April 30th is no ordinary day for me. In fact it is a very significant day in my life for me each year. You see April 30, 1998 (11 years ago) I was brought to a place with my sister called the Children’s Advocacy Center. It was there I broke my silence for the first time. A voice back then that carried so much shame, fear, and confusion. 11 years ago today the sun was shinning and the sky was blue yet no picture perfect weather could take away the fear and anxiety my sister and I were feeling. 11 years later the sun did not come out today. I drove in a down pour an hour to my last day of grad school before finals next Thursday filled with so much excitement and ready for the next chapter of my life to begin.
My life has changed dramatically in 11 years from when I first step foot in the Children’s Advocacy Center of Northwest Cook County, Illinois. The place I first shared what went on behind closed doors. A voice that I have shared since then with thousands through a book and public speaking. For so many years I carried so much shame and felt so uncomfortable talking about the sexual abuse. Honestly I think that is why so many people take so long in healing from sexual abuse because getting to that place in your life where you can talk to a therapist, a friend, or your mother about it is so difficult because it is such an uncomfortable topic. It doesn’t have to be an uncomfortable topic if you don’t let it. Through my teen years of seeing therapists I could never bring myself to talk in depth about the dirty things my cousin did. It just seemed wrong to talk about and I could never bring myself to go there. Never in a million years would I think a few years later I would be standing on stages speaking in front of hundreds of people as a keynote speaker talking about what I could not even utter the words about to my own therapist without feeling so dirty and ashamed. Now it comes so naturally to me but the difference between then and now is I no longer carry the shame and released myself from that prison of fear that consumed me. When did that change? It began after years of depression throughout my youth, a suicide attempt, and eventually turning to self-injury and then that light bulb moment April 30th 2003. I didn’t discover this until a year after I published my book when I looked back on the date on the top of a letter I sent that is still saved in a folder on my email account that is dated Wed 4/30/03 11:53 PM. What is so significant about this letter? It is the 5 page letter I wrote to my cousin confronting him for the first time in my life. A letter that I did not notice the date on until later and realized what a coincidence it was that I broke my silence on April 30th and and five years later on April 30th I was taking that voice back from the man that still had so much power and control over my life even years after the abuse had stopped.
Little did I know the journey that letter would take me on through seven months of email correspondence with my cousin. That would end in him apologizing and me forgiving him. Letters that can be read in my first book Stolen Innocence. So here I am eleven years later and you might be wondering how is April 30th impacting me today. Well three months ago while in my policy grad class we were given a group assignment where we would present a policy for thirty minutes to the class discussing the pros and cons of the policy. Policy on students with AIDS, kids in foster care, mental health policies, school policies, etc. My group did a policy on juvenile sex offenders and if they belong on the same public registry as adults. We decided in class on the date we would present with two policy presentations a class. My group could not do it on April 9th since I was going to be in New Mexico giving a Keynote speech. We asked to go on April 16th but another two groups got it instead. We decided April 23rd was the day we would go however the final 4 groups wanted to go April 23rd and our professor said two groups have to go on the final day of presentations and we have to decide that now who will it be. Well as any college student towards the end of a school year especially the end of my college career we all just wanted to get it done and over with but someone in our group decided to speak for us and said we would go on the final day of presentations being none other then today April 30th. So here I was today eleven years later presenting to other grad students why juveniles belong on the national public registry and I pulled out every statistic and made key points and when we were all done after sitting up there for an hour presenting and then answering many follow up questions I let the class in on where I really stand on this issue……..this may surprise many but I do not feel juvenile sex offenders belong on the public registry unless charged as an adult.
I feel as the con side said today stigmatizing these juveniles and exposing them is not going to help them but instead just keep them sick and angry. Instead I feel long term mandatory therapy and treatment should be in place. I am not saying juveniles should not be held accountable they most definitely should. I just feel there are more appropriate ways to hold them accountable for their crime. Now if we are dealing with a repeat juvenile offender that is another story. They not only belong on the public sex offender registry they belong behind bars for a long time.
Until next April 30th………