When I was 5 years old, my mother was told by a relative who happened to be a pediatric nurse that I was showing the classic signs of being sexually abused.
But my mom dismissed the information, thinking it couldn't be true. She didn't ask me or follow up, and the abuse continued on for several years.
I wasn't in a home with no supervision or left vulnerable to strang-ers. My mom was a very involved, loving mother, an educated person, and yet she thought there was no possibility this was happening, as many parents would. I was never left alone with someone that wasn't a trusted family member, after all.
She wouldn't find out for another 10 years, well after the fact, and all the impact it had.
Like many victims of sexual abuse, I was left to reconcile how someone supposed to protect me could hurt me and how the man who had helped teach me to read, to swim and to love music and writing, would also be the one to teach me not to trust.
It's something that can easily happen to any well-intentioned parent today as well and a tragedy that can be prevented in many cases. That's why it's vital that parents and caregivers are aware, informed and proactive.
It's easy to think it won't happen, or isn't happening to your child and that no one in your life could be an offender. It's much harder to have the uncomfortable but necessary conversations. Doing so could be life changing for your child.
We put together this package of stories in order to educate and raise awareness of a problem that often people don't want to speak of. Adults knowing the signs and children knowing they can speak out are the best tools there are in fighting the epidemic of sexual abuse.
The Marietta Times coverage began Friday with an in-depth look at the experiences of several local victims. Today, it offers a look at who the offenders typically are and how they groom victims as well as specific signs children may demonstrate if they are being abused, on our Perspectives page. The series will continue Monday with an examination of how parents react, including why they sometimes may side with the abuser or deny that a crime is taking place. We'll also look Monday at the role of law enforcement in the sexual abuse of children. Finally, on Tuesday, the series will wrap up with a piece on where to go for help and what can be done as far as education and prevention.
If you've missed any part of the package, it's available at www.mariettatimes.com.
By writing this column and putting my photo on the front page of the newspaper, I hope to show others that there really is no shame in having been a victim of sexual abuse. There is no denying that it shapes who you become as an adult but it in no way means you can't move past it and live a happy, healthy life, perhaps stronger and more resilient for what you've overcome.
More importantly, I wanted to remind parents, teachers and everyone with children in their lives that abuse can happen to anyone, in any kind of family, and to make yourselves aware of who a child is spending time with and their reactions to that person, as well as any changes in their behavior.
The most common signs include behavioral changes including increased anxiety, depression, withdrawal or aggression, regression to behaviors such as thumb-sucking, bed-wetting or being afraid of the dark, a fear of going home, weight gain or loss, sleep pattern changes or a change in school performance.
Educate yourself. Watch for the signs.
Know that most abusers are in the home or family, not someone lurking at the playground.
Make sure your children know they can come to you, and if there's ever any doubt, ask. Open a dialogue, ask questions. Become an expert so your child may not become a victim.
Kate York is the news editor of The Marietta Times. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.