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Survivor Stories

Survivor Spotlight: Kari

Could you imagine what it would be like to carry on with life as a single parent after you and your children endured sexual abuse by your spouse?

It’s crazy to think there are more friends, family and neighbors among us who fit this scenario than we often realize. Survivors often find their journeys difficult as they suffer in silence because their circumstances are difficult for most to talk about.

In our new Survivor Spotlight Series on survivorsARE.org (the new website Annaka and I created), Kari shares valuable insight on how she copes with life as a survivor.

Kari is a courageous woman and a single mother who, along with some of her children, endured abuse by her husbands/their fathers. She radiates light as she speaks up to help raise awareness and provide support to those who find themselves in similar situations. She also hopes to aid in prevention by speaking up to help break the cycle of abuse in families. She and her family are such great examples of courage and working to make society a better place.

The act of the abuse is one thing, but the enduring consequences of those actions are another that as a whole we’re not as familiar with. But, by listening to the voices of survivors, we can better know how to help those who may be silently struggling.

Watch this video and show your support for Kari! She is a true hero.

The Rippling Repercussions of Childhood Sex Abuse – Part II

Click here for Part I.

Our Anonymous Guest Post continued

A couple years later I finally followed the therapist’s advice and held a family meeting. I was feeling worried that my abuser was still out there and nobody knew what he had done. What if there were other victims? What if he was still abusing children? I went to my bishop in my ward and told him about it and asked if he could find anything out. He found that my abuser was in good standing in the church and he was married with 3 kids. He said he had been through the repentance process about it. He wasn’t allowed to work in the primary or nursery or have a calling with kids. He said the church leadership did not want me to go to the police about it. They didn’t want him to not be able to support his family. That he was a changed man but that I should do whatever I needed to to heal. This was hard for me to hear. It was more proof that he was worth more than me. I understand and believe in the repentance process but what about restitution? What about obeying the laws of the land? I wasn’t out for vengeance. I just wanted to do all I could to make sure history wasn’t repeating itself with other victims. It was hard to not feel betrayed by my church, but I knew that Heavenly Father loved me and I was doing the right thing.

We had our family meeting with all the adults in my family. This was very cathartic and healing for me to hear my family say how sorry they were for what happened and to feel like they were on my side. We decided as a family to call the Police Department and report the crime. This was in December of 2010.

In March of 2011 the police called me in to investigate the crime. I gave a wonderful detective, all the details. He read my journals, he called my friends and family members, past counselors, and church leaders and got all the facts and decided it was a strong enough case that he could turn it over to the State. The State of Utah charged my abuser with 5 1st degree felonies 5 2nd degree felonies for sodomy on a child and aggravated child abuse. He was looking at a possible lifetime in prison if he was convicted. I was just the witness and victim in the case. I was so scared and nervous to testify! But I tried to be brave because I wanted to do the right thing. By then I was pregnant with our sweet little girl and wanted to make this world just a tiny bit safer for her.

My abuser got a good attorney. He didn’t want to go to jail or lose his nursing license. He works as a surgical nurse. He was willing to bargain though and was willing to take some responsibility. They did a psycho-sex-evaluation to determine if he was still a threat. It is basically a lie detector test and that has a blood pressure thing connected to his genitals to see if he gets aroused by certain scenarios or pictures. It showed that he wasn’t a threat and that I was the only victim and that he was very remorseful for what he had done. It also showed that he had been abused as well by his own brother and he had used me to help him work through what happened to him and that he had recently started therapy. With that information and with the fact that the only evidence the jury would have is my testimony of crimes that happened 20+ years ago, we decided to do a plea deal. We were very lenient. we let him take two 3rd degree felonies of child abuse. He had strict probation rules and had to be in a treatment program and he had to pay for my therapy as well for the next 3 years. But he still got to keep his Nursing License. He had to do some community service and pay $500 to the court as well and write me a letter of apology. During the sentencing hearing he did apologize to me there as well and sounded very sincere and remorseful. This did help me. Not many victims get that from their abusers. It still doesn’t change that it happened, but it did help. At the sentencing hearing I was supported by my husband, my best friend, and my sisters while my mom watched our daughter for us (I didn’t want her anywhere near him!) I was so terrified to be there but they helped me be brave. This was 12/12/12. It took that long to go through the system!

In the midst of all the legal processes going on I felt impressed to let my husband’s family in on what was happening at one of our girl book clubs. My heart was pounding so hard in my chest, I knew I was supposed to share my story with them. I’m so glad I did because a couple other people in the group came forward and admitted being abused as well, never having told anyone before even though it had been decades. Also my Aunt (who is a victims advocate and works a lot with abused women) was able to put me in touch with an amazing counselor who helped me so much! Finally someone I could connect with! She helped me trust my instincts again and get rid of those damaging beliefs I formed as a child. She had a few sessions with my husband there as well to help him help me and help our relationship as well.

