We often connect with many of the young women who have participated in the STARR Program months or years later, to inquire as to how their lives are working now. We also ask them how they see their future and to describe how they turned their scars into stars…in spite of the past abusive events in their lives.
The stories you are about to read are bittersweet…while heartbreaking that these young women endured so much abuse, their transformations are both inspiring and encouraging to all of us. Here are their stories….
I would like to start off by just stating that I owe everything that I am today to CARTE and the STARR Program. We all have a story and for some, it is a scary and dark one. There were times when I felt like there was no way out and nobody to help me. Fear and anger seemed like the only emotions that were present on a daily basis. There were times when it seemed so hard to find the light at the end of the tunnel. But there was light. My light was CARTE. To this day, at the age of 30, I think about the gift that CARTE gave me. Working with the women at CARTE gave me my life back and taught me to be the woman I am today.
My abuse was spread out over a period of 9 years and all by different perpetrators. From the age of 6 to the age of 15 it was just a continuous cycle and it seemed like it would never end. I felt guilt, fear, pain and for a long period of time I could not even look in the mirror. The ugliness of my abuse was trapped in my soul and I felt like my entire world was centered on my abuse and all the negativity that came along with it. That was how I identified myself. I identified as a victim.
When I was 6, I was sexually abused (raped and sodomized) by my babysitter’s 20 year-old son. I never told my mother until about 2 years later. I went through the routine doctor’s appointments and therapy for awhile. My mother and father became addicted to alcohol and drugs and we never talked about the abuse after that. Nothing happened to my babysitter’s son; I waited too long to tell.
From the age of 10 to the age of 12 I had three different perpetrators. First, when I was 10 my friend and I were both given alcohol and abused by the school janitor. I knew what was happening was wrong but I felt like my body did not belong to me. I was left with guilt and shame. I didn’t protect myself nor did I protect my friend.
Next a family friend who called himself “my uncle” started staying with us. He constantly touched me inappropriately and said things that should not have been said. Although he was never charged with my abuse he later got arrested after abusing another 11 year-old girl.
At the age of 12, I got involved with martial arts. It was something that I was really good at and I later started helping my karate teachers with their classes. I felt proud of my accomplishments and I also felt proud that my family took interest in something that was a natural gift for me. After some time I was molested by one of the karate instructors and that was the beginning of my drug use. I heard rumors that he got arrested later that month for a drug abuse charge.
At 13, I met a family (call them Mary & Bob) I thought really cared about me. They were my world and I felt like they were my protectors. At this point, both of my parents were strung out on meth and my mother was drinking heavily. This family was my solace and they helped me with school, advice and finances. I started using meth at this young age of 13, Bob was my supplier. I felt stronger, more confident, and less depressed while using. I kept my drug addiction a secret. I did not want to disappoint Mary. It was at this point that Bob started molesting me and another younger girl and taking kiddy porn pictures of us both. I felt sick to my stomach when I found this out. Bob used his guns to intimidate me and molest me. I had a serious altercation with Bob when I refused him but I decided to tell Mary.
I explained to her what he had done to me, as well as her god daughter. I explained the pictures, the pain, the violence and the lies. She never believed me and said that I was not welcome around her or her family and told me to never go near her son. She disowned me. I felt lost and confused. I loved Mary like she was my own mother and I felt like I lost everything. They moved out of state and had a baby girl. That was when I had my first suicide attempt.
I later got into therapy after all these incidents. My drug use got even worse and my family life was tough. My parents did not know the details of what was going on with me. I did not feel safe telling them or anyone else. I told my parents that I needed to go away for awhile and I felt like I was not safe. They did not understand but they let me go. I put myself in a shelter for awhile so I could collect my thoughts and also feel safe at the same time. After leaving the shelter I returned to school and my home. I stayed in therapy but my therapist felt like I needed a stronger push to help me through my healing process. My therapist referred me to the CARTE program.
