Sexual abuse of children is not the rare occurrence many people believe it to be, according to Rebecca Born, director of Connections: A Safe Place Inc.
"One in four women and one in six men are impacted by sexual abuse as children," she says.
Connections, a non-profit center in the Eastgate area, helps women overcome the effects of childhood sexual abuse. The damage is long-term, Born says.
"Sexual abuse impacts every part of a person's life," she says.
Abuse alters a person's core identity, including her beliefs about herself, about love, about safety, about faith and about relationships. Victims often turn to drugs, alcohol, self-mutilation and promiscuous sex to ease their pain, only to make it more intense.
When a victim of sexual abuse seeks help from a therapist, feelings that have been locked inside come flooding out, Born says. An hour a week talking to a therapist isn't enough support; Connections supplements therapy, helping cope with the flood of feelings.
"Connections is one piece of what a woman needs to recover from sexual abuse," Born says.
Talking is what victims need most, but talking is the hardest thing of all, according to Born and Merri Davis, a survivor of sexual abuse who founded the center with Born.
Abuse steals the victim's voice, and she loses the ability and courage needed to tell someone about the abuse, they say.
Giving these women back their voice has become an important goal for the staff at Connections.
The center has drop-in hours when women can rest, socialize, watch a movie or just relax. The center offers journaling sessions, small group discussions and skill-building exercises. Babysitting is available so mothers can participate.
Thumbprint Publishing, operated by Connections, publishes booklets in which women give voice to the agony of their experiences. The booklets are unique because they are written by women going through the healing process — not by those who have already completed the journey.
The booklets contain raw journal entries and drawings. Thumbprint has published three booklets so far, including "Acceptance: Excerpts from a Survivor's Journal," a compilation of journal entries and poems by Eileen McDonough. One of her poems is about the pain from her abuse.
"She wears it as an armor /hurt, cold, and unable to penetrate," she writes.
McDonough says Connections gave her a voice. She decided to publish journal entries written during activities at Connections in order to help others in recovery.
It is fitting that victims of sexual abuse help others recover, because sexual abuse is cyclical, according to McDonough, now a staff member at Connections. Eighty percent of children who are abused have mothers who are also survivors of abuse, she says.
Born became involved with survivors of child sexual abuse while working closely with a pastor at a large church. That experience, she says, taught her what women have to go through to recover. After meeting and befriending Davis, they started Connections.
Born adopted the motto, "Reclaim Truth, Restore Dignity, Redefine Value." The center uses a variety of tools. Connections helps women set realistic goals and boundaries for themselves and for relationships.
An occasional makeover helps some women feel less afraid to be a woman and embrace their femininity. Breaking old glasses in the basement or using a punching bag helps relieve some feelings of distress for some women.
The center challenges women to manage conflict and anger in healthy ways. In weekly support groups, women can speak openly about their experiences and feelings. Individual mentoring sessions are available.
Funded by donations and grants, Connections charges a fee for some services, based on a client's ability to pay. Some volunteer at the center as form of payment.
Vineyard East Church has donated the use of one of its buildings. Although Connections is not affiliated with the church, it is a faith-based organization. But Christian views are not forced on clients, Born says.
Even women living out of town can even get help from the center. Many women correspond through e-mail with the staff at Connections. Since its founding three years ago, the center has helped 60 women, according to Born. But that's not all.
So far Connections has helped three young girls end the cycle of sexual abuse. Connections gave their mothers the skills needed to help their daughters come forward about their own abuse. ©