In June of 2013 just, 6 months after the sentencing hearing, the prosecuting attorney called me and said my abuser wanted to change his plea from Child Abuse to Obstruction of Justice because he was would lose his license as a nurse if the law code didn’t change. She said he would still have the same probation and all that but just the name would change. She asked if I would give my permission for that. At first I said okay because I was trying to please and thinking that is what a forgiving person would do. But I had a horrible night and was extremely anxious and stressed out about it. It still bothered me that during the psycho-sex-evaluation he lied about his age. He said it went on when he was 13 until he was 16. We didn’t even move to Utah until he was 16. When he was 13 I was a 1 year old living in Montana. So I worried he had been able to lie about other things and he really was a threat. I didn’t want to give permission for him to have access to sick kids (even though I am told he strictly works with adults and is not allowed access to kids). He also so far had not been paying for my therapy. I had been sending my receipts to his probation officer but still hadn’t gotten a dime from him after I had already spent over $1300 of our own money. From the beginning I wanted my abuser to be on the sex offenders list. We didn’t get that. Now it wouldn’t even say anything about child abuse in his felonies? Would people even know he was a potential threat to children? So I called back the next day and withdrew my permission and I wrote a letter to the judge expressing my concerns. He was granted what he wanted and was able to change his plea anyway but I ended up being at peace with it since it was out of my hands. The judge did order him to immediately start paying for my therapy costs which was a huge help.

Luckily the Utah Victims of Crime also stepped in to help pay for my therapy costs! I am so grateful to them. My abuser still has to eventually pay but in the meantime they are stepping in and helping me afford to continue going to therapy. I’m so glad we have a system like that in place!

During that same month in June 2013 I saw my abuser at a church store. I thought I would be terrified. I have had so many nightmares about running into him somewhere and waking up in cold sweat. I mostly just felt revulsion and then comfort that everything would be okay. Luckily I had already made my purchases when I saw him so I could make a hasty exit.

Today I am still a work in progress. I am still healing. My therapist diagnosed me with a few anxiety disorders, mainly PTSD. But I think I have changed so much and have grown by leaps and bounds through this process. With the help, love, and support of my Savior, my spouse, my family, my therapist, and my friends I know I will be just fine. A few years ago I couldn’t imagine telling even my brothers and sisters about my dark secret. Now I can tell the world because I know I have nothing to be ashamed of. It wasn’t my fault, it was his. I don’t need to be embarrassed anymore. I hope this post helps someone else out there who may be struggling and feeling all alone. They say 1 in every 3 or 4 women is sexually abused and 1 in 7 men. Those statistics are scary. We live in an evil world. I hope we can keep our kids safe and beat those statistics. Knowledge is power. We need to be aware of the danger out there to protect our little ones and fellow brothers and sisters.

I’m actually taking a break from therapy right now since I have been feeling so great. I have a few sessions saved for later when my daughter is older. When she reaches the age I was when I was abused, I might need some more help if it triggers more PTSD. Luckily my therapist taught me a lot of healthy coping mechanisms in the meantime.

I hope I didn’t mislead anyone in thinking that I turned away from my church because of some of my feelings of betrayal. I love The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and my testimony has not wavered. Without the gospel, I don’t think I would have much happiness in my life or even be alive. I love my church leaders as well. Heavenly Father wants to protect his little ones too, but loves all his children and gives us the gift of agency. However I do think the Church does need to be more supportive of abused victims and less so of the abusers. My first bishop and stake president should have reported my abuse when we came to them when I was 12 even if I then told them no. It would have saved a lot of time and ripple effects of pain. We are all of infinite worth. I have received so much comfort from my Savior and know that he is healing me and making me a stronger and better person. No pain, no gain, right?

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The Rippling Repercussions of Childhood Sex Abuse – Part I

We are grateful for the many survivors who have reached out to us. We decided it would be beneficial for our readers to hear multiple perspectives in order to gain a broader idea of the impact that sexual abuse has on victims. The following is our first survivor guest post. She requested to remain anonymous.

LDS Religion Buzzwords:

  • Ward – A geographically organized congregation in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
  • Bishop – The unpaid leader of a ward with duties similar to those of a pastor, priest or rabbi
  • Stake President – The unpaid leader of a stake (a geographic area composed of individual wards)

For most of my life there has been a heavy, dark secret I tried to bury. It has been very painful to carry. I have since learned in the last few years how much speaking out about the secret actually helps me heal and perhaps will help others who have been in similar situations to have the courage to speak out and be healed as well.