I talked to my parents about CARTE and they were very hesitant. They did not feel comfortable at all with me spilling my “dirty laundry” everywhere. They finally caved in and let me go. I was one of the only girls at that time not really in the system. I came from a family with a mother and father. They were very dysfunctional with their drug use and drinking but I had both of them in my life. I became grateful for what I did have in the very beginning.
I remember starting CARTE scared and shut down. Being in a setting like this was very new to me. I never felt good around adults because they scared me. I never felt comfortable around my peers because I always felt like an outcast and uncomfortable in my own skin. After the first couple of visits I started to open up and I started to trust them. As time went on, I started feeling safe and an abundance of love. I felt protected and I felt like everyone cared. I learned to trust again.
In Stage 1 of the STARR Program the facilitators and staff pushed me with all of the writing exercises and music therapy. The “therapy” was so powerful that sometimes it was very hard to deal with all the emotions that would come up. There were always lots of tears and I often fought them. At times I felt physically sick when trying to deal with my pain. The facilitators knew how to call me on my stuff and they knew how to hold me accountable for my own life and decisions. They stuck with me and never gave up, even through the roughest times.
Stage 2 was STARR Super Camp. Super Camp was the most powerful experience ever. It was very intense and very empowering. At camp, I learned how to trust others and trust myself. I learned how to love, how to take in life and I learned to laugh again. The most important lesson that was taught to me was forgiveness. Learning to forgive set me free from a lot of pain. I was now comfortable with myself and very confident. Super Camp gave me the power to take back my own life and live it to my fullest extent. I learned that I had a lot to offer and also a lot to give. With more writing assignments, group exercises and ropes courses, the week ended up being very emotional and powerful. I still hold within me the strength that was given to me over that week. After camp ended, I can honestly say through all the ups and downs (sometimes it wasn’t easy) that I was going to miss everyone. I was going to miss the love and compassion that these women gave me and even the tough love.
Stage 3 was the STARR Leadership/Accomplishment Program. We had a great group of teens in my group. We all bonded and they all actually saw something in me that I never saw. They saw me as a leader and they looked up to me. They felt safe in my company and with my friendship. This was all very new to me. I was always the girl “looking in from the outside” and before CARTE my social skills were out the window. I could never look anyone in the eye, I could never trust anyone (including myself) and I certainly never saw myself as a leader. At the end of the STARR Leadership/Accomplishment Program, the group gave me the leadership award. This was given to me by my peers. I received a beautiful plaque and so many nice words that were very hard for me to take in. It was very hard for me at that time to take in compliments and love and at the same time, it felt wonderful.
I knew from that point on, that CARTE helped me in so many ways. I could now live my life with no regrets and I knew how to deal with my pain in better ways. After I turned 18, I went back to help staff for CARTE and that was another amazing experience. To give back to a program that helped me tremendously was a dynamic experience. I got to give back with a clean mind. I stopped using meth and my head was finally clear. This alone was a tremendous accomplishment. I will always hold CARTE and all of the women running it very close to my heart. Without that experience I am sure my life would be very different. CARTE gave me the tools to go forward in my life despite the hardships and trials.
My father ended up being arrested for domestic violence and drug abuse and my mother was left homeless for awhile. At that point I knew that it was time for me to step up to the plate and take control of my life for the first time. I went to the conservation corps and learned to live life to its fullest extent. I was now my own person with my own passion and goals. I now had the direction that I had been looking for, for so long. From there, I moved on and developed many good relationships and life experiences. I traveled, I played and I laughed. Life was good and I was proud to live it.
When I was 28 I lost my mother to a heart attack. The drug abuse finally took its toll on her. For so many years I stayed angry with her and it was hard for me to let that go. I felt stuck with the pain and resentment. I strongly believe if it was not for CARTE, forgiveness would have never been an option. I feel secure enough to say that my love is strong for her and I miss her everyday. As for my father, we have a beautiful relationship. We laugh together and we now talk on a more serious level. He is now clean and I am happy to say that I am extremely proud of him. I love him for being so strong.
