Thousands of children throughout America suffer physical abuse and neglect each day. Research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control estimates that approximately 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls are sexually abused in their own homes by family members, step-parents or caregivers. (That is according to reported incidences, so the actual number could be even higher) Many of these victims can suffer from psychological, emotional, and physical effects that carry over well into adulthood—including anxiety Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and self-destructive behaviors such as alcoholism or drug abuse. But there are some, with the help of caring friends and family and professional counseling, who can not only survive childhood abuse, but overcome it and thrive. This is a story of one such person. I’ll call her Shelby. (Her real name was changed to protect her privacy)
When I was about 5 years old I lived in New Mexico with my mom and her boyfriend. That’s when I first remember him physically abusing my mother. He was often cruel to animals too. I had a black kitten that I loved very much. My mom’s boyfriend didn’t like the kitten because it kept scratching him, but not me or my mom. So one day when me and my mom went to the store, he killed it by throwing it into the washing machine. After he killed it, he threw it over the fence in our back yard. I was traumatized after we found out, but my Mom told me not to tell anyone.
When I was in kindergarten a friend of mine and his mom came to visit at our house. My mom, her boyfriend and my friend’s mom were all drinking together. While me and my friend (who was a boy) were in my room, without warning, he suddenly pulled down his pants. (As little boys sometimes do) I thought he was just weird, but when the boy’s mom saw what he did, she told my mom and her boyfriend. Then, as if I did something wrong, my mom’s boyfriend grabbed me by my ankles and swung me around the room and threw me into a wall! To my shock and amazement my mom just sat there and watched it happen and did nothing to stop him!
When I was 6 years old we moved to Colorado. My mom’s boyfriend was still abusing her—Even when she was pregnant! I was often subjected to watch as my mother got punched and slapped in the face. Fortunately, my mom was still able to gave birth to two healthy twins—A boy and a girl. But because I didn’t want them to get hurt, I took it upon myself to take care of the twins. So I was the one feeding them, watching over them them and making sure that they were safe.
Things got worse after my mom and her boyfriend got married and he became my step-father. When I was 8 years old he made me smoke a cigarette with him and drink beer. Another time he sat me down and told me “his version” of the birds and the bees. It included looking down my pants and telling me that when I was by myself I should finger myself!
One time when my mom just got home from work, my step-father jumped on top of her and started choking her until her face turned purple before he finally let her go. It was one of the scariest experience of my life at that time. I had no idea that things would get much worse.
Later that same year when I was in my nightgown, my mom was working and my new step-father was drunk. He pushed me down on a pull-out bed and wouldn’t let me get up. He then got on top of me and tried raping me! He held down my wrists and was trying to make me believe that it was a game. I can still remember the smell of alcohol on him. When I began to scream and I tell him to get off, he suddenly stopped, but he was laughing about it like he was only kidding. This was the first time he had done something like this. Because of my step-father’s violent temper, I was afraid of what he might do if I told my mom, so I never said anything.
As time went on, my step-father’s alcohol and drug abuse continued to get worse. One time me and my mom left to run some errands and do some grocery shopping. But because we took longer than my step-father expected us to, we came back to discover that he had trashed the whole house in a drunken rage.
When I was 9 years old we moved back to New Mexico. My step-father’s abuse continued to get worse and worse. When my brother was only three years old, my step-father grabbed him by the shirt and slammed him against the arm of the couch just because he accidentally spilled some pop on him while he was sleeping.
Another time he tried coming after me. So I ran into a bedroom and jumped around on the bed so he wouldn’t hit me. My mom saw what he was trying to do, and pushed him away from me. He then turned his anger towards my mom started abusing her again. My siblings became frightened and started crying, so I locked us inside of the bedroom so my step-father wouldn’t harm my brother and sister. I tried to calm them down by singing to them.
Later that year my mom became pregnant again with my youngest sister. But that did not stop my step-father’s abuse. One night he punched my mom twice in the face and knocked her out. She didn’t wake up all night. I stayed up most of the night waiting for her to wake up. I finally went to sleep that night wondering if she was dead. But the next morning she was fine and acted as if nothing happened.
Only 6 months after moving from Colorado to New Mexico we moved again. This time to Washington State to live with my grandma (My mom’s mother) and her two sons. We lived there for about 1 year. It wasn’t any easier there because my step-father was always causing problems with my uncles and other people in the household. My grandma does not allow anyone to drink in the house, but he did anyway.
One time when my grandma and uncles were gone, my step-father and my mom got into another fight. At first they were just arguing and yelling about something. Then it escalated into pushing and shoving. Before it got worse, my mom dialed the police but when my step-father tried to grab the phone from my mom, his arm went through the window and cut his arm. He was able to end the call, but of course the police came anyway. Because my step-father was bleeding and my mom didn’t have any marks on her, the police arrested her for domestic violence. Me and my siblings were all crying but my step-father just yelled at us to stop crying and told us that my mom would be back soon. But it wasn’t until three days later that my mom came back home.
During the summer that we lived in Washington things got worse. My step-father wasn’t contributing much to the household because what little money he had went to pay for beer and marijuana. The problems he caused between my uncles and my grandma got worse, so we moved again.
