Warning: This article contains graphic content. Unfortunately, this topic is more common than we think. Learn Kathy’s story below and what you can do if you are being sexually abused.
I was born in Springfield Massachusetts to a teenage mother who was only 16 years old. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was already at a disadvantage. We lived with my mother’s parents (my grandparents) and I don’t ever remember my mother playing with me or singing to me or even being around the house as I was growing up. My grandparents raised me the first few years of my life and some of my earliest memories are of being plopped down in front of the TV all by myself. My mother was just a kid herself and had no parenting skills at all.
As the years went by my mother eventually married my father and we moved out of my grandparents’ house into an apartment. When my mother had three more babies, the apartment was too small and that’s when we moved into our own house in Springfield. When my youngest sister needed open heart surgery in Boston my mother went with her while my father stayed behind to watch us and go to work. It was at this time that something started to happen.
All my life up to that point me and my sisters were ignored by all the adults in our lives, so it was weird one night when my father let me stay up late after my other two sisters went to bed. He sat me on the couch next to him and told me what a pretty girl I was. He stroked my hair and kissed me and told me I was his special girl. I was confused because my father never did anything like that before, but I was also so happy because he was spending time with me. Of course, I didn’t realize what was happening because I was only seven years old.
My father worked during the day and my mother worked nights so most of the abuse took place at night after my sisters went to bed. As I got a little older the abuse would increase. At twelve years old I was raped for the first time.
He threatened me not to tell but if I did, he said no one would believe me and I would be called a liar. And liars get punished. He also told me if I did tell, my parents would get a divorce and we would all be split up and never see each other again. I was the oldest and looked after my sisters. I couldn’t stand the thought of never seeing them or my dog ever again. But what he was doing to me hurt and I didn’t like it. So, one day I did tell someone. I told my grandmother and she told me not to talk about it. Since we are always taught to obey our parents, I never mentioned it again for many years. And the abuse continued.
Since I was a scared little kid and my mother wasn’t around too often and I hated being home, I found creative ways to stay away from my father as often as I could. For example, I joined as many activities at school as I could. I joined the swim team, 4-H Club, The Girl Scouts, and gymnastics. Having one of my girlfriends over for a sleepover was also a great way to spend time with friends while keeping my father away from me. I always felt odd and peculiar because of the abuse I was going through and thought if I was involved in all activities it would help me feel normal. Which it did for a while. If I could bury inside me the horrible things my father was doing to me.
One day as a young teenager my father approached me and out of nowhere, I told him, “No, this isn’t right-leave me alone.” Well, he didn’t leave me alone and he punished me for standing up for myself, but I felt good inside for at least saying those words which I never had the courage to say before. And that got me thinking that maybe some day I could make him stop sexually abusing me forever.
I had a favorite aunt and around this time in my life I would go to her house and spend the weekends with her and my cousins. She treated me better than my own mother did. She was so sweet, kind, and caring and taught me how a normal family lived. She was the person responsible for saving me and giving me the courage to be myself. She didn’t know what my father was doing to me but one day I hoped to tell her.
When I was in high school, I came home late one night from a date with my boyfriend. My mother was very upset and so was I. I was a student and working part time as a waitress and had a long day with lots of drama. I wasn’t in a mood for a fight. Out of nowhere my mother blurted out my father wasn’t my real father and that my real father died in Vietnam. When my mother stormed out of the living room my father (Step-father) came in to try and comfort me. I looked at him in the eyes and told him to leave me alone and if he ever touched me again, I would tell everyone what he had been doing to me for the past ten years. I pushed past him and went to my room. He tried one more time to force himself on me and I said no and warned him one last time to stay away from me. He never touched me again.
I grew up in a different time years ago when kids were taught to listen and obey our parents without question. What my stepfather did to me over the years was basically brain washing me to believe and do whatever he said. He had total control over my life and I was powerless to change that. Back then we kids were “to be seen and not heard.” We lived in a time of secrets and fear with very little communication between parents and their children. If we upset our parents, we got hit with a leather belt.
