Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Conference will offer safe space for dialogue about childhood sexual assault By Jackie Bussjaeger/Staff Writer

Conference will offer safe space for dialogue about childhood sexual assault

  • By Jackie Bussjaeger/Staff Writer

STILLWATER — Sexual abuse is a subject that many think of as difficult to talk about, but a conference in Stillwater this November will tackle the topic head-on in an attempt to remove the stigma and promote healing for survivors of childhood sexual assault.
The conference is hosted by Stillwater-based EmpowerSurvivors. The nonprofit’s mission is to provide safe spaces for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse in the St. Croix Valley and surrounding areas by reducing isolation, mitigating feelings of shame, rebuilding trust and providing empowerment through peer support groups.
The conference, which is entitled “Giving Voice: EmpowerSurvivors 2016” will take place Saturday, Nov. 5 at the Grand Banquet Hall in downtown Stillwater. The keynote speaker is Matthew Sandusky, the son of Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, who was sentenced for sexual abuse of underage students in 2012. Matthew will discuss his own abuse by his adoptive father and later share the ways he recovered from his trauma and launched a successful career. 
The program will also feature presentations from representatives of Cornerstone,  a sexual violence-prevention organization based in Bloomington. The speakers will offer a basic definition of childhood sexual abuse, including its damaging effects that can and often do persist. They will also discuss trauma and PTSD and ways of managing these conditions. The day ends with a panel discussion composed of panelists who are local survivors of child sexual abuse. 
Stillwater resident Elizabeth Sullivan began EmpowerSurvivors in 2014 as a way to provide resources to other survivors in the community. As a survivor herself, she began educating herself about the psychological trauma and other long-suppressed effects that adult survivors endure. She said it’s common for adults to reach middle age before the negative effects of psychological damage even begin to show. 
“The kids who are lucky enough—and they are lucky—to have somebody pick up on this, they are way better off than the child who never told or who told and wasn’t believed,” she said. “These adults who never had that chance are now dealing with this as an adult, and they may be married, and all that stuff will affect how they raise their kids, how they deal with an employer, how their medical health is. This isn’t something that just affects the survivor; it affects the community as a whole.” 
Contrasting it with the public alarm raised surrounding the threat of Zika virus, for example, Sullivan pointed out that many of the most dangerous threats to children are much closer at hand. One in every four girls and one in every six boys are subjected to childhood sexual abuse sometime before the age of 18. And though schools and parents vigilantly warn of “stranger danger,” Sullivan said more than 90 percent of assaults are committed by someone who is known to the victim. 
“There are things that we can be doing to reduce this and it happens in every neighborhood, every ethnic group, and in every family,” she said. “In every family, there’s going to be someone who’s sexually abused. They may not know it, but it’s there.” 
The statistics are shocking, and part of the reason is because the pandemic of childhood sexual abuse is so widespread, but discussed so rarely.
“Sexual abuse is so prevalent in our society, yet it’s really, really hard for people to talk about because it makes them uncomfortable,” Sullivan said. “It’s a struggle to get people, whether it’s a school board or local churches to talk about this, and I want to kind of help people feel more relaxed about talking about this.”
Sullivan said that the statistics — already as high as they are — likely do not represent an accurate picture of just how extensive abuse is because many children do not report their abuse, whether it’s out of fear, guilt, shame or for some other reason. They often suppress the feelings and memories associated with abuse, and Sullivan said that the suppression often comes to a critical point during middle age in adult survivors. 
“Them not dealing with that has a way of coming back in adulthood,” she said. “The average age is 42 that these kids actually start to deal with it. Something will happen in their present life that triggers all this stuff from the past. It might be something like all the abuse coming out from the Archdiocese; that might trigger a lot of people, or it can be as simple as having a baby, or your children get to the ages that you were when you were sexually abused and you get triggered. So all of a sudden these kids that took all that in and also took in a lot of lies due to that are all of a sudden at 42 being reduced to a 10-year-old or 13-year-old.”
Trauma may manifest in adulthood in the form of flashbacks and intrusive thoughts, or serious disorders such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, fibromyalgia or any number of chronic conditions.
“We have kids who are sexually abused at an alarming rate,” Sullivan said. “And it goes on generation after generation because people don’t talk about it. The more I started to realize this, I realized we have to do something and support these adults.” 
EmpowerSurvivors’ mission is to provide a safe space for those conversations to take place, especially by creating a support group of fellow survivors. The organization recently became a nonprofit, and Sullivan hopes this will enable her to offer more wellness events for survivors and education for the community at large. She wants all parents, teachers and community leaders to know the warning signs, which are often written off as juvenile delinquency. Even medical professionals have more to learn about trauma and the way it affects the mind and body, Sullivan said.
Sullivan also hopes that the conference will become a yearly event. In the meantime, she plans to continue her educational and support services for adult survivors in the St. Croix Valley and beyond.
“If they are a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, it wasn’t their fault,” Sullivan said. “The shame keeps you silent, but there is healing that can be had and you can heal from this. It’s important they get support, because the majority of survivors don’t get support from family or community. It’s really at a pandemic level. Worldwide.”
EmpowerSurvivors meets every Thursday 6-7:30 p.m. at Joseph H. Roach Hall (208 Third St. S., Stillwater). Each meeting begins with a 15-minute topic discussion, such as grounding techniques and ways to deal with the various symptoms of trauma. The rest of the meeting consists of whatever members care to discuss. New members are always welcome and there is no fee to attend an EmpowerSurvivors peer support group.
Sullivan can be regularly heard on the radio show hosted by NAASCA (National Association for Adult Survivors of Child Abuse), where she has discussed her own survivor story. She also recommended to resources RAINN, 1in6 for male survivors, Cornerstone and NAASCA. To learn more about the conference and EmpowerSurvivors in general, visitwww.empowersurvivors.net
Jackie Bussjaeger can be reached at 651-407-1229 or lowdownnews@presspubs.com

