Brittany’s Story: Believe Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse
I was not homeless. I was not a runaway. I was not a promiscuous child. I have never used drugs. I didn’t meet a stranger from the Internet. I was not abducted, but I WAS a victim of child sex trafficking.
If you knew me, I’d be the last person you would’ve expected to be victimized. In the context of child sexual abuse and sex trafficking, people have preconceived notions as to who is most likely to be victimized and in what scenarios. It is for that very reason I want to share my story.
I grew up in an upper class family, but I had a void in my life and a child molester discovered and exploited that void. My abuser was someone in my inner circle of family and friends. Not all victims of child sex trafficking are slaves kept locked away. Children are absolutely cruelly and brutally abused in this way, but if we naively and narrowly focus on these scenarios alone, we will miss other cases of abuse that are less obvious. The chains of child sexual abuse are oftentimes subtle – woven with manipulation, coercion, and threats. For this reason, we need to broaden our focus so we don’t miss the hurting children who may be right in front of us.
I was molested and trafficked by my youth pastor. Let me pause here to say that I am in no way making this a religious issue or picking on a certain segment of society as though they are primarily predators. I am a Christian, and am still involved in a church as an adult. I do want to point out that not all pedophiles drive creepy, white unmarked vans, luring children with lost puppies and candy. Most child sex predators appear to be “normal” individuals – people you know who have families, stable jobs, and respectable reputations. They do an excellent job at blending in with the crowds around them. For this reason, many perpetrators are able to assault multiple victims over the course of several years before they are ever caught.
To identify victims of child sex trafficking, we should have a better understanding of what the term actually means. When we consider this topic, we tend to think of sex slaves, but child sex trafficking can look very different. My abuser transported young girls across state lines and victimized them on youth group and school trips. Sex trafficking may look like a family member who transports a minor across state lines and assaults him or her. It may be a coach who takes a team to another part of the country for a tournament and abuses the players.
What made my case unique was the number of adults who knew of my abuse and failed to report it. Shortly after my abuse began, the perpetrator’s wife suspected something inappropriate was happening, but he was able to ease her concerns. Because she failed to tell someone, my abuse continued for several years past its initial discovery.
People fail to report child sexual abuse for a variety of reasons: fear, doubt, embarrassment. In all honesty, I think it’s sometimes easier for people to believe that accusations are false than to admit that someone close to them – someone they trusted – violated a child in a heinous way. Thoughts like “my husband (father/son/friend/coworker) would never do that” allow witnesses to dismiss what’s occurring before their very eyes. They are more concerned about ruining the perpetrator’s reputation than ensuring the child’s well-being.
Unfortunately, because many couldn’t come to grips with the fact that my abuser was a dangerous predator, he was able to continue victimizing and trafficking girls over the course of several years. Rest assured, only a very small percentage of children make false accusations. It takes a lot of bravery and strength for a victim to come forward despite their feelings of fear, shame, and humiliation. Most must overlook direct threats made against them. Believe us.
One of the most impactful moments of the investigation into my case occurred during a phone call with an FBI agent. I had provided a brief, messy account of my abuse, and his first remark was, “I believe you.” It was one of the most meaningful things anyone has ever said to me.
If a child approaches you claiming to be a victim of sexual abuse, DO SOMETHING. I would further argue that it is not your place to make any determination as to the veracity of the allegation. Law enforcement is trained in doing the work that is necessary to prove guilt or innocence.
Many years have passed since I was abused. I was a victim of child sex trafficking. I am now a mother and a wife. I have a rewarding career. I am genuinely a happy person. I didn’t let the selfish acts of one man ruin my life. I don’t live in fear, nor do I think anyone else should either. I do think we should have a healthy awareness of what could happen.
When we have these uncomfortable but necessary conversations, we raise awareness in our children’s lives so that they recognize ‘red flag’ behaviors. As adults, we can also identify misconceptions that we may have about childhood sexual abuse. As we challenge those false beliefs and broaden our focus, we are less likely to miss an opportunity to intervene and help a hurting child.