New group to support victims of childhood sexual abuse

Bethany Stanley was sexually abused by someone she knew when she was a child and never told anyone until she was 16.

Even then, she felt she was all alone and no one understood how much she was hurting.

She doesn’t want anyone else to feel that isolated.

Stanley recently became the co-leader of a new support group, geared toward supporting adults who were abused by someone they knew when they were children.

“When this happens, you feel all alone, you feel shameful and disgusting,” she said. “Being around other people who have been through it can help take that away.”

Working closely with the group’s other leaders, Pam Roberts and Shari Johnston, who also are abuse survivors, Stanley has spent the past few weeks preparing for the first meeting on Sept. 11.

The group will meet at 7 p.m. on the second and fourth Thursdays of the month at Mental Health America of Licking County, 65 Messimer Drive in Newark.

The meetings are open to anyone older than 16 who was abused by someone they knew and trusted when they were young, Stanley said.

“There is a need for it, and we want people to know that we are here,” she said.

Stanley struggled with the pain of her abuse for many years before realizing she needed to work toward recovery.

As she read and talked more about child sex abuse, she was amazed by how many people she met who were victims just like her.

According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice, 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 7 boys will be abused at some point in his or her childhood. Only 30 percent of cases of abuse are reported to authorities.

In as many as 93 percent of abuse cases, the child knows the person who commits the abuse.

Many victims are too afraid to talk about their abuse, especially if it involves a family member. Even if they do come forward, that doesn’t make the pain go away, Roberts said.

“Sometimes, it’s a lifetime of trauma that affects everything you think and do,” she said. “I felt like it was woven into my pores.”

Stanley was inspired to tell her story after she found a Kickstarter campaign to fund an independent documentary called “Rewind to Fast Forward.”

The piece tells the story of Sasha Neulinger, who was abused by his two uncles and his cousin when he was a boy. He used home movies of his childhood and interviews with family members to share his story.

“I thought, ‘Look how brave this guy is,'” she said. “It gave me the courage to say, ‘I’m a survivor.’ “

She realized how important it was to speak out so she could help others.

“Let’s get it out in the open so people are talking about it, so it loses its power,” she said.

Stanley decided to look for a support group to share her experiences.

She contacted Roberts, who is associate director of MHA, and asked whether there were any groups she could connect with.

“Pam told me, ‘We don’t have one for adult survivors,’ ” Stanley said. “I thought, ‘They need to have one.’ “

Pam offered to be Stanley’s mentor, but the two women decided they wanted to do more to help others.

“I had a longtime struggle with recovery,” Pam said. “If you can get on the other side of it, it’s good to help someone else.”

Johnston, who was recently hired as MHA’s Compeer coordinator, offered to be the art facilitator for the group. She plans to use her 25 years of experience helping teens to introduce art projects that can help with healing.

The three co-leaders plan to use “The Courage to Heal Workbook” to guide the group’s discussion. Because it’s peer led, participants will be encouraged to talk about their experiences but could simply listen if they feel more comfortable, Roberts said.

If the support group goes well, the three co-leaders are hoping to start a support group for the loved ones of sexual abuse victims. They are also planning several educational events for April, which is both Child Abuse Prevention and Sexual Assault Awareness month.

The more information is out there, the more victims will realize they aren’t powerless and they can take steps to break the cycle of abuse, Stanley said.

“So many people are dealing with this on their own, and we want them to know they don’t have to,” she said. “Let’s all help each other to deal with it.”

ajeffries@newarkadvocate.com

740-328-8544

Twitter: @amsjeffries

If you go

• What: Survivors of Sex Abuse Support Group

• When: 7 p.m. on the second and fourth Thursdays of every month

• Where: Mental Health America of Licking County, 65 Messimer Drive, Newark

• Cost: Free and open to any survivor older than 16

• FYI: For more information about the group, call Pam Roberts at 740-788-0301 or email proberts@mhalc.org.

This post appeared in the Newark Advocate August 29, 2014.

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