I was sexually abused in my own home from when I was 4 until I was 7 years old. My older brother’s friend, who lived in our ward, was my abuser. He was 16 when it started and it didn’t stop until he left on a church mission when he was 19 years old. Then I was finally free of him. Luckily when he returned “with honor” from his mission my older brother had moved out so he didn’t have access to me any more though he did stop by to visit the family and talk to me a couple times. He wanted to make sure I hadn’t told anyone, and that I wouldn’t tell anyone. I told him I wouldn’t. I can’t remember everything that happened. Some things I’m sure are blocked from my memory for my own good. And for a couple years while he was gone I usually didn’t think about it except for from time to time in the middle of the night. When he came home, many of the memories came flooding back, but not all.

For years I felt like it was all my fault. That I was a bad person, dirty, broken, and worthless. I felt like I would be better off dead and was in so much pain that I would often pray to Heavenly Father to just let me die so I could be with Him and be at peace. I did often feel my Savior’s comfort and love, but I still believed that I was worthless. I sometimes even would try to kill myself in the 5th grade by suffocating myself with a pillow or staying under water in the bath tub as long as I could. I withdrew from all my friends and became silent. I literally did not talk. I felt that even the sound of my voice would hurt others’ ears.

When I was 8 and ready to be baptized into my church I was so excited that I would be washed clean of my sins. However when my dad baptized me he said something in the prayer about me not having any sins under his breath. I was convinced this meant that it probably didn’t work and I was still dirty.

When I was 12 years old in the 6th grade I had made a couple of close friends again. One night one of my friends and I did some prank calling teasing one of my neighbor boys in an unkind way. My dad found out and told me how disappointed he was in me and how he had always thought that I was perfect. I went to my room and cried and started reading the scriptures to comfort myself. I knew I wasn’t perfect. I knew I was dirty, bad, worthless, used up,with no divine worth, and that everything was all my fault. As I was reading the scriptures I came across a verse in Alma (A book in the Book of Mormon) 37 about counseling with your elders about sins and also counseling with the lord:

37 Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good; yea, when thou liest down at night lie down unto the Lord, that he may watch over you in your sleep; and when thou risest in the morning let thy heart be full of thanks unto God; and if ye do these things, ye shall be lifted up at the last day.

I prayed and felt that I needed to tell my parents about my shameful secret. Then they would know their daughter was not perfect, and was in fact a girl to be ashamed of, but I felt so guilty I wanted them to know. I felt like I was confessing my sins. I practiced in front of my stuffed animals and dolls a few times and in front of the mirror and then decided I was ready.

So I went into their bedroom just before they were going to go to sleep. I said, “I have something I need to tell you. Do you remember so and so?” They said yes. I went on to tell them what I remembered him doing to me and us doing together in very childlike terms. They were pretty serious acts but I won’t go into it here. My parents were obviously in shock. They asked how many times did it happen? Once, twice, several times? Not being sure exactly what several meant, I knew it meant more than once or twice so I chose that answer when in reality the answer should have been countless times. They asked me a couple more questions and then sent me off to bed. I went to bed feeling a little lighter and happier that my secret was out.

A few days later they took me to see the Bishop and Stake President. I knew that going to the Bishop was part of the process of repentance. I knew that I was a sinner so this was what I had to do. I sat there silently in the office while the adults talked. They asked me if I wanted to talk to the police. I said no. I didn’t want to get into any more trouble. There was discussion about not wanting to ruin his life. That drove home the belief that it was my fault. The bishop asked me if I needed counseling. I said no, I didn’t want to see anybody. Wasn’t that what crazy people did? So it was decided to do nothing about it.

My parents never talked to me about it. It was a dirty secret swept under the rug. I was still left filled with shame, guilt, and depression. My parents were hoping that I would just forget about it. They didn’t want to bring it up and cause me pain or upset me. They were at a loss as what to do and who can blame them? Meanwhile my wounds festered and the pain went on. Luckily I had music as an outlet and other activities and I loved to read and write so that was a nice escape from reality.

When I went to Girls Camp my first year it was only a month or so after I had aired my secret with my parents. Late one night while were were laying in our tent the girls started talking about some neighborhood gossip and boys. My abuser’s name came up (he had since moved but everyone remembered him) and they started telling stories about him. I was shaking uncontrollably, my heart like an icy rock in my chest. I had to get out of there. I left the tent and ran to the bathroom to try to calm down. One of the older girls was worried about me and came after me. She saw me shaking and asked what was wrong. I just blurted it out about how he had abused me. I made her promise not to ever say anything. To this day I haven’t ever talked to her about it again. I wonder if she even remembers?

