It’s the Secrets that Kill Your Soul
By: Samantha Phipps, Executive Director
Family Violence Coalition of Yancey County, Inc.

April and spring. Soft new grass peeks out from the ground. Trees and flowers burst forth with blooms. A time of rebirth and renewal of the spirit. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. April is also Child Abuse Prevention Month. The two go hand-in- hand. Negative hardcore issues to acknowledge, let alone discuss as being real issues in OUR community. All too often children are told to keep sexual and physical abuse incidents as “secrets.” All too often these children grow into adulthood still keeping the family secrets.

Yesterday I was sitting in my office holding a six week old baby while her mother, a client of ours, was on the telephone. It had been a long time since I held such a little baby and I marveled at how alert her eyes were as she studied my face as I was making silly faces at her. I thought of how new and fresh this little scrap of humanity was who I was holding. How trusting, in me, a stranger to her. I thought of how many years this little person has ahead of her and that I might not ever see her again as her mother was making plans to move to another state. I silently wished and prayed for her safety and love in her life. Having worked in the field of homelessness, domestic violence, sexual assault, and child protective services for a combined total of over 24 years, I have thousands of stories I carry in my head of innocent lives desecrated by evil, angry, and or stupid acts. Thousands of secrets. Many of those thousands of secrets were finally disclosed by children and adults or I would never have known their respective stories. The cycle of denial and secrets CAN be broken. Then, and only then can the victim survivor enjoy rebirth and renewal of his or her spirit. A life can move forward.

Easter. A time of rebirth and renewal of the spirit…. Over Easter break I was carrying the crisis line for the FVC and received a call on Easter Monday from a woman who is 62 years old and has agreed for me to share portions of her story. I will call her “Sally” to keep her identity anonymous. “Sally” explained that she is wrestling with sexual abuse/molestation memories from over fifty years ago. She has been in and out of therapy and is coping well. She has a career and helps folks in this community lead more fulfilling lives. She is giving back to others. She is funny and bright and kind. However, she is still wrestling with the past in trying to get her older brother to acknowledge the sexual abuse she suffered as a child at the hands of their father. “Sally” said, “He actually witnessed some of the acts my father did to me and still he denies it ever happened. My brother is bullying me into thinking it NEVER happened. I KNOW it did.” Both “Sally’s” mother and father are now dead and she said she feels “so free.” She wants her brother to celebrate in her newfound freedom – of letting go of the secrets. She must face the fact that her brother, whom she said was a victim of physical abuse as a child at the hands of their father, may never be ready to face this reality. “Sally” feels obligated to help her brother noting, “You can get over the sexual abuse over time with therapy, but it’s the secrets that kill your soul.”

It is NEVER too late to heal. Back in 1994 when I was a very new DSS Child Protective Services Social Worker in S.C., my 88 year old paternal grandmother was visiting. She was questioning me about my new job, then asked me, “So, you work with children who have been raped by their father and the like?” I said that I did. She asked, “So they consider that abuse now?” I said that the State of S.C. certainly did. My 88 year old grandmother then said, “Well, then I guess I was an abused child!” My grandma then wove a tale traveling back 75 to 80 years or so back in time. Back when the outskirts of Durham, N.C. and Chapel Hill were rural and farming was the way of life. She told the story of being the youngest child and the only girl in a family with six older brothers. She wistfully defended one of her older brothers, Roy, who later in life was a real roustabout, noting, “Folks can say all they want to about Roy S., but he protected me from Papa. Roy would stand up to Papa and he would say, ‘Old man, if you EVER hurt my sister again I’ll kill you!’ She continued by stating, “There were many times when my brothers heard Papa coming home in the wagon they’d hide me under the house.” My grandma never went into much detail about the actual abuse, but I read between the lines. Secrets she had held for possibly more than 80 years came tumbling out of her mouth, out of her soul, and when she died at the age of 93 she was free from the ghosts of her childhood. It’s the secrets that kill your soul.

It is never too late to heal from the past trauma inflicted upon us. We also have the opportunity these days to PREVENT sexual and physical abuse from happening to children in our communities and to INTERVENE when a need is known. We CAN make the suffering stop and we CAN help make the secrecy end. In the State of North Carolina EVERY citizen is a mandated reporter when it comes to child abuse and neglect. If you know of a child who is being sexually or physically abused you have both a legal and a moral obligation to report it. Reports involving children are to be reported to the local county Department of Social Services. In Yancey County the phone number is (828) 682-2470. In Mitchell County the number to call is (828) 688-2175. For after hours, weekend and holiday emergencies involving child abuse contact the local Sheriff’s Department and they will notify DSS. If you are an adult dealing with a recent sexual assault, an old sexual assault, or domestic violence call the Family Violence Coalition of Yancey County at 682-0056. In Mitchell Co. call Safe Place at 765-4044.