OREM, Utah — Based on outward appearances, Jacki Chilton likely appeared to have an ideal childhood.
Her family was wealthy, she lived in big houses and she attended private schools. What no one outside her immediate family knew at the time was that her father sexually abused her from ages 3 to 15.
While Chilton said the shame about what happened is still in every cell of her body at age 53, her courage is even stronger, and she has a superhero passion for life. She raised four children and has enjoyed a successful career that includes the experience of coaching contractors on their oral presentations for NASA and starting her own business, Salt Lake City Vocal Coach.
“It seems that we are fighting an invisible war, a silent war that needs soldiers. The fact is, soldiers just aren’t good enough,” she said. “We need some angels because angels make better listeners. Angels most often do God’s work through compassion, shown from one person another, one moment at a time.”
The abuse that occurred during Chilton’s childhood had a long-lasting effect on her, as it does on almost all victims. She said no child wants to be a victim, so she practiced denial in an attempt to be normal and learned to be obedient while someone hurt her.
She was often in a state of shock and was so terrified by age 10 that she would beg her mom to sleep with her. As a teenager, she felt devastatingly alone even in crowded school hallways because no one knew what she and her siblings were going through.
She said victims have a high chance of marrying pedophiles. When she was 20 years old, she married a man who ended up sexually abusing her 4-year-old daughter. She remarried, had twins and lived a happy life for 18 years, but got divorced and met a man who she described as a cunning perpetrator that abused her “horrifically” for 11 years.
“I was trapped, after all of that time, repeating the same childhood behavior,” she said.
The trigger for change came in 2013 when she watched the documentary “Happy” on Netflix. She said it talked about the principles people need in their lives to be happy, and she had none of them. She got the courage to go to an Al-Anon meeting and told a group of adults what was happening to her. With the help of a friend, she left her big house with nothing but the clothes on her back and obtained a protection order.
“Just going to an Al-Anon meeting helped to remind me that I was not alone in my suffering, but more importantly that I was not alone in my desire to overcome my situation,” she said.
“When a child feels isolated, when they lose hope, it diminishes their ability to face difficulties,” she continued. “If we remember that it is not just ourselves, but that everyone must undergo suffering, it gives a more realistic perspective and will increase our capacity to overcome our traumas. Developing a genuine sympathy for others helps to remove their pain. As a result, our own serenity and inner strength increases.”
Chilton said it is incredibly difficult for those who have been abused to share their stories, but it needs to be done to allow scars to heal. She recommended survivors do specific things to learn happiness, including sharing feelings with trusted friends or relatives, showing compassion for others, exercising regularly, discovering greater meaning, showing gratitude and developing their unique strengths to improve their self-esteem.
“It took me a long time to realize that I cannot change my past, but I can change the way I react to it,” she said. “Today, every day, it is time for me to be brave.”
So much of Jacki's story resonates painfully in me, including being in my 50's before even beginning to overcome the emotional and psychological damage done by my abusers.
Bless you, Jacki, you are my hero for today.
The Utah Department of Human Services has a statewide, 24-hour hotline for victims of domestic violence at 1-800-897-LINK (5465) and a child abuse and neglect hotline at 1-800-323-DCFS (3237).