When I was in 8th grade I developed Anorexia. I lost 40 lbs. in a month. And I was normal sized to begin with so ended up very bony and sickly at about 80 lbs. I lost my period for about a year after having them regularly for 2 years before that. My mom freaked out and took me to the family doctor who scared me by saying if I kept it up I might not be able to have kids. I finally saw a counselor. He was not very nice. The first meeting he asked me if I thought I looked good the way I was. He said I didn’t. Victoria Secret models have some meat on their bones. Men like a little meat and I had none. Needless to say, I never had a connection with that counselor. We did talk about the abuse and that helped. He helped me finally see that I was the victim. He helped me write a letter to my abuser. I got one back from my abuser saying he was sorry and he hoped that I would have forgotten about it. Getting the letter really validated to me that it really did happen.

I was also seeing a nutritionist. I remember getting weighed backwards and not being able to look and it was the hardest thing in the world for me not to look. I heard them tsk tsking and I imagined they were thinking “This girl is fat, why is she here?” I would look in the mirror and see a girl much larger than I really was, but then I would look at my starved legs with bruises from when they touched each other when I slept and would think, “Maybe I am skinny?” I think it may also have been a way for me to commit suicide very slowly. My parents said I wouldn’t be able to do karate or dance unless I weighed at least 100 lbs. I put my ankle weights in my bra but I still didn’t come close. Eventually, I decided I needed to eat so that I would be able to be a mother someday, something I have always desired. I ate a jar of peanut butter every day and a box of Frosted Mini Wheats in addition to my meals. I got back to a healthy weight eventually. I stopped seeing the counselor after only a few sessions though. I felt guilty about how expensive it was and I didn’t like the guy anyway so I told my parents I was fine and could stop.

Not long after I got back to a healthy weight I became bulimic. I didn’t lose much weight but was in a dangerous cycle of binging and purging. It was all about emotions and control. I would feel depressed and anxious so I would eat a lot, then feel guilty and ashamed so I would throw it all up to get some relief. My friends suspected what I was doing and told my mom behind my back. I was sent to a different counselor. A girl this time. She was nice, but I still didn’t feel much of a connection. She blamed the whole situation on my Dad and one of my best friends saying they were too controlling. I continued to throw up until I went to a week long church youth-oriented seminar and was unable to do so. There is very little privacy there and not very much access to food for private binging. Also the spirit there really helped. One of the counselors encouraged us to pray to our Heavenly Father and simply ask him if we were His daughter and if He loved us. I did so and I was overwhelmed with a feeling of warmth, comfort and his undeniable love for me. I was able to kick the habit of binging and purging that week for the most part. I had a few setbacks when stressful events happened but was mostly cured of it by the time I was a Jr. in High School.

Then my bad habit of eating disorders gave way to a bad habit with boys. I had a hard time saying “no”. I was often used by boys for their own pleasure, and I often felt that it didn’t matter too much since I had been there done that as a child. Luckily I met my husband to be when I was at the end of my senior year in high school. He was respectful and kind and gentle.

I got married young at 19. He has been a wonderful and very understanding husband. He knew all about my secret. I felt I had to tell him because I still felt it was such a shameful thing and that I was carrying all this dirty laundry around. Maybe he wouldn’t want to be with someone who went through that and had been broken. I knew I had a lot of baggage. He has been so supportive, loving, and understanding, especially these last few years when it has gotten ugly, stressful, and also money and time consuming.

When I was 21 I started my internship teaching 3rd grade in a school that looked very much like my old elementary school. Then I found out one of the students had been sexually abused and it triggered my own pain. I sank into depression again. The stress of my last year of college combined with my first year of teaching didn’t help either. Every day on the way to work and on the way home I would fervently wish that I would get in a car accident and die. But that nobody else would get hurt and it wouldn’t be my fault so my husband could get money for the car and life insurance, I honestly thought he would be better off without me. I stopped being able to sleep so I started taking Ambien. I was miserable. I felt all those evil emotions again: worthlessness, self-doubt, guilt, shame, depression, anger, sadness, loneliness. I gained weight which didn’t help my self-esteem. I felt like I was doing more harm than good being alive and everyone would be better off without me so why not end the pain. I finished out the school year. A month into summer I tried to commit suicide. I went to a Cemetery and took a whole bottle of ibuprofen, about 500 pills and then laid on a bench there to die. It didn’t do anything. I had sent my husband a mysterious text earlier, something about I’ll miss you but you deserve better. He called me and I told him what I had done, by then feeling pretty stupid. My husband was in complete shock at what I had attempted to do and worried sick. He took me to the ER and they observed me for awhile but I was physically fine. They were more worried about my mental state. I talked to a therapist while I was there and I told him about the abuse and the pain it still caused. He said he thought a lot of the pain was that it was a big, dark secret. He thought I should have a family meeting and get it out in the open with the adults in my family so I could have their support. My poor husband had to watch over me on “suicide watch” for 72 hours, dispensing my pills one at a time and hiding all the razors. When he did have to go to work he had my parents babysit me. I finally convinced everyone, including myself that I really didn’t want to die. It was more of a “cry for help”…

Part II

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