I am now 30 years old and I have a great job and great friends. My relationships are healthy and I no longer live my life as a victim. I remember times when I used to think about my abuse on a daily basis. I used to want to escape and I always felt alone. It is not like that for me any longer. My life is no longer defined by my abuse it is defined by my new experiences as I live life as it is today. It is defined by joy, fun, love, healthy relationships and passion. CARTE was my light and lifeline and I am now a thriving survivor. PC – written and submitted to CARTE 6/2/07 – modified for website 8/23/07.
My mother, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of 19, had been sexually abused by multiple perpetrators, and from what I have heard, her mother before her. I begin with this included in my testimony, because it tells of the vicious cycle of abuse in families and until that cycle is broken there is so much pain and suffering of children. We know that the cycle of sexual abuse will continue to be repeated if it is not interrupted in some way.
I entered the foster care system at the very tender age of 3 years old, when my mother could no longer care for my brothers and me because of her sickness. We were placed in numerous foster homes at this time. At the age of 6, my mother took us out of state to visit my father and from that time on, I recall feeling the inner pain of shame.
Over the next few years we were moved between being home with our mother and countless foster homes. I recall being told that as the youngest child in the family I would have to be responsible for taking care of my mom. I always felt as if I were at fault if things went wrong with her, like somehow I had done something to cause it. She would lose it, I would summon medical attention, we would get taken to another foster home, and that cycle would repeat itself over and over.
At the age of 8, I was matched up with a Big Sister, through the Big Brothers/ Big Sisters Organization, a mentoring program for kids in the system. My first heroine was a woman named Kathy who stepped in and went above and beyond the call of duty. She would take me to amusement parks, museums, to my favorite restaurants, and to places of interest, that I otherwise would never have had the opportunity to experience. I created a code with her where I would often call her on the phone and tell her “it was raining” when things were bad, or “it was snowing” when things were really bad. She would immediately come to my rescue.
Although there were some blank spaces in my memory I do recall one of our foster placements was with a very abusive family. My brothers and I shared a room, and we were not allowed to leave our room until their family left, and then we could eat whatever scraps were available. It was then that my brothers and I began to pray, and prayer was all we had. I somehow always knew that my soul was untouchable and that no matter what events occurred in my life it was my soul and who I was that would truly never be damaged. Although I cannot specifically recall the events, I know there was sexual child abuse in that house. A social worker became aware of the circumstances, and we were taken out of this abusive home. That was definitely an answer to our prayers.
When I was 10, the courts decided that my brothers and I needed a permanent placement, as my mom could no longer care for herself, and she needed long-term hospitalization. When the courts were deciding the possibility of sending us to live with my father and stepmother, my Big Sister Kathy, stepped in. She explained there was evidence that my older sister had been sexually abused by my father but charges were filed and dropped because ‘nobody believed her’. With this information and the knowledge that my father was in prison serving a sentence for drug smuggling we were still placed in the custody of my father and stepmother. My stepmother was physically and mentally abusive, immediately upon our arrival. She would often say; “you just wait until your father comes home”. Little did I understand then what she meant but I thought it could not get any worse…and I was so wrong. She would physically beat me, and when I showed response to the physical pain she would continue. I was often punished with food restrictions.
Our father was released on parole within one year. My sexual abuse began again immediately upon his release. This time he introduced alcohol and various drugs to me, as a means of forcing me to forget what was being done to me. Often I thought I was going to die in the midst of the pain. This is when my own addictions of drugs and alcohol started, as well as my eating disorders. The details of the following years of sexual abuse, with multiple perpetrators, which involved some of my friends, are still too painful to disclose.
