Victim just learning to heal

By Ed Brock

The sex abuse that wrecked her childhood carried over well into Pam's adult life.

It is only recently that Pam, who asked to be identified only by her first name, is beginning to be able to consider herself a survivor of sexual assault, not a victim.

"I think the past two years have been the most healing for me," Pam said.

With help from the Southern Crescent Sexual Assault Center in Jonesboro, Pam has been in counseling to deal with the numerous assaults she suffered at the hands of a male cousin that began when she was 6 years old. Now 35 and living in McDonough, Pam wants others to know her story and, April being Sexual Assault Awareness Month, now is the time to tell it.

"People don't want to hear about sexual assault. It's very hush-hush," Pam said.

In her case, Pam was also afraid to tell anybody about the assaults by her cousin that continued until she was 14. Her father and the father of the boy were very close, Pam said.

"(The cousin) told me that my parents knew what was going on and it was totally OK with them," Pam said. "I basically felt like number one I wouldn't be believed and number two I thought if I did tell it would destroy my family."

It was only when she was a senior in high school and the cousin who abused her was in the middle of a divorce that Pam told the cousin's ex-wife about what he had done to her. Now she wants other victims to know that what happened to them is not their fault and, though it is a trauma they can overcome it with help from others.

The SCSAC staff will be busy this month spreading information about that "hush-hush" topic and seeking to help other victims like Pam, SCSAC Director Jennifer Bivins said. Along with old standard events like providing teal ribbon pins and information brochures to police and hospital workers in Clayton, Henry and Fayette County, this year will see the premiere of some new programs.

On April 13 there will be an educational film festival at Clayton College & State University. Several local bars have agreed to put up sexual assault awareness posters in their bathrooms and in each county they will plant a tree in memory of sexual assault victims and survivors.

"Trees represent new life," Bivins said.

SCSAC Director of Education Bernadette Highway came up with the idea of planting the trees after researching similar events in other states. While events like pinning law enforcement and hospital workers are meant to honor those who work with the SCSAC staff, the tree plantings will honor those for whom they work.

"In years past we haven't done a lot of events that focus on honoring the people we serve throughout the years," Highway said.

Service personnel and SCSAC clients will be invited to attend each tree planting "as a sign of unity," Bivins said.

The majority of the month's other events are either educational or fundraisers. On April 20 businesses in all three counties will participate in "Jeans for Justice" in which employees will donate $1 for the privilege of wearing blue jeans to work.

April 20 is also "National Day to End Sexual Violence" and participating churches and other facilities with large bells will ring those bells in recognition of the day.

The finale will be the nationwide Operation Free Fall event on April 24 in which participants will make a donation to sky dive in the event.

Emily Bell, manager at Taco Mac on Ga. Highway 138 in Stockbridge, has already put the sexual assault awareness posters up in the bathrooms there.

"I'm a female and 90 percent of my staff is female," Bell said. "I saw it as something that needs to be addressed. Any way I can help I will."

For more information on SCSAC events this month call (770) 603-4045.