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3 Survivors of childhood sexual abuse
by Lesli Foster -- Washington, DC (WUSA9)
For decades, the people you are about to meet lived with painful secrets they were afraid to reveal. Secrets - that upended their childhoods, tore apart families and haunt them today.
WUSA 9 anchor Lesli Foster sat down with three survivors of child sexual abuse to talk about their journey from hurt to healing.
It's a path weighed down with emotional baggage they didn't begin to unpack for decades.
Al Chesley is a former NFL football player and children's advocate. Joy T.J. Riley is an author and speaker. And, Valerie Meola is also an author who speaks out about abuse and prevention.
Here are their stories.
"It was something I thought I was going to take to the grave with me," says Al Chesley.
“By the time I had been told it was okay to tell, it had already happened. By a couple of abusers," says Joy T. J. Riley.
“I carried my secret for almost 50 years,” says Valerie Meola.
A close family member – among others. A babysitter, family friend and neighbor. A police officer. It wasn't strangers they needed to fear. And they were not monsters lurking in the dark. In every case these survivors were victimized by people they knew, loved and trusted.
Joy wanted to tell her story. Her family did not want to talk about it. "A lot of responses were, it's your fault. It makes you feel like, why am I still here. Let's be honest, in the African American community, there's a taboo about a lot of things. And, that's one of them.”
Valerie writes poetry to process her pain. Her mother still doesn't know about her abuse.
Reading an excerpt from her book, The Monster's Game, Joy says "She's five years old, but she's not afraid of the boogie man, cause the boogie man knows her name. She'd tell the ogre to go away, but she's too little to complain.”
In recent weeks, 17 children have been identified as sex abuse victims at a Prince George's County elementary school. Deonte Carraway, 22, is facing multiple federal charges of producing child pornography. He was a teacher's aide and volunteer.
"If you could talk to the parents and caregivers and people who are entrusted with the care of the children right now who've endured abuse, and are now just learning, what would you say to them?" asks WUSA9's Lesli Foster.
"At this point, it's not about how could this have happened. It has happened, let's deal with it. The parents are just as traumatized as the kids. They need help us as much," says Joy T.J. Riley.
Al is a retired NFL player for the Philadelphia Eagles and Chicago Bears. As a teen, he was groomed and violated by a police officer. He reported the crime years later, but was told it was too late.
"She says, well it's been 20 years. I'm sorry we can't do anything. Maybe you should get some therapy," says Al Chesley. “For so long, I felt complicit. Why didn't I run away from that guy? He'd sit his gun down. Why didn't I just take his gun and shoot him? It's just like murder. You're murdering that kid's heart.”
You can protect your children from child sex abuse. It starts with education.
"Give them the vocabulary and the language to be able to say this is what happened to me. They have to know that they can say ‘no.' Because we teach kids, never say no to an adult," says Valerie Meola.
“Get the thought out of your head that it will never be your child. That it will never be your school. That it will never be a family member," says Joy T.J. Riley.
Children who suffer from child abuse can go on to survive and thrive, with help. These survivors say sharing their stories is part of that process.
"I can't say I'm 90% healed or 99% healed. But I'm better, I'm stronger," says Valerie Meola.
"Writing and my faith have really been instrumental in healing," says Joy T.J. Riley.
"Each day I ask myself, well Al, how free do you want to be? Here I am with Lesli and Joy and Valerie. I'm grateful," says Al Chesley.
Al, Joy and Valerie all say talking about their experiences helps to free them from decades of pain. They've each benefited from various types of therapy. For Al, that included attending a 12 step program where he was finally able to acknowledge what happened to him. Al spends his time pushing for an end to statues on reporting child sex abuse. Joy wants Maryland to include penalties who know but don't report the crime. And, Valerie speaks out about the need for greater education and prevention.
Safe Shores offers a free class to help stop and spot the hands that hurt. To learn more about Safe Shores, the class and resources to protect children, click here.