No one could hold back tears as our hearts were in our throats watching Diane Sawyer’s interview with Jaycee Dugard recently.  What an incredible story of survival…an innocent 11 year old girl walking to her school bus one morning being attacked with a stun gun and kidnapped by a man and his wife.  Before she knew it, she was naked in a dark shed being handcuffed and left alone.  For the next 18 years, she would suffer long hours of loneliness and horrific sexual, physical and emotional abuse.  Jaycee gave birth to two beautiful girls who she loved and protected from their father, her abuser.  We wonder how she had the strength to keep going all those years!  She said, “I was still alive, there was still hope.”

Her incredible, undying hope and determination to survive ended by being rescued and then being reunited with her mother and sister.  Her abusers Philip Garrido, 60 was sentenced to 431 years to life and his wife and accomplice Nancy was given 36 years to life in prison for their crimes against Jaycee.

One of the horrible things her abusers did to Jaycee was not allowing her to speak or write her name for the 18 years they held her captive physically and mentally.  Today, two years after her rescue, she can speak and write her name proudly, and has written a memoir of her ordeal to let people know that… “Survival is your strength, not your shame”.

4 Reasons Sexual Abuse Survivors Should Not Carry Shame:

1.  You Survived the Abuse – There is no shame in surviving horrific circumstances.  Survivors often believe they did something to deserve the abuse they suffered.  They may feel guilty for not fighting or “allowing” the abuse to continue.  Jaycee said, “You just do what you have to in order to survive.”  We would never think of blaming Jaycee for anything she did in order to survive her 18 years of captivity, but often times abuse survivors will blame themselves for things they had to do to survive.  If you are a survivor, please don’t blame yourself for anything that has happened.  Instead, be proud of the fact that you survived!

2.  It Is Your Abuser’s Dirty Secret, Not Yours – Perpetrators often force their victims to keep secrets.  They use tactics such as threats to family members, hurting their pets, and switching between being “nice” to them and then being horribly cruel.  Abuse survivors are often confused and afraid.  Jaycee revealed that her abusers would bring her a pet and then once she was attached to it, take it away.  They would force her to listen to religious teaching and then tell her that God was telling them to hurt her.  This along with many other tactics keeps abuse survivors from being able to tell people what is happening.  But the secret really belongs to the abuser.  They are the one who is doing wrong and trying to keep something a secret.  If you are a survivor and keeping your abuser’s secrets, please tell someone and begin the journey to freedom and healing.

3.  Sexual Abuse Does Not Define Who You Are – Surviving sexual abuse is a part of your life, it was something that happened to you, it is not the only thing that defines who you are or who you will become.  On the horrible morning Jaycee was kidnapped, she remembers feeling a pine cone when she was knocked down to the ground after being hit with a tazer gun.  Her memory of that fearful moment has become a powerful tool to help her go forward.  Today, she wears a silver pine cone charm on a necklace as a symbol of survival.  She said, “I don’t feel like rage inside of me that’s building … I refuse to let them have that.  He can’t have me … He didn’t get all of me.”  Abusers take many things from the people they abuse, but if you are alive, they can’t take “all of you”.

4.  There is Hope and Healing After Abuse – As a survivor of abuse, you may feel overwhelmed and bothered by painful memories and images of the abuse.  You may carry physical signs that are a daily reminder of what you survived.  You may feel hopeless and wonder how you can ever live a “normal” life again.  But don’t give up, there is hope and you can heal and go forward with your life.  In Jaycee’s case, the unthinkable happened – she gave birth to two daughters whose father was her abuser and yet she and her beautiful daughters are all alive doing well after surviving their horrible ordeal.  Jaycee said, “Even if it is just one thing or person you have to be thankful for, that is enough.”  “There’s life after something tragic.”

The key to healing and moving forward after surviving sexual abuse is counseling with a professional who is educated and trained in the area of treating sexual abuse and trauma.  If you or someone you know is a survivor, please seek help today and begin your healing journey.  Remember “There’s life after something tragic”.

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Article Written by Crystal Hollenbeck