Trigger Warning: This blog post contains specific information regarding an individual's trauma and survivor story. As such, it has the potential to cause significant distress, intrusive thoughts, or recurrent thoughts. Please proceed carefully. If triggers occur and you need support, please refer to the hotlines provided on our page of Resources for Survivors.
At SHIELD, one of our most important goals is to empower survivors and help them find their voice. As such, we allow survivors to tell their stories in their own words, uncensored, with as much or as little detail as they choose. We believe it is important for us, as a community, to listen. We must never lose sight of the horrific realities of child abuse, domestic violence, and child sexual assault — and their impact on survivors.
If you suspect a child is being abused or neglected, you should call 1-800-352-6513 to make a report via the DHHR hotline. In an emergency situation, please call 911.
I have always wanted to work with children, and my job as a social worker encompasses my passion for working with people, studying human behavior, the justice system, and much more. With that being said, I’d like to talk to you a little bit about just how difficult the fight to end child abuse really is.
As a social worker, I work with children who either have a history of sexual abuse or are offending on others — and often both. While the abuse may not be occurring at the time that a victim speaks up, often it is the first time a child has ever reported their abuse. In my experience, this happens for many reasons. In most cases, the child has not had anyone in their life that they could tell. Others have told and not been believed. And some were just too scared to tell their story.
Unfortunately, child sexual abuse happens, and it happens a lot. I often hear individuals say that they “can’t believe something like that could happen” to their child or to their siblings or a friend. But it does happen. It happens every day. Not just to “those people,” but to people in all walks of life. It could be anyone. It happened to me.
Telling My Story
I am not here to tell you that I have faced all of my own demons and conquered every obstacle or that I have healing all figured out. Like many victims, to this day, I suffer from the psychological, emotional, and even physical effects of my abuse. But they do not define me. In all of my life, I have only said aloud the words “I am a victim of child sexual abuse" four times. Four. That's it.
Like 90% of children, I know my abuser. For years, I was abused and didn’t even know it was wrong — just that it was a secret. That it was special. Children are often manipulated and coerced, or groomed long before the betrayal of abuse occurs. Because of this, many children develop lasting mistrust of those in authoritative or caregiving roles.
Additionally, these children often act out and engage in risky behaviors. They are often unable to form healthy relationships and, most regrettably, become perpetrators of sexual abuse or engage in risky sexual behaviors such as promiscuity, seeking emotional gratification from sexual encounters, and engaging in sexual behaviors with multiple partners.
Sexual abuse is more than a physical betrayal. Sexual abuse is a physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual violation. And most often, the most painful parts of abuse don’t leave physical scars.
It was not until I was an adult that I finally told my story. I was a freshman in college, I was on my own, and I had a new beginning. I was able to start over. I knew it was time. I had turned 18 just 7 days prior to moving into my first apartment at college, and it was then that I sought treatment for the abuse I endured — for the very first time.
I am humbled to know that I am one of the lucky ones. Not all victims have told their story. Not all victims are believed. Not all victims get to heal.
I want to stress, as many times as it takes, the importance of reporting. That’s where SHIELD (and the acronym behind its name) comes in: see, hear, intervene, empower, learn, defend.
The first step is seeing. We must recognize the signs of abuse. The behavioral signs, the physical signs, the emotional signs. We have to train ourselves to really see and hear what could be happening before us. We must not only listen but actually hear victims when they bravely confront their trauma. Then we must intervene. We must make appropriate referrals to law enforcement, ensure the safety of the individual, and seek other resources as needed.
We can empower victims by believing their disclosures. We can also learn from them — and oh, do we have a lot to learn. We need to learn from our mistakes, learn how to improve policy, and learn about the prevalence of child sexual abuse. We must learn, and we must educate our families, our colleagues, and anyone who will listen.
Lastly, as anyone involved with SHIELD will tell you — we must and we will defend those who cannot always defend themselves against perpetrators of sexual abuse.
To My Fellow Child Abuse Victims
To my fellow child abuse victims, please take a moment to reflect on this next piece. If you were better, faster, or stronger, you could have made it stop, right? Wrong! That is a lie that victims are told for justification of abuse. Your victimization has very little — and more likely nothing at all — to do with you.
I did not ask to be abused. Children do not ask to be abused. And you did not ask to be abused. Holding yourself responsible for someone else hurting you will only perpetuate the hurt, long after the hurting is done. It is a heavy weight, and we are here to help you put it down. You are never too old to heal, and it is never too late. There is healing in telling, and there is healing in being believed.
I’m here to tell you that “but it only happened one time” is abuse. It has not happened even once to many people. Never. And your world changed forever when it happened to you. If you are still here and fighting to tell your truth, you are miraculous, and that alone is a true testament to just how resilient you are. Your ability to survive abuse does not mean that abuse is okay. But you can be. You are not what has happened to you.
It is okay to be angry. It is okay to be scared. It is okay if it happened a long time ago. It is okay if you don’t know whether you’ll ever be over it. I support you. We support you.
To those surrounding victims of abuse, please reflect on your place in this fight. I know you may cringe when we tell you of our abuse, and I understand. The mere thought of a child being harmed in any way should make you cringe — but we will not stop talking about it, we will not stop healing, and we will not stop helping others. We will keep talking about it, because in doing so, we may just save your child.
I was a victim. Now, I am a survivor. We are survivors.
You can find other Survivor Stories here.
If you are a survivor and would like to tell your story, you can email us at email@example.com. You can also private message us on Facebook or Twitter. You can share as much or as little of your story as you like, and you can stay as anonymous as you want.
If you are a survivor in need of support, please refer to the hotlines provided on our page of Resources for Survivors.
Hailey Williams grew up in a broken home with divorced parents. Her brothers were her best friends, until they weren’t. Hailey grew apart from her siblings when she moved to West Virginia from Indiana in 2006. She arrived in West Virginia beaten and broken. For years, she struggled with her mental health and felt alone, scared, and misunderstood.
Years later, Hailey became a freshman at West Virginia University and told her story for the first time. She sought treatment for her trauma, met her best friends, and thrived as a student. Hailey is now employed as a social worker in Marion County and is dedicated to working with children and families of vulnerable populations.
Hailey wants survivors to know that it is never too late — to tell your story, to ask for help, to heal, to overcome, and to be YOU! You are not a victim, you are a survivor!