Sophia Herron, a child welfare specialist at the Gingerbread House, shared insight about surviving childhood sexual abuse from her own personal experience and from the work she does with the children she helps.
The Times: Can you tell us more about your work as a child welfare specialist at the Gingerbread House?
Herron: My role is to talk to the kids when they first come in and answer any questions they might have. My job is to help them understand what's going on and what's going to happen. I show them pictures of the forensic interview rooms and the forensic interviewer and help them feel at ease so they're more comfortable when they're in the room with that person. Afterward I talk with them because they're sad, they're upset, they have a whole range of emotions going through them from talking to this forensic interviewer. My greatest joy when these kids come here is that I know if anything is happening to them, we can put a stop to that and we can help them.
The Times: What do you see most children go through emotionally when they undergo an investigation?
Herron: When kids come in here, some of them don't know what's going on. They might not understand what's happened to them because they're too young. But some of them do get it, and they're very fearful or terrified. Some of them think it's their fault. Sometimes these kids are being abused by someone they trust: a parent, a grandparent, an uncle, their sibling, a best friend... and they don't know how to say no to this person.
The Times: Tell us about your own story of surviving childhood sexual abuse.
Herron: It was really hard for a 13 year old to understand, to see someone you cared about hurt you so badly. I immediately thought I did something to deserve this, that this was my fault, so I didn't tell anyone. I definitely became less social because of it. If my parents had not been in my business, they would never have known. They asked, and I told them the truth, and that was really hard. I didn't want to break their hearts. You always have that little side of you that wonders, 'Will they really believe me, and will they take it seriously? Will they do something to stop it?'
It definitely messes with your self-esteem. I always struggled with that, always wondered, 'Am I worth it?' Even as a teenager, a college student, dating, you wonder: are you damaged goods, because you were abused, because somebody did something terrible to you?' I've gone through the abuse. I came out on the other side. I went through counseling. I made really good friends as support systems and great connections at the Gingerbread House. I'm glad that I got the courage to speak up. The more I talk about it, the more I do outreach, the more I can say I am making a difference with the bad situation that happened to me.
The Times: How did you find the courage to tell your story?
Herron: When I was first asked to share my story, I was very hesitant to. I thought about how hard it was going to be to share my story. I thought people would look at me different. I thought people were going to say, "She's a liar" or "She deserved it." But in my mind, I wanted to say something, because it does happen, it is a real thing, but we don't talk about it. If we don't talk about it, people don't know it's okay to speak up and say it's wrong and it shouldn't happen. It took a whole bunch of courage to tell what happened to me, as an adult, years after it happened.
The Times: What would you like to say to those who might have been through childhood sexual abuse?
Herron: Speak up. You're not alone. It's not a club anybody wants to join, but it really happens and there are people out there who will be there to support you and will be there to believe you and to help end that abuse and stop whatever pain you're going through. Keep telling until you find somebody who listens to you.