Even in Artesia: A Survivor’s Story About The Importance of Child Abuse Prevention
This is the fourth installment of a six-week National Child Abuse Prevention Month (#NCAPM) blog series about child abuse and how we are working to prevent it. Jake Lee is a child abuse survivor as well as a facilitator for Darkness to Light’s Stewards of Children® training program, which is offered for free through Children’s Center.
Guest post by: Jake Lee, Darkness to Light’s Stewards of Children® workshop facilitator
Artesia is a small town in the Southeastern corner of New Mexico with a population of just around 11,000 people. Artesia prides itself on having the best schools, safest streets, and most competitive football team of any small town in the area. The community is guided by its strong moral compass that is often steered by the conservative Christian values that keep the city heading in a direction that makes its residents feel grounded and safe.
I grew up on a quiet street in the rectory of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, where my father served as the parish priest for over 30 years. My mother was a social worker who managed services in the surrounding counties for decades. My parents worked hard, provided, and trusted that their community would help keep their three sons safe and protected.
Sexual abuse didn’t exist in the city limits at least in the minds of Artesia’s residents. It couldn’t possibly. Children attended youth groups, church camps, and Bible studies. In its collective mind, the town was doing everything right to protect its children and youth, while in reality, sexual predators exist everywhere.
I was groomed by my abuser from 6th grade onward during my time in Artesia. He was one of my teachers in both middle school and junior high and also my high school football coach. Grooming is a method used by offenders that involves building trust with a child and the adults around a child in an effort to gain access to and time alone with her/him.
My abuser would stop by my house for long chats with me or my parents and often gave me encouragement and praise for my successes in both the classroom and on the football field. I was regularly invited over for dinners with his family and enjoyed long drives on the many country roads that surrounded our town. He spent years building the trust that he would eventually use to abuse me. His role as a teacher and coach on the prestigious football team kept eyebrows from being raised. After all, he was just a coach mentoring another budding football star.
My sexual abuse began sometime between 9th and 10th grade. He escalated his grooming behavior until he was ready to take our “special” relationship to the next level. Once that threshold was crossed, my high school years became grounded in secrecy and shame rather than the rights of passage my peers were experiencing. My abuse continued through my first year of college where I finally found my strength to move on.
Abuse victims each have their own unique, personal, and challenging roads to recovery. My abuse affected me by instilling deep insecurities, shame, and anger. Though I have accomplished a lot in my life – I’ve been an elementary school teacher for 15 years, married an amazing partner, and together we’ve adopted two beautiful boys from the foster care system – looking back I realize that my abuse made me feel invisible, so I did everything in my power to help children feel seen and loved.
In fact, I now see that my path to healing was filled with a relentless need to educate and advocate for children. Unfortunately, that often came at a cost to my own self-care and recovery. The desire to be seen was so strong that I pushed myself to constantly “do more” in hopes of finally feeling “enough”.
My family became aware of my abuse about six years after it ended, however, it wasn’t something we talked about. It was too painful a subject to broach in a meaningful way even for a minister, social worker, and educator. We all brought our own pain and shame to the table, which made healing conversations difficult. Life just kept moving on with my attempts to forget my abuse becoming as common as the freshly sharpened pencils and new notebooks that marked the beginning of a new school year.
My moment of clarity came in late 2019. The through-line of all my emotional anguish traced right back to my abuse. It took me nearly 20 years, but I finally sought help and with the support of my therapist, I’ve accepted myself as a child sexual abuse survivor. I am still in treatment today. Healing from sexual abuse is not a linear journey, so I anticipate many ups and downs ahead.
At the end of 2020 after a year of healing, I challenged myself to write a blog about my abuse for 30 straight days leading up to my 38th birthday in hopes of bringing awareness to the fact that boys are also victims of child sexual abuse. It has been read by over 50,000 people and shared hundreds of times, surprisingly, by many people from my hometown. They all expressed their shock, anger, and disappointment of not seeing the signs during the years of my abuse.
As you read at the beginning of my story, I am from a community that didn’t think that abuse could happen in their town. Many of my blog readers thanked me for sharing my experience, as it helped educate them about the possible signs of child sexual abuse in their own families and communities. Education is key in ridding the world of sexual abuse. Though it might be uncomfortable, society must learn to sit with the discomfort of talking about child sexual abuse. We need to understand this issue so we can protect the children in our communities.
The Children’s Center’s focus on supporting victims of sexual abuse, while also educating the wider community is a powerful mission. I truly believe that if prevention workshops like Darkness to Light’s Stewards of Children® offered through Children’s Center had been available in my town, my abuse may have been prevented. Instead, as an adult who could be doing so many other things, I am in the process of disclosing my abuse to authorities in New Mexico in hopes of shining light on the actions of my abuser who is still, unfortunately, an educator.
I am proud to say that recently I’ve become a facilitator with Children’s Center for the Stewards of Children® training offered to adults in our community. I am excited to bring my experience and passion to helping others understand the power they have to protect children from sexual abuse. I challenge anyone who is reading this to consider taking an upcoming Stewards of Children® training. It could be your first step in becoming an advocate for victims of childhood sexual abuse and protecting kids, like me, from the horrendous experience of being abused.
– Jake Lee