“Imagine this young girl: brown, curly, Shirley Temple-like hair, smiling, bright, unashamed, and unafraid. Her dreams for her future bright as can be…until that day when everything changed in an instant. Now imagine that same girl, 12 years old, now so afraid and so ashamed. She was the victim of sexual abuse. That girl was me. I felt silenced, like I had no voice. I was keeping a secret that I feared to ever tell. I felt like I would never find my voice again. Months went by, and then the secret I swore never to tell came out, and that’s when the healing started.
In 2004, I was brought to the Child Advocacy Center of Rockingham County to be interviewed about what happened to me. Initially, I felt terrified beyond words, fearing that if I told, something bad would happen. I could not imagine how I was going to tell my story. I had no hope. That changed because of the CAC. I was greeted by a friendly face, a smile, warmth. For the first time in a long time, I felt safe. I could sense immediately that I was understood. I found my VOICE that day. At the CAC, I was given my ‘dream team’, the multidisciplinary team that was assigned to my case. They are still angels to me. They have been part of my life in various ways since then; supporting me and cheering me on through middle school, high school, college and into my career now as an advocate at a CAC. I’ve come full circle.
There is a memory that I carry with me from my experience at the CAC. At the end of the interview, as my mom sat in the waiting room, I was brought to a bookcase filled with teddy bears. I was told I could choose any bear that I wanted to take home with me, as a token of my courage. I still have that bear today. It reads ‘Hope’ on the foot of the bear; and that’s what I’ve carried with me, HOPE, since walking into the Rockingham County Child Advocacy Center, 13 years ago.”