Rape, Incest Survivor Speaks Out

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April is National Sexual Assault Awareness month as well as National Child Abuse Prevention month. Here's why she says victims should break their silence. (iStockPhoto | midkam)

April is National Sexual Assault Awareness month, as well as National Child Abuse Prevention month in recognition of the pervasiveness of sexual assault nationwide. Sexual violence, including child sexual abuse, spans all ages, genders, races, ethnicities and economic backgrounds. According to a Child Maltreatment report from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Children's Bureau, 60,956 cases of child sexual abuse were reported in the United States in 2013.

On top of the guilt and shame that abuse can bring, most victims know their attackers, which can lead them to be silent about their traumatic experience. Staying silent, however, does not lead to healing, according to Shannon Deitz, abuse survivor and founder of Hopeful Hearts Ministry.

What has inspired you to reach out to others?

I am a survivor of rape and incest. The years I kept the facts of these traumas within me led me down some dark paths that were filled with bad decisions based on my lack of worth and self-esteem. I want to educate and reach out to other survivors before they get entangled in that dark path and make decisions that can affect them for the rest of their life, adding to the trauma of what has been done or said to them in the past.

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Your book, Exposed: Inexcusable Me...Irreplaceable Him, is a no-holds-barred accounting of your personal self-destructive journey and how, with God's help, you triumphed. Why do you feel it is important for you to share your story?

When I began to live my life in the freedom of being a survivor, no longer tethered to chains of negativity, pessimism and insecurity, I realized how much I longed to see others free from these same chains. I knew the only way to reach others was to tell my story in its truth and entirety. What helped in my healing process was to hear other stories similar to mine and to witness their successful triumph and victory overcoming their past. I began to realize if they could do it, I could too. By writing Exposed, I wanted to share both the stumbling and the victories so that others could relate and recognize that they could also be victorious.

How has sharing your story with others helped you in your journey to healing?

The more you share the truth about your experience, the easier it is to accept it and move past it in order to embrace your present and future. By sharing my story I find that it gives me strength and fortifies the healing process. What has been "done" to me is a part of who I am, but it doesn't define who I am. In fact, I've come to the place where I can thank God for every aspect of my life, the dark and ugly moments, along with the joyous times, because He has brought good from it all and allowed me to recognize that I am stronger because of it.

Low self-esteem, especially among teens, has become a national epidemic. What do you want someone struggling with feelings of low self-worth to understand?

My instinct is to respond, "You are worthy! You are unique and there is no one else in this world just like you and this world needs you and the skills and talents YOU have because each one of us has been given a specific purpose to use these talents and gifts and no one can replace you."

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