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Elise* had been skipping school, letting her grades slide and dropping out of extracurricular activities like student council and the tennis team. Where she once looked up to her heroes Venus and Serena Williams, she was too stressed and scared to focus on her strong backhand. She just wanted to spend the day in bed curled up in a little ball. She wanted the world to disappear.

When a coordinator with the Childhelp Speak Up Be Safe for Athletes awareness campaign came to her school, she went through the motions of the activities. Often presented in gym classes, the program, underwritten by the Foundation for Global Sports Development and supported with a grant from the Rob and Melani Walton Fund of the Walton Family Foundation, provided community children with body safety basics in a fun, active workout. The concept was to use kinesthetic memory to support prevention education learning in a safe environment.

Warming up for sports by doing the motions and shouting out the words of the Childhelp Cheer, kids could learn how to protect their bodies, reach out for help from safe adults and understand one of the most important lessons of all: abuse is never their fault.

Elise was tired from another restless sleep filled with nightmares. She often tossed and turned thinking about the abuse by her uncle. Because so many family members were still mad at her for coming forward and telling the truth, her heart was heavy. Even though she was the victim, she felt overwhelmed with guilt.

“I hope you’re happy that you sent your uncle to jail,” said her angry grandmother.

“You’re just a snitch!” yelled a cousin during Thanksgiving.

It took all her strength just to make it through each day. She felt her dreams drifting away.

The Childhelp Speak Up Be Safe for Athletes coordinator was energetic and kind. It was time for lesson #5: Abuse is Never a Child’s Fault.

“And remember,” the coordinator’s voice echoed in the gym, “Say it with me! It’s NEVER my fault!” Everyone chanted along. Elise was silent.

She stopped the motions and stood still. A tear rolled down her face. All these years she had been blamed for what happened but here was someone letting her know this was wrong.

The Childhelp team member had seen this before. There is an almost on-the-spot relief that can happen the moment a child learns they did nothing to bring on the abuse they’ve suffered. Sometimes it’s a deep exhale. Sometimes there are tears.

After the session, the coordinator gently approached Elise with the school counselor who was helping to facilitate the training. Suddenly the counselor understood why she was missing class, failing tests and quitting sports. It was time to bring her in for regular checkups and help her heart heal. It was time to support her bravery, her recovery, and a return to the tennis court to reclaim that amazing backhand.

*Names of children have been changed to protect their identities.