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From victim to victor

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By Becca Owsley

    Editors note: Although the victim was willing to share her story with readers of The News-Enterprise, her name was not used to protect her identity and to respect her privacy in a sensitive situation.    Local statistics    476 cases of sexual abuse were reported in the eight-county service area including Hardin; 301 of them involved children. Hardin County represents 49.16 percent of those cases. Source: The Advocacy and Support Center, 2008   National statistics

  • A sexual assault occurs every two minutes in the U.S. 
  • One in three girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused by age 18. One in six women and one in 33 men will report being the victim of sexual violence sometime in their lifetime. 
  • Seventy-three percent of female victims know their offender either as a friend, acquaintance, intimate partner or relative.

Source: U.S. Department of Justice, 2002   First-time victims Among female sexual assault victims, 21 percent are younger than 12 the first time they are raped; 32.4 percent are age 12-17; 29.4 percent are age 18-24; and 16.6 percent are older than 25. Source: National Violence Against Women Survey, 1998, National Institute of Justice Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention.    After the assault 30 percent of rape victims said they contemplated suicide 31 percent sought psychotherapy 22 percent took self-defense classes 82 percent said the experience permanently changed them. Source: Rape in America National Victim Center 1998   Help for victims The Advocacy and Support Center offers forensic interviewing, medical exams for children and adults, victim advocacy, therapy, volunteer opportunities and educational programs. If you have been a victim of sexual assault and need help, call one of the following numbers: (270) 234-9236 – local 24 hour crisis line (877) 672-2124 — outside of Hardin County (800) 656-HOPE — National hotline E-mail — info@advocacysupportcenter.com To report abuse: (800) 222-5555 — Kentucky State Police (800) 752—6200 — Child Abuse Hotline    By BECCA OWSLEY

bowsley@thenewsenterprise.com

ELIZABETHTOWN — “It was like, I’m going to put this in the closet, lock the door and barricade it and it wasn’t going to come out. But I was miserable. I was depressed all the time and didn’t want to live anymore.”

The statement came from a local woman, who asked not to be identified because she has been the victim of sexual abuse. She was 9 when her stepfather first raped her. She told her mother about it when she was 13, and it was as if she had committed the crime.

Instead of receiving help she was ridiculed by her mothers and told to “shut up and act like it never happened.” The abuse continued.

By the time she was 16, her world had spun out of control and she felt like she had to bury what was happening deep inside, something she believes many victims do. She tried to kill herself.

That's when Social Services intervened, and finally, after many years of being sexually abused, she had to seek help.

Later in life she reached out to the Advocacy and Support Center, a rape crisis and child advocacy center in Elizabethtown that offers free services to victims of sexual assault and abuse in an eight-county area, including Hardin County.

“It made a world of difference with my situation and my family turning their backs on me,” she said. “I sat there thinking maybe I was wrong, maybe I should have just kept my mouth shut, maybe I should have let it continue. At 18, I could have left the house and never went back.”

But she had questions. The support center helped her find answers. Unfortunately, her family’s reaction is common, she learned. And what she felt — the depression and hopelessness — also are among typical responses of victims of sexual abuse.

“People cope with extraordinary circumstances to the best of their ability and therefore experience different symptoms,” said Shelley Adkins, executive director of the Advocacy and Support Center.

While some struggle with depression and post traumatic stress syndrome, others may have substance abuse issues, anxiety, sleep disturbances or relationship problems that are not recognized for many years.

The stages of trauma are different for each person and can include shock, denial, anger and acceptance, which can last many years after the assault, Adkins said.

Survivors with good support systems often do much better than those who are not supported.

“It affects everything about you, it literally just tears your life up,” the victim said of the abuse. “I didn’t get to choose when I lost my virginity or who I lost it to — it was taken from me."

Because of the control she lost, the Elizabethtown woman said she has become a “control freak.” Even something small, such as a cabinet door being left open, can spark an argument between her and her husband.

If a victim doesn’t deal with what happened, it will come out in other ways, she said.

“Here I am at 30 years old and I’m finally getting my life back on track,” she said.

Her family still does not talk to her.

“It’s just hard, and the best way to describe it is you have a deep wound and it festers and no matter what you do you can’t get rid of it on your own — because I thought I could,” she said.

“Now it’s not so much that I’m crushed by what my family has done to me,” she said. “I no longer cry all the time and I can get through a holiday without breaking down and being hysterical.”

She has moved from hurt to anger, wondering why her family didn’t do what it was supposed to do: Protect her.

“I’ll never forget what happened to me, but I’ve got to learn to live with it, I’ve got to learn to move on and that this is going to be a part of who I am,” she said. “But I’ve got to be better than that, I can’t let my stepdad know that he won, I can’t let him control the rest of my life.”

She wants others to know they don’t have to be victims their whole lives, either.

“This is a subject that people are not comfortable talking about, something that gets swept under the rug a lot,” she said. “That’s why it’s important for kids, teenagers or women in general to know there are resources out there that can help them get through this. They don’t have to be a victim. They can get past this and rebuild their lives.”

Becca Owsley can be reached at (270) 505-1741.