The impact of prevention education is life changing. For Stephanie, a student of Childhelp Speak Up Be Safe, that impact not only helped stop ongoing sexual abuse by her father, but provided an early understanding that what was happening was not her fault, and help was available. It took much time to find a safe adult and some of her pleas were unheard, but the lessons never left her mind and kept her striving for the safety and love she deserved. Please open your heart to Stephanie’s story in her own words:
I first heard “speak up be safe” at school. I was in 2nd grade at the time and was about 7 years old.
I have vague memories of my childhood. I felt like I had a pretty normal life but there was something going on that I really didn’t understand. Childhelp Speak Up Be Safe helped me realize that I was being inappropriately touched by my dad. My mother worked 3rd shift and he would come into my room and touch me. When I saw the video at school, it clicked right away that something was wrong. It was at that moment that I knew what to do. I had to tell an adult that I trusted.
I told my Girl Scout leader that something was happening with my dad. I don’t remember exactly what I told her, but I explained about the inappropriate behavior. She had a meeting with my parents and my dad talked his way out of it; he talked his way out of many things in his life. He was very manipulative.
I disclosed to an adult that I trusted, but nothing happened.
I disclosed again when I was 10 or 11 to my mom. She called the police and I sat through a forensic interview. My dad was taken into custody, but didn’t stay in jail. My mom kept him out of the house for a while, but he talked his way back. The police never followed through with the investigation, and shortly after, my dad moved us out of state. The police never came through.
The abuse continued on and off until I was 15 years old. I disclosed a third time. I told my mom again but she was not mentally or emotionally strong enough to leave him. He was physically, verbally, and mentally abusive to her and my brothers their entire lives. My dad also molested my cousin. I was about 12 when this happened to her. She disclosed but didn’t want to testify in court so the charges were dropped. When I was about 13 or 14, my dad molested one of my friends. She disclosed at school, and the school called CPS (Child Protective Services).
By now, I didn’t think anything would happen but a few weeks into the new school year, I was called to the office. There was a woman in a suit waiting for me. I knew right away she was from CPS. I thought, “Ugh I wish this would all be over!”
But it was this time that the law actually did something. My dad was arrested and authorities started talking to my mom. They tried putting my brothers and I in foster care, but I begged them not to. My mom was abused as much, if not more, than I was. She had been with my dad since they were both 15 years old. They had me at 15. My mom tried to leave him many times, but like most battered and abused women, she was unable. We always had food, clothing, shelter, and love from my mother. CPS allowed us to stay with her.
My dad was finally sentenced to 12 years in prison and lifetime probation. I requested the lifetime probation so that he would be watched closely when released. I wanted to make sure he couldn’t hurt anyone else again.
Thankfully, I learned at an early age that none of this was my fault. I’m not sure what it was about me that was able to live the way I did, but I’m sure hearing the message from Childhelp saved me. I also thank God I was able to keep a positive outlook on life through all of this. Yes, I had some very hard times, but I am living a full life now. I am married with three kids and am a nurse loving my job in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). We just bought our dream home in the country, and love every minute of it.
I can’t imagine my life if I was still living in silence. I don’t think the abuse would have ever stopped. I also believe there are and would be more victims if my father hadn’t gone to jail. I went to group therapy and met a lot of girls that were unable to talk about their abuse and my heart broke for them. They were so lost and sad.
My goal today is to help others see that abuse does not define them. Childhelp Speak Up Be Safe says to keep telling until someone listens and lets you know abuse is not your fault. This program should be in every school because sometimes school is the only place where a kid can find this information and learn that what is happening to them is wrong. I really hope they implement these programs all over the whole country and kids keep telling, telling, telling and telling…I promise, someone will eventually hear you.