Editor’s Note: First in a series during Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
Trena Floyd of Elizabethtown grew up with a pain, knowing something wasn’t right, but also not knowing how to address it.
Floyd, 44, who recently worked in the financial sector at a local bank, was sexually assaulted by a maternal grandparent - who was later convicted of first-degree sexual assault - when she was 4 and kept burying the pain of that trauma year after year and decade after decade.
“I think I always buried myself in work, that is how I basically dealt with everything,” she said. “I didn’t deal with it. I just stuffed it, stuffed it down. Just knowing I was going to break.”
Floyd wasn’t the only one, she said. It was how her entire family dealt with the assault.
“I was in the hospital. It was that bad,” she said. “The doctor told my family that I would forget, which was terrible advice. That was what he told them, so that is how everybody proceeded, ‘She won’t remember; let’s not talk about it.’”
It was a secret that nobody talked about but everyone knew, Floyd said.
“It destroyed my family from the inside out, but it is something that was never talked about,” she said. “They thought I forgot. I did not and it really has affected my entire life.”
Floyd’s story, or one’s like it, are all too familiar for women, especially in Kentucky. According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in four women nationally will experience some form of sexual violence. Narrow that down to Kentucky and almost every other woman – 47 percent – will experience an act of sexual violence.
The problem is more common than people realize, said Jillian Carden, executive director of Silverleaf Sexual Trauma Recovery Services.
“When our prevention and educators are out in the community and they are talking to children and teenagers about what sexual assault is and what to look for, many times after the training there will be a child or teenager that comes up afterwards and says, ‘This happened to me,’ or ‘This is happening to me and I didn’t know there was anything wrong,’” she said. “So it is only when we become aware of an issue that we can begin to intervene.”
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Carden said helping the community become aware of the issue, which is difficult for many to discuss, is vital.
“Awareness is important because, if you know that something is an issue, you know what to look for in child abuse, you can then report it,” she said. “... On the flipside, if you are aware on how to prevent that thing from ever happening, then we have avoided the issue altogether.”
Carden said knowing what to look for comes with education to youth and adults, which is part of Silverleaf’s mission.
“I think that there are cores to a healthy relationships,” she said, adding some of those are good communication, mutual respect, knowing and acknowledging consent which ranges from sitting beside someone to hugs or kisses, to sexual consent.
Indicators of an unhealthy relationship that could lead to sexual violence include a partner not respecting boundaries or trying to control the actions of another such as demanding passwords and telling who they can or cannot be friends with, Carden said.
Silverleaf is a nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing the trauma experienced by victims of sexual abuse and sexual assault. It serves the eight counties of Lincoln Trail of Area Development District which are Hardin, Grayson, LaRue, Breckinridge, Meade, Nelson, Washington and Marion counties.
“Our services are for any individual who has been impacted by sexual violence,” Carden said. “That could include assault, rape, harassment, human trafficking. It doesn’t matter how old the person is, we see little children all the way up to elderly.
“It also doesn’t matter when that sexual violence occurred,” she added. “Some of our services are in response to something that happened two hours prior, but we also have services for victims who come forth in their 50s and 60s and say, ‘I was abused as a child,’ or ‘I was abused in my first marriage.’”
Floyd’s situation was similar to Carden’s later example. It took hrt decades to come to terms with the abuse, but after her assailant died in 2014, Floyd said she began wrestling with her emotions and turned to her faith to guide her.
“I didn’t start to deal with it until he was off the planet,” she said. “I remember I had this feeling that God was telling me, ‘You need to deal with it. You need to deal with it.’ And I was having this internal dialogue saying, ‘Please don’t make me. I don’t want to.’ It was terrifying. I said, ‘It’s better just not to put it out there,’ trying to rationalize it.”
Floyd said the decision was weighing heavy on her heart when she was attending a board meeting for United Way of Central Kentucky to hear grant presentations from various nonprofits.
Then-Silverleaf Executive Director Nikki Ellis made one of the presentations that evening. Floyd said it was the first time Silverleaf had come to United Way for a grant.
