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A voice of courage speaks on sexual abuse

12:10 PM, Apr. 23, 2013  |  Comments
DaNita Carlson
DaNita Carlson
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When recently asked by a sexual assault support group participant how she was able to become a survivor of sexual violence rather than a victim, Cheeia, an advocate at the Family Center, replied by saying, "I felt like a survivor when I stopped living in the past and focused on the present. When I stopped allowing the abuse to control me, I knew that I was a survivor."

Cheeia is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, and she has been a victim's advocate at the Family Center for three years. She has a passion for helping victims of abuse and for educating the community about domestic and sexual violence.

Cheeia is a Minnesota native who grew up in a middle class neighborhood. She comes from a close-knit family with educated and hard-working parents.

"Everything looked good from the outside," Cheeia said.

Looks, however, can be deceiving.

Cheeia was sexually abused from the age of 5 to the age of 12. She was afraid to tell her parents because her abuser was someone that Cheeia - and her family - loved and trusted.

"I thought there was something that I did to deserve what was happening to me," she shared. "I didn't know it was abuse."

Years of abuse turned Cheeia into a depressed, angry and self-destructive teenager. It wasn't until she was 19 years old that she finally worked up the courage to talk about the abuse.

"I started talking about it with people I trust," Cheeia said. "They helped me to understand that it was not my fault."

Discussing the abuse helped Cheeia to begin her journey toward healing.

"A victim of sexual violence is never completely healed," she said. "It's a process, and for many people it takes years."

Each victim's journey is different, and every victim has to find his or her own source of strength. Cheeia finds her strength in God, in her family and friends, and in the victims she helps.

"Talking about it, truly understanding that it's not my fault, and understanding that there's nothing that I could have done to prevent it have helped," she said. "It's still hard for me to trust people, to open up and be vulnerable with people, but my faith gives me strength."

As a survivor, Cheeia wants others victimized by domestic or sexual violence to know that it is NOT their fault.

"Do not blame yourself," she said. "You shouldn't feel ashamed because you did nothing wrong. You are not alone, and you are a survivor. Don't let your abuser hold you prisoner."

As a victim's advocate, Cheeia's job is to provide options and support to her clients. She helps them to make the difficult transition from victim to survivor.

"I listen to victims and make sure that they understand their options and deal with the trauma," she explained. I try to help them understand that it's not their fault. I want to help them find their voices and feel that they no longer have to be silent about the abuse."

Cheeia hopes that by educating the community, victims of sexual violence will get the support that they need.

She said, "When it comes to sexual violence, it's something that people don't talk about and don't really understand. We definitely need to educate people so that everyone is able to recognize abuse and seek help when needed. As a society, we need to do a better job of protecting victims, and we need to stop blaming them."

If you or someone you know has been the victim of sexual violence, call the Family Center's Sexual Assault Hotline (877-318-0003) or the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800-656-HOPE).

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