every single year for the rest of his life.

In North Carolina, many sex offenders are allowed to petition for removal from the sex offender registry after 10 years. If there petition is denied, one year from the denial, they are allowed to file a petition again- year after year after year. But that’s a side note and I can discuss the implications of that law in another post.

As I’ve taken a week to write this post, I’ve tried to explore what is the right decision to make? I don’t think there is a right decision. In some ways I have discovered that I am actually very lucky (weird to say in this context) to have had the chance to decide which route my case would take. Many never get the opportunity to have charges pressed against their abuser, due to statute of limitations or other reasons. Some have the opportunity to press charges, but when a plea deal is unsuccessful they are forced to withstand a trial, which is a trauma in itself. How can we make this process easier for individuals who have endured so much and are trying to continue on the healing process? In some ways, I guess I am beginning to learn that while we should aggressively pursue hefty penalties for committing crimes against children, I’m not sure there is any punishment a judicial system could hand down to an offender that will “feel enough” for the stolen innocence of a child.

God is just. That truth is enough.857178_10202918029376585_155563210_o