Sunday, November 25, 2001


Donated shoes and toiletries provided to clients of the Children's
Justice Center of Oahu are the little comforts of home that can help
make stays in the social service center just a little easier.

Child sex abuse
victim rebuilds her life

She hopes to help those, like her,
who were hurt by relatives

Rise in drug abuse, economic strains push
isle child abuse levels to highs

New family drug court targets abuse sources

By Helen Altonn

She was 9 years old when her grandfather began abusing her sexually.

Her stepfather and an uncle also molested her, stopping short at sexual intercourse.

Now 22, she attends college full-time and works full-time at the airport.

She doesn't dwell on the years of sexual abuse. "I'm sort of embarrassed to even talk about it. To this day, I don't share that information with anybody," said the woman who shared her story with the Star-Bulletin on the condition she not be identified.

"A lot of therapists would say it's better to bring it out, to explore your feelings ... But if you keep repeating it, it's like you didn't get over it."

She said her two daughters are "my therapy."

Despite tough times, she's moving toward her goals: a bachelor's degree in two years, then a masters degree in clinical psychology and a career in Child Protective Services or counseling.

"I feel I can touch the hearts of certain people and actually reform them to be a better person," she said.

"I think what kept me going was that I don't want to be like my mother. I swear to God, I'd tell myself, even when I was small, I don't want to be an alcoholic druggie, using the (welfare) system."

She said her parents were always on alcohol and drugs, so she grew up playing the mother role for her four sisters and brother. "I would shower them, feed them and do homework with them.

"When mom was sober, she would take over normal responsibilities as a mother, but she would have withdrawal so it would take at least a week before she was back to herself."

When her grandfather began sexually assaulting her, she said, "He would tell me if I ever told my mother, I would get in trouble ... He was very intimidating, a very scary person.

"He always wanted me to come over. I told my mom I didn't want to go to his house. She thought it was because he was a very strict and mean person."

How you can help abused children

The state needs homes for temporary, long-term and adoptive care for children removed from their homes. Interested people may call 877-367-1234 toll-free statewide.

She didn't think of going to the police: "I would never think of doing that at my age."

She didn't even feel safe telling her mother until her grandfather died about 10 years ago, she said. Then her mother revealed he also had sexually abused her.

The incident with the uncle happened once when he was drunk, but the problems with the stepfather continued until her mother saw him feeling her breast, she said.

"I didn't do anything ... I just stayed still, waiting for him to stop."

Her mother "broke down crying" and went to CPS and the police, she said.

She was questioned at the Children's Justice Center. "They wanted me to repeat all the stories I didn't want to talk about. I was so glad it was over.

"It was ironic. I remember at the time feeling sorry for my stepdad, too. I didn't want him to get in trouble because he was always so nice to me. At the same time, I wanted him to stop what he was doing. I just felt confused."

She said her stepfather was found guilty and had to go to classes.

Although her mother believed her at first, she started blaming her for not saying anything about what was happening, the woman said.

She tried to explain that she was afraid he would hurt her mother.

"He used to hit my mom. They used to argue a lot. They were always intoxicated and on drugs. She told me, 'oh, you must have liked it,' just comments you don't tell a 12-year old, and I would always cry."

Her daughters attend Head Start during the day and she pays a sister to watch them at night when she's at work. Squeezed for time, she often stays up until 3 a.m. to do homework. Her first class is at 8 a.m.

"I'm lucky if I can get a couple hours (sleep) in there," she said.

"I love school. I wish I could put more time in my studies so I could get better grades," she said, noting one C among her three As and a B.

She's separated from the children's father, but he sees them weekly, she said.

She said she had a "really, really hard time" when her children were born. "I was stuck with a lot of bills I had to pay off slowly." But her daughters are the joy of her life.

"That's what I look forward to every day and my day off, when I can spend time with them, take them to the park and the zoo."

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