I never wanted to go to college so after I graduated from high school, I got a job with a large insurance company in Springfield. My goal was to make enough money to get an apartment of my own but that was expensive, so I got a part time job too and saved my money. My step-father totally ignored me now that I was older and realized he could no longer intimidate me. But it was still crappy living in that house where he sexually abuse me for ten years.
Eventually though I moved out and obtained the independence I craved for so long. I never forgot what my step father did to me and I’ve never forgiven him.
When I was twenty-eight years old, I finally told my aunt what my step father did to me. I need to get this off my chest and she was like a mother to me. She was horrified and cried while I told her my story. But because she was still afraid of him, she made me promise not to say anything to anyone. So, I didn’t, but quietly without me knowing she told all my cousins not to let their young children near my step-father and certainly not to let him babysit.
Ten years after I had the conversation with my aunt, she passed away. And I found out one of my young nieces was living in the same house that I grew up in with my mother and step-father! I knew what my step-father was capable of and I didn’t want him messing with my niece, so my husband and I went to the cemetery, so I could talk with my aunt. That was something I needed to do a lot…it made me feel better to talk with her even if she wasn’t physically here anymore. I told her I kept my promise and never told anybody about what my step-father did to me but she was gone now, and my niece was living in that evil house and something had to be done. I told her things had changed and that I hope she understood what I was about to do,
So, I got involved. I didn’t know what was going on with my niece in my old house, but I contacted her to make sure she knew I was there if she ever needed me. Then I told everybody I knew what happened to me as a child, and the more people I told the more people would tell me about abuse they suffered as children. Not only did this make me feel better to talk about it, but I soon realized I wasn’t the only one this happened to and by talking with others there was a kind of healing and understanding between us. And I promised myself I would do whatever I could to help spread the word about protecting our children against sexual abuse and to try to help those that had been abused like I was.
I love the phrase, “One person can make a difference” and I try to live up to that each day. Since my aunt passed away, I helped to change laws in Massachusetts which extended the criminal and civil statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse. I speak at local colleges, hospital, book stores, the police academy and correctional institutions to educate people about ways to prevent sexual abuse and how to help those that have been affected by this horrible crime.
IF YOU ARE GOING THROUGH ABUSE
- Tell People.
- Know that it’s NOT your fault.
- Understand that someone will believe you.
- Know that people DO want to help you.
- Get counseling.
- Only let supportive people in your circle.
- Understand that self-care is essential!
- Contact me if you need help at Kathychildadvocate@gmail.com
- Visit my website here if you want to learn more
About the Author: Kathy Picard is an inspiring award-winning advocate whose work centers on increasing awareness of the harsh realities of sexual child abuse.
As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, through her own process of trying to understand what happened to her, Kathy discovered that there was very little information about the subject of sexual abuse—even in the library. It was as if sexual abuse was “a secret” no one was willing to talk about! Since then, she has educated herself, and now actively seeks opportunities to speak about the importance of awareness, to share the resources she’s personally vetted, to educate people who want to know and do more, and to offer information and encouragement to fellow survivors and their family and friends.
Over her 15 years of advocacy—which included her persistent and determined work to get both the criminal and civil Statute of Limitations for sexual abuse eliminated—Kathy has been recognized for her efforts and received many awards, honors, and citations including:
- Zonta International’s 2014 Founder’s Day Award
- 2014 William Pynchon Award
- Governor’s Citation from former Governor Deval Patrick
- State Senate Citation from former Senator Gale Candaras
- Unsung Heroine Award from the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women
- Public Policy Advocacy Award from the Massachusetts Office for Victim Assistance
- Massachusetts Missing Children’s Day Award
Kathy has also gathered an extensive list of resources over the years, and has earned certifications to teach, train, and present a variety of programs including:
- Enough Abuse Campaign
- Talking About Touching: A Personal Safety Curriculum offered by the Committee for Children
- Stewards of Children: from Darkness to Light
- Childhelp Speak up be Safe: a safety awareness program for children K – 12 from Childhelp