This time we moved to Nebraska and lived with my other grandpa (my mom’s father) and his wife for about 6 months. My grandparents in Omaha have very strong Christian beliefs and told my parents that they don’t allow alcohol or drugs in their home or smoking inside the house. They are very kind people who did all they could to help us. They even bought new beds and dressers for all of us. They also converted their garage into a bedroom for my mom and step-father.
My grandparents gave us a warm and caring place to stay, cooked and cleaned for us and never asked for rent or grocery money. They even helped my step-father find a job. But while we lived there, my step-father secretly continued drinking and smoking in the basement. He was still abusive to us; he just hid it from my grandparents better. One time during a family reunion celebration my grandparents held in their back yard, my step-father made me put my hands on a pole that was in the basement and beat me with a belt several times. Everyone was outside playing, shouting and laughing, so they couldn’t hear what was going on inside. Finally after he was done, I dropped to the ground crying. I didn’t tell anyone because I was afraid that if I did, my grandparents would make us move.
Soon after that, we moved into a nasty 3 bedroom house that had mold all over. Because of the mold, we were always sick and would get bad coughs. My step-father and my mom smoking inside the house didn’t help either. Our neighbors next door were alcoholics and my mom and step-father would drink with them a lot.
My mom and step-father made the decision to have my step-father’s two older daughters (from a previous marriage in Colorado) move in with us. Although the house was a bit cramped, my brother and sisters and I grew much closer. We didn’t think of ourselves as a step-brother and 5 step-sisters. In our minds we were all family. I think having us all in one place made my step-father even more abusive though. One time when my young sister accidentally scratched the TV, he took her into the bathroom and spanked her with a belt so many times that she had welts on her back and legs. He would also grab the little ones by the wrist so rough that he would leave bruises on them. Many times he would get mad at us kids for reasons unknown to us. Most of us would get scared and run, but when he physically abused my oldest sister, she would fight back like crazy.
Then when I was 11years old, the very worst thing happened to me. One night my step-father was drinking again. I was going to bed and he said, “I’ll be there in a while”. I didn’t know what he meant by that at the time. I woke up suddenly at 3 AM to find my step-father in my bed lying next to me with his hand down the front of my pants! I freaked out and ran into the other room to lay on the couch. I didn’t know what to think. Then about two weeks later I fell asleep in front of the TV and it happened again! I freaked out again and cried and cried. When I finally got the courage to tell my mom, my step-father called me a f**kin’ liar and told me that I made it up. I was shocked and angered when all my mom said was that I should not watch movies next to my step-father anymore. As if it was MY fault! Even my sisters didn’t believe me. After that I felt all alone.
We stayed in Nebraska about two years before we moved back to New Mexico to live with my step-father’s Grandmother, who pretty much let him do whatever he wanted. I hated it there. I was bullied in the school there and my oldest sister was fighting with my mom and her husband more and more. Sometimes they would even beat on her together.
Later, all of us siblings (except for my baby sister), were sent back to Washington to stay with my grandma and my uncles again. It was supposed to only be for the summer, but we ended up staying there for over a year and going to school there. I started hanging out with the wrong crowd, getting into fights, getting into trouble and doing poorly in school. I was angry all the time, but I didn’t know why.
Then my grandparents in Nebraska wanted me and my older sister to come and visit them for the summer. They said that they would pay for our plane fair to Nebraska and back. My sister had to attend summer school so we made plans for me to go by myself.
But before I had the chance to leave for Nebraska, my mom called my grandma in Washington and told her that they wanted to pick all of us kids up in Colorado at the end of the summer. I began crying and told my grandma that I didn’t want to go back. And that I didn’t want to live with my mom anymore. After pressing me for several minutes on why I didn’t want to live with my mom, I finally told her how my step-father had sexually molested me.
About the same time, my brother was suspended from school for drawing sexual pictures and intimidating other students and inappropriately touching them. It was also discovered that he was accessing pornographic web sites. Because of the nature of my brother’s suspension, the school set up family counseling for us. That’s when I told them what my step-father had done. The school contacted law enforcements and the police began an investigation that covered all the states where we had lived.
I have never seen my grandma so angry. She called my grandparents in Nebraska and told them what had happened. They had already booked me a round trip flight to Nebraska and said that I would never have to live with my step-father again.
That summer was the best summer ever. On Sunday I had a 9 AM flight to Nebraska. Even though I was excited about going to Nebraska, that morning was a pain because I had to get up at 6 AM and rush to pack everything. By the time I was ready it was already 8:15. Finally we were on our way to the airport. By the time we got there it was about 8:40. Then I had to pose for pictures and give everyone a hug before I left.
Miraculously, I made it to my plane on time. My first stop was Salt Lake City, Utah where I had to change planes. I finally arrived in Nebraska at 4 PM. It had been three years since I last saw my grandparents. I gave both of them a big hug when I saw them. After we got my luggage, we went to Applebee’s for dinner. We had a great talk and caught up on things. After that, we went to their house where to my surprise, they already had a bedroom set up for me. Then I checked the house out and hung out for a while and for the first time in a long time, I was able to sleep soundly in my own bed.
