An estimated one in 10 children will be the victim of sexual abuse before the age of 18, with an estimated 42 million survivors in America today.
It’s rare we get to meet any of them, but in an effort to both raise awareness and advance the conversations about the issue, TLC, the same network that brought viewers the now infamous hit series “19 Kids and Counting,” will introduce some willing to share their stories in a documentary scheduled to air at 10 p.m. Aug. 30.
“Breaking the Silence” is built around the stories of child abuse survivors. Among them is David Moody Jr., a Lithonia construction company owner, and Erin Merryn, a mother, two-time survivor and driving force behind “Erin’s Law,” legislation passed in 26 states that makes age-appropriate curriculum on personal body safety mandatory for children in schools.
Viewers will also hear from experts, including a prevention training session conducted by Darkness to Light that is attended by the two Duggar sisters who have publicly spoken about being molested by older brother Josh Duggar. He has never been arrested or charged in connection with the molestations.
TLC, you may recall, pulled the plug on “19 Kids and Counting” earlier this year after reports surfaced that one of its stars, Josh Duggar, the oldest of the family’s 19 children, had fondled four of his sisters and a babysitter a dozen years before, while he was a teenager.
But let’s be clear. The documentary isn’t about the Duggars. It is about raising awareness about child sexual abuse. Period.
Moody, owner of C.D. Moody Construction, got behind the project because of RAINN and Darkness to Light, two national nonprofits with a long history of working to prevent sexual abuse, and because sexual abuse is allowed to continue because victims often remain silent.
“I speak up to give hope to the hopeless and a voice to those that suffer in silence from childhood sexual abuse,” Moody said recently. “I want other survivors to know they are not alone. So often you feel all alone on the journey of healing from childhood sexual abuse.”
Both RAINN and Darkness to Light are partnering with TLC on a multiplatform campaign to combat child sexual abuse in the U.S. Later this month, TLC will begin airing public service ads featuring the National Sexual Assault Hotline.
Katherine Hull Fliflet, RAINN’s vice president of communications, said that hearing from survivors can make a big difference in the lives of other families who have been impacted by sexual abuse.
“We hope that hearing these stories will encourage many others to come forward and get help through the National Sexual Assault Hotline,” she said.
Angela Williams, a victim of child sexual abuse and founder of the nonprofit Voice Today in Marietta, said media exposure such as this will help society better understand the suffering of sexual abuse victims. “My hope is that there will be a national outcry for legislative reform to remove both civil and criminal statute of limitations, for prevention programs in our communities and for survivors aftercare,” she said
For much of his life, Moody, 59, kept his abuse secret.
Then one day, he couldn’t do it anymore. The triggers — a tour of the Georgia Center for Child Advocacy and news of sexual molestation charges against Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky — shot through him like arrows dipped in poison.
It struck him that not one adult had bothered to help those kids, to protect them.
No one had protected him either. But maybe if he had spoken up, he might have saved other kids from his abuser.
In 1992, Moody told his wife he’d been molested by his male babysitter and has been telling his story ever since. He blogs about his abuse and is on the training video for Darkness to Light.
“Sexual abuse damages you in ways you can’t imagine,” Moody said.
Consider these numbers from RAINN: Victims of sexual assault are three times more likely to suffer from depression; six times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder; 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol; 26 times more likely to abuse drugs; and four times more likely to contemplate suicide.
“This is one of those things that everybody knows exists but no one wants to talk about,” Moody said.
At Harvard University recently for an advanced leadership initiative program, Moody said that a friend asked him why people should care about this issue. His answer was simple: because it happens. All of us know someone who has been impacted by this and the damage is everlasting.
“People say children are resilient but children grow into adults and there’s nothing worse than an adult who hasn’t dealt with their pain,” he said.
If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual violence, help is available 24/7 through the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) and online.rainn.org, and in Spanish: rainn.org/es.
To read the AJC’s Personal Journey about Felicia Villegas, who endured unspeakable abuse as a child and homelessness as a teen but never let her struggles break her spirit, go to personaljourneys.myajc.com/strong-survivor.