“She was telling her story and I was sitting there trying to hold it together,” she said. “She was like, ‘I don’t even know why I am here.’ I knew it was for me.”
Ellis’ presentation sparked something in Floyd, and she picked up the phone to call the nonprofit.
Carden said Floyd benefited from one of Silverleaf’s services, the 24-hour crisis line,
“We try to make it as easy as possible, because we know reaching out to Silverleaf is sometimes really scary because you don’t know what to expect,” she said. “I just encourage folks to just give us a call. ... Our number is a 24-hour crisis line, so if you call, somebody will answer.”
Other services Silverleaf provides are directly responding to hospitals for victims who present at emergency rooms for sexual assault, providing legal advocacy for victims going through the court process, follow-up medical services, forensic interviewing for law-enforcement personnel and therapy services.
“We have three full-time therapists who are trained in trauma-informed services,” she said. “We’re doing in-person therapy and telehealth.”
Through Silverleaf, Floyd was connected with therapist Jason Gati.
“I can’t tell you how instrumental he has been in changing my life and the services of Silverleaf, because therapy is not cheap,” she said. “To know that Silverleaf is not a cost to the victims or the family is huge. How could you not give it a try?”
No-cost services is a piece of Silverleaf’s model that Carden is sure to emphasize.
“We don’t ask for insurance cards,” she said, adding that for some, co-pays and other insurance costs are a burden. “That’s a moot point here. You don’t owe us anything. We don’t ask for any money. Everything is free.”
Floyd said the therapy she received through Silverleaf has proven invaluable in the days and years since, especially in dealing with other circumstances, including her husband’s motorcycle crash.
“It really has been a light in the darkness for me,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of tragedy in my family, things that have happened since I started being a client at Silverleaf. I don’t know if I could have handled all this. It’s just been invaluable. I can’t put a price on what it’s been worth to me.
“I want people to know about Silverleaf, the services they offer, that it’s free to the community and how much of a difference they can make in somebody’s life,” she added. “It was 30-plus years before I sought help. It’s given me a sense of peace for my own feelings, my own emotions, my own choices.”
Since receiving therapy, Floyd said she has felt a weight lifted and said it’s freeing to share her experience.
“I think our stories have power and I think sometimes why we go through things is to help the next person get through something similar,” she said. “It’s been a very long road.”
Carden said each survivor’s road to healing is different and Silverleaf is able to help individualize services to aid them in their journey.
“There’s certainly not a time frame, there’s certainly not a ‘right way’ to heal,” she said. “There are some of those first steps. Just like we were talking about awareness in the community, I think the victim has to come to a place where they recognize that one, it’s not OK, and two, it’s not their fault, and three, they may not be able to process that on their own.”
Floyd said that third part is very important for victims to understand and something she also had to come to terms with.
“‘You deserve to heal, you matter and you’re not alone,’ to me is the message when I talk to anybody,” she said. “There’s a chance for them to have a better life for themselves, not for anybody else, but for themselves.“
With a strong support system, either through Silverleaf or somewhere else, Carden said many survivors can realize that healing is possible, much like Floyd has done.
“There is a time and a place that’s possible in the healing process to say, ‘This horrible thing that happened is part of my history. It doesn’t define who I am, but it is part of my story and I can be stronger because of that,’” she said.
Floyd said she was only able to reach that point through her faith in God and the help of Silverleaf.
“I am to the point where I don’t just want to survive, I want to thrive,” she said.
If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, you can call Silverleaf’s 24-hour hotline at 270-234-9236. You also can reach out through the organization’s social media outlets.
“It is our goal through prevention and education efforts that when we bring awareness that hopefully sexual violence stops,” Carden said. “But until we get there, we know that there are many, many victims and survivors of sexual assault in our community. ... Why our services are important to the community at large is when we are able to help individual heal from their trauma, they then become thriving members of our community. And when we have members of our community thriving, our community thrives.”