After a few days I hung out with a couple of old friends of mine that I’ve known since elementary school. We all had a blast catching up again after three years. It helped me not to think about those years of abuse I had lived through.
Then grandpa surprised me by contacting my biological dad who lived in the same city and arranged for us to meet! I never had the chance to meet my real dad because my mom always kept me from him. Seeing him for the first time gave me butterflies. I was so nervous that I felt like I was going to puke. But I was also really excited at the same time.
When I first saw my dad I gave him a big hug. Then we started talking and getting to know each other. I could tell that he was just as nervous as I was. But I was surprised at how easy he was to talk to. He made me feel so comfortable that it was like we knew each other for years. After our long talk he asked if I wanted to meet everyone in his family at a cook out that was planned. Of course I said yes. So the next day he introduced me to another little brother of mine, his wife, aunts, uncles and more grandparents. We all had a great time, laughing, and having fun. Almost immediately I felt close to my biological dad and my new little brother and stepmom. That was one of the best days of my life.
Unfortunately, things were about to turn really ugly. When my mom found out that I had spoken out about the sexual abuse she called my grandpa and threatened to take me from them by force, have him arrested and make sure that he never saw me again.
For weeks my mom and several of my step-father’s family members would call and harass me and my grandparents, trying to get me to recant my allegations against my step-father. My grandparents finally bought me a new phone and screened phone calls on our home phone.
They also hired an attorney and were able to become my legal guardians. They also got me into professional counseling with a therapist who testified that I suffered from PTSD due to years of physical, emotional and sexual abuse and chronic neglect at the hands of my step-father.
When I first came to live with my grandparents in Nebraska I was failing all of my classes in school and I struggled with anger, depression and nightmares. But because of my grandparents love and support and the support of many of my friends, I am no longer a victim. I am a survivor. I am now a senior in high school and I have several offers from some of the best colleges in the country. I now live with my biological dad and my relationship with my mom is slowly getting better. I am looking forward to the future.
In February of 2015, Shelby’s step-father was convicted of sexual assault of a child in Sarpy County, Ne. for sexually molesting his then 11 year old step-daughter. (A third degree Felony) But he was allowed to plead guilty to a lesser charge of misdemeanor sexual assault. The judge sentenced him to only two years probation!
Ten days after Shelby’s step-father was released on probation he was arrested again on suspicion of child abuse—after throwing his 8 year old biological daughter across a room and into a wall. The remaining children were removed from the home and placed in foster care.
Shelby’s step-father never received jail-time for the child abuse against his biological daughter, but was sentenced to 180 days in jail for probation violations after being found with weapons, drug paraphernalia, pornographic material and use of alcohol and K-2 Synthetic Marijuana while on probation. He was released from jail after only serving 3 months and was allowed to move to a small town in Colorado where he was to register as a sex offender at the Sheriff’s Office there within 72 hours. He failed to register for more than two weeks. He is now free to possibly abuse other children.
Unfortunately, cases like this play out far too often.
Jesus said, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Matthew 18:5-6) And yet most people are silent about the thousands of children throughout America who suffer from child sexual abuse and neglect each day. This not only has harmful consequences on the physical and emotional development and well-being of children, it can also carry over into their adulthood. Victims may exhibit regressive behaviors, sleep disturbances, eating disorders and may also become more susceptible to drug or alcohol abuse.
A flawed system
Many people believe that the Sex Offender Registry law (SOR) keeps a sex offender away from schools, playgrounds or places where children play. This is a common misperception.The SOR law in many states does not have the legal jurisdiction to prevent an offender from attending events, limiting employment, or restricting an offender from entering any facilities, or refrain from living with or socializing with children. The SOR law can only mandate that the offender register his or her required information at the sheriff’s office within the required time.
Approximately 60% of boys and 80% of girls who are sexually victimized are abused by someone known to the child or the child’s family. Relatives, step-parents, friends, persons in positions of authority over the child, or persons who supervise children are more likely than strangers to commit a sexual assault. And most convicted sex offenders are eventually released to the community under probation or parole supervision.
The police do their job and arrest these criminals, but then the prosecutors and judges allow them to plead to a lesser charge and hand down light sentences or probation that allows them to re-offend, placing the public at risk.
Many times there is more severe punishment for someone who abuses animals than for someone who abuses children. It is time we stand up for the victims of childhood sexual abuse. Because, “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to just please ourselves.” (Romans 15:1)
What can we do?
Since this is an election year, this is a great time to write to your senators and legislators in your state and tell them to make sure that victims of sexual abuse receive justice from the courts. We can also send a strong message in November by voting “NO” to retain lenient judges.
There are also many helpful resources online:
If you’ve been sexually abused, you may feel broken and undeserving of love. You might respond to your abuse with anxiety, depression, self-loathing, self-harming actions, eating disorders, or addictions. But Satan doesn’t care how you react to the sexual abuse . . . as long as you don’t turn to Jesus. Because the enemy knows that when we find our identity, security, and dignity in Christ, we can live in victory.
Jesus, doesn’t see a broken person, he sees perfection—a beautiful person on the way to being healed.