At the age of 15, when my father took a trip, one of my older brothers, a police officer and my savior, talked to me about my abuse. After moving me out of state, and moving me in with my half-sister, my brother called and asked me if I was ready to disclose my abuse to the police, in order to have my father arrested. That was a very frightening experience but at the same time I began to see hope. Although the abuse was over, my struggle with all of this was just beginning. I gathered the courage, strength and determination to see it through and I went back ready to face my father.
I met with two officers from the sex crime division (my next heroes) who helped me through this process, and because my father knew there was no way out for him, he pled guilty and was sentenced to twenty five years behind bars. I knew I had done the right thing and saved many more victims from his abuse… and I was now free, or so I thought.
At the time when the trial was scheduled to start, I lived with a family with three children. Rob and Cindy were wonderful to me. Cindy flew back with me to support me when we thought I would have to testify in court. We stayed in a shelter for battered women and children to protect me from my father. I wanted to include this in my story because I remember sharing my story in the shelter and feeling like I made a difference to them, proving to them they could do the same; stand up for themselves against their own abuse. For me, it was no longer going to be a deep, dark secret. I am living proof there is hope and a light at the end of that tunnel of darkness for those who may be reading this and have been victims of child abuse.
As I expressed earlier I was not free yet. I spent the next few years in my own prison of alcohol, drug and sexual addictions and eating disorders, which at one point took me to the brink of death. I was hospitalized and went to the best clinics in the country for my eating disorders and in all these programs my sexual abuse was not truly addressed in any depth. I was terrified to show my body until I almost disappeared. To further protect myself from any other sexual abuse I covered my body with layers of clothing.
When I was 18, I was living in a girl’s group home when I was urged by my therapist to attend something called the CARTE SuperCamp Program, for teenage girls and boys who had been sexually abused. At that time, CARTE was providing a program for both sexes. Although I told her I was afraid, she convinced me to go. Participating in SuperCamp truly saved my life. I cannot even begin to put into words the level of gratitude I have towards the women of CARTE. They have stood with me through years of darkness and despair and carried me through with an undying level of commitment and love.
Because of my willingness to turn my life around and the CARTE programs, I am the woman I am today. I am a loving wife and the mother of two beautiful innocent daughters. My husband knows all there is to know about me and loves me unconditionally. I AM the mother I am today because of the modeling from the CARTE women. Our daughters know they are loved unconditionally, and that their voices matter in this world. What happened to me, the sexual abuse, will not continue in my family with my children, their children, and the generations to come.
I learned by going through the CARTE STARR Program that there was a way out, there was hope, and that my abuse did not define me as a woman. I began to shed the layers of secrets, and the shame I continued to carry. And, it was there, that I began to heal, and do the work necessary to forgive myself and work through the darkness to the light where I am today.
I remember participating in one of the ropes courses, and how terrifying it was at the time, to trust another person, when my buddy said to me “WE can do this” and we used each other for support. I knew after completing the program that this was only the beginning. This is when I began to experience the true joys in my life, and all that was waiting for me.
Like the starfish story describes, ‘it made a difference to this one’. We can slow down the cycle of abuse and stop it in our own families. I soon began an intensive leadership program with CARTE where we took it to the next level. I say we because it was in partnership with the facilitators and my group. I made the choice and did the work necessary to see my life differently and began to set personal goals; ‘ if it was to be, it was up to me’ .
Upon completing the CARTE leadership program, I wanted to give back and be a part of changing other girl’s lives, like my own had been so radically changed. I went back several times to serve on staff. There was a time when I couldn’t imagine myself sober for even a day. I have now been completely sober for 9 years and free from those compulsions that once ruled my life. I now feel good in my own skin. Because of CARTE, my daughters will experience the pure joys in life, the freedom to be innocent children and then to become the powerful women they deserve to be.
My personal life mission is to support others through this darkness, and to continue with CARTE to be a beacon of light. I know God had a big plan for me through all of this… and with my faith I am living proof of it today – written on 9-03-07 by a past graduate of the STARR Program.