Monday, October 24, 2016



Elizabeth Sullivan from EmpowerSurvivors cuts the ribbon at a Chamber welcome celebration

Chamber Welcomes Non Profit, EmpowerSurvivors

STILLWATER, MN – Greater Stillwater Chamber of Commerce Ambassadors joined EmpowerSurvivors Director, Elizabeth Sullivan along with her family, board members and supporters at a welcome celebration on October 18 at Rivertown Inn Bed & Breakfast in Stilwater.

Founded in 2014, with non-profit status as of July 2016, EmpowerSurvivors is a Stillwater based, peer led nonprofit organization for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse that promotes individual and group peer support. They offer both online and offline peer group support, individual support, and education on childhood sexual abuse and prevention. Group meetings are currently held Thursdays at Roach Hall, 921 N Fourth St, Stillwater from 6:00-7:30pm.

“We want to bring attention to this extremely common, and very important issue that is so often not discussed or addressed” stated Elizabeth Sullivan. “Adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse are everywhere and this issue often affects a person for their whole life, even if it has been repressed for decades”.

EmpowerSurvivors is run by adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. They focus on supporting the survivor in mind, body and spirit through peer support, education and prevention. They will soon be launching resources to help others start up peer support groups in their communities.

Their first annual conference, “Giving Voice- EmpowerSurvivors 2016” will take place Saturday, November 5 from 8:30-5:00 at The Grand Banquet Hall in Stillwater. The keynote speaker is Matthew Sandusky who was molested by his father, Jerry Sandusky from Penn State. Matthew has gone on to form his own nonprofit. The event will also include education from nonprofit, Cornerstone, free acupuncture, and yoga, and much more. Tickets will not be sold the day of the event and can be purchased online at EmpowerSurvivors.net.





Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Silence

                                            The Silence

At 19 years old, Cleo Tellier directed her first film The Silence, which won over 50 awards across the world and got over 30 additional nominations. After The Silence became OSCAR eligible, Cleo made her second film, Mishka (TRAILER RELEASE: DECEMBER 2016).Ann, Leslie, Isabelle and Jerome were four out of the two million children who live in foster care all around the world. Before their life in foster care, they were forgotten, abused, unseen and unloved. Today, they decide to break the silence surrounding child abuse, and share their story to the world in a heartbreaking way.


I watched this film this morning,while drinking my morning cup of coffee.
It is amazing to me how the young 19 year old Cleo Tellier can create a film that captures the truth about childhood sexual abuse and can show in such a short period of time what childhood sexual abuse is like for a child. 

Childhood sexual abuse is a silent epidemic in our country and one that most do not want to talk about. Let's face it, childhood sexual abuse is one of the last taboos, it makes people uncomfortable to talk about and most non survivors can never truly know what it feels like to have this crime done to them in childhood and then try to function as a healthy adult in this world. 

As survivors, most of us stay silent. Why is that? 

 We stay silent because we may have tried telling someone only to have them shut us down or not believe us. We stay silent because we were threatened, scared into silence, think of ourselves as damaged goods, and feel dirty. We stay silent because childhood sexual abuse is perpetrated behind closed doors and some of us returned to the room again, and again, and again. We stay silent because deep down we believe we were at fault. Some of us take this secret to our graves never telling a soul. Some of us kill ourselves because we can't stand the pain of reliving that experience over and over and over again in our heads. Some of us stay silent because when we did try to tell, we were beat, ostracized, unsupported.

For those children that never broke their silences the pain does not stop because the abuse stopped. Trauma is stored deep in the mind, in the body and in the soul of that child. That child begins to live a life built on the belief system that they will never be good enough, clean enough, smart enough, loved enough. These children take the blame, the hit. The blame that is NEVER the fault of a child.

Many of us went on to have troubles in school, early pregnancies, drug addictions, alcohol addictions, and mental or medical health issues. We may have issues with sexual identity, relationships, authority, self image, intimacy, flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, anxiety, and PTSD, just to name a few.

Then we grow into adults.

We may have buried the pain, the sexual abuse, our childhood deep inside of ourselves to only have the memories come screaming back in our mid life. For the average adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse we don't begin to deal with the abuse done to us till we hit our 40's or above. Something in our current lives trigger the memories and we may again be right back in the mindset of that child. Frozen in fear, isolating to stay safe, flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, and a world that seems to be suddenly turned upside down. We may look 40, 50, 60, 70 but inside there is the child screaming, begging to be seen, heard, and loved.

When we are silent, whether as a community or individual , we cannot find healing. We cannot prevent this from happening to others, we cannot recognize the signs and symptoms of children that are being sexually abused. 

Childhood sexual abuse does not have to be a death sentence but it does need to be talked about, processed, and validated. Victims of childhood sexual abuse can heal. The abuse does not need to own us. We can learn and educate ourselves, break the chains of shame, and stop the abuse in our generation so it does not happen to our children and our children's children. 
We can unlearn too. Unlearn the lies we believed due to abuse, unlearn the unhealthy lifestyles we may have developed as a result of abuse, and unlearn the self hate we may have been putting ourselves through all our lives.

As a community of people we can lower the risks of our children being sexually abused. As a community we can start talking about this epidemic that plagues so many children, we can learn, we can become educated on how to talk to our kids, how to teach prevention, how to train adults on the signs and symptoms of childhood sexual abuse. We can heal. 

To heal we must break our silence. This is where the healing begins. Just as we can not grow a garden in the dark we cannot grow in our healing in the darkness of silence.

It is also time to break our silence as a community of people. Our communities will become safer for our children if we can break the silences that surround the silence of childhood sexual abuse. Communities need to be educated on childhood sexual abuse, taught how to support survivors of any age, and how to prevent and when prevention fails to take action.

Join me today. Break the silence

Give Voice-
Elizabeth Sullivan
CEO/President of EmpowerSurvivors