What If I Told You?

 

What if I told you that I was a victim of child sex abuse?

Ingrid Cockhren, M.Ed

As a survivor of child sexual abuse, I have a clear understanding of the importance of addressing stigma and shame as it pertains to sexual abuse, sexual assault and rape. Victims, especially young children, often do not disclose sexual abuse. Those who are witnesses of child sexual abuse, or who are trusted by survivors enough that they confide in them, are often ill-equipped to handle the responsibility.  And, many times, parents are not aware of the best way to respond when their children disclose sexual abuse, especially when the perpetrator is also a family member or family friend.  

I'm deeply invested in addressing childhood trauma, especially child sexual abuse. I was 4 or 5 years old (my memories are fuzzy) when I was sexually abused. I disclosed immediately, but nobody believed me. Not being believed led me to repress my memories until I was 19. 

My memories were triggered while I was watching the film Sleepers with a friend. The scenes depicting the abuse of children in a juvenile detention facility caused memories of my own abuse to instantly come flooding back. I spent the rest of the day crying uncontrollably. The return of my memories helped me to understand the root cause of the many problems that I was having as a young adult. However, feelings of shame and the stigma associated with sexual abuse quickly replaced any sense of understanding that I had gained, and that prevented me from seeking my healing for another decade. Thankfully, despite waiting years to seek treatment, counseling still saved me.  And, to be honest, my healing is a journey. 

My healing journey ebbs and flows. And recently, that journey has reached a new plateau with the arrival of my first child.  The new reality is that I have a daughter in a country where 1 in 4 girls are sexually assaulted or exploited before reaching adulthood.  Furthermore, I have a Black daughter in a country where 1 in 3 Black girls are sexually assaulted or exploited before reaching adulthood.  

#whatifItoldyou

Awareness and education are so important when combating child sexual abuse because the atmosphere of misinformation, shame, guilt and stigma that prevents disclosure and action also allows perpetrators to continue to abuse and exploit children sexually. Shining a light on child sexual abuse in our communities is the only way to successfully combat this epidemic. Every time someone shares their story of child sexual abuse, others know they are not alone. Every time a celebrity or prominent figure uses their platform to  disclose their own experiences and how they overcame , someone is moved to seek their own healing because they know resilience is possible.

So, I want to take this time to shine a spotlight on an awareness campaign addressing child sexual abuse while also supporting adult survivors. WhatIfIToldYou.com is a one-stop resource for advocates, adolescents, adult survivors and those concerned about a child and want to report abuse. Although, this is a nationwide campaign, WhatIfIToldYou.com is spearheaded by a nonprofit organization in Nashville, Tn., Our Kids.  Check out the What If I Told You campaign video:

Our Kids Center is a nonprofit organization that provides crisis counseling and medical exams to those affected by child sexual abuse in the Middle TN area.  Find out more about Our Kids, Inc. here. Executive Director Sue Fort White is a colleague of mine.  She is also a fellow Vanderbilt University, Peabody College alumna and a fellow member of ACE Nashville's Leadership Team.  Because of the work that she does, Sue holds a special place in my heart.  I interviewed her to find out more about the What If I Told You campaign.

 Sue Fort White, Ed.D.In the interview, Fort White said that she knew she wanted to serve others at an early age. With a career spanning 30 years, Fort White first became an advocate for child victims and adult survivors of child sexual abuse while attending graduate school at Peabody College. During this time in her life, she was working with adolescent girls at a local YWCA. There, she became aware of the epidemic of child sexual abuse as many of those teen girls shared their personal stories of abuse and exploitation. This awareness drove Fort White to serve those "whose voices are not heard", she says. 

Fort White is now the executive director of an agency that is providing critical support to families who are dealing with child sexual abuse. She loves her work.  She believes it reflects who she is and who she wants to be. She also thinks that her work with Our Kids has taught her how crucial trauma-informed care is when serving families impacted by child sexual abuse. To Sue, trauma-informed care means giving children and families "time and space" to disclose. And it is through her experience at Our Kids that she was inspired to spearhead the What If I Told You campaign. Fort White found that, when treated with care, during visits the parents of Our Kids' clients would often disclose their own abuse. Those adult survivors were still impacted by their past trauma and just as in need of resources and support as their children. The intergenerational trauma associated with child sexual abuse and the lack of resources for adult survivors inspired the What If I Told You campaign. 

The goal of the campaign is to reach as many people as possible with resources for adolescents, adult survivors and others who are concerned for children or want to report abuse. Sue Fort White hopes that the campaign will not just change the conversation concerning child sexual abuse but really begin the conversation. And, to Sue, that conversation should center around these three tenets: "Believe and protect the child, embrace the adult, and it is never too late to heal".  And, as a survivor, I am in full agreement.

To bring attention to the campaign, advocates are encouraged to use #whatifitoldyou when using social media to address child sexual abuse.  

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