Here to talk to you about hope after sexual abuse is victim advocate, Melanie Sachs.
Trigger Warning: This post includes a description of sexual abuse.
Hope is a word we often see or hear in many different contexts.
What this word means to me goes beyond the definition you may find when you Google it, as I did.
According to Google, the top definition of hope is, “To cherish a desire with anticipation. A wish or dream that you truly desire in your heart with an expectation that it will happen.”
The word hope also encompasses the synonyms: achievement, ambition, anticipation, aspiration, belief, confidence, desire, expectation, faith, goal, optimism, promise, prospect, wish, and the bright side.
Essentially hope is the “light at the end of the tunnel.”
Hope goes much deeper and has been more difficult for me to embody than one would think by having a conversation with me or looking at me.
I write to you as a 30-year old bride-to-be. On September 17, I will get married, something I never thought possible. Through healing, my wedding day has moved from impossibility to possibility. My soon-to-be husband knows every part of me and loves me so well.
I am someone who laughs a lot, an athlete who plays softball, basketball, and any other sport I can get involved in.
I love to dance. I’m a faithful member of a church community, a devoted friend, a beach and coffee lover, a Camp Sunshine volunteer, a daughter, a passionate voice, a compassionate open heart.
These days I’m successfully living out my dreams by the ocean on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. I am truly happy, and for close to 10 years now I have worked in the fields of domestic violence, sexual abuse, sexual assault crisis center advocacy, court advocacy, child advocacy center family advocacy, CAC forensic interviewing and prevention education, along with various roles at the nonprofit SHIELD Task Force out of West Virginia.
Today I am full of hope and on a mission to carry hope to others.
But it wasn’t always like that. You see, sexual abuse became part of my world somewhere around my ninth or eleventh year, at the hands of my babysitter’s teenage sons.
A few years later at age 12, I was sexually assaulted again, a more violent attack in broad daylight, on the grounds of a New Hampshire elementary school. This time my attacker was the 17-year-old distant relative of my best friend at the time.
The assault happened on a warm, spring day, but it was a cold reality.
The attack was unexpected, unimaginable, and terrifying. My abuser made sure I knew that if I told, something bad would happen.
He told me he was showing me what to do so I was prepared to be in a relationship someday. All the things he said to me that day were burned in my mind, impacting all of my relationships until 2019.
From the moment his hands touched my body in a sexual way without my consent, a powerful deep seed of pain was planted in my heart.
After the sexual assault at age 12, I became:
- Riddled with guilt
- Ashamed about my body
- Lost interest in the things I loved the most
- Felt a sense of fear all the time
- Lost confidence in myself
In addition, my once bubbly spirit started to fade.
Most days it was hard to get out of bed. Most days it was hard to breathe.
On a daily basis, I faced flashbacks and nightmares of what my abuser had said and done. I started restricting my eating because I wanted control over something in my life. In an effort to control my own pain after experiencing what was done to me, I battled self-injury (ie. cutting).
I felt painfully different than all the other kids in my school.
My journey from the darkness into the light began a little over 18 years ago.
When I walked into a child advocacy center. That day hope began to take root in my life as I found my voice and used it to tell what had happened to me.
The day I found my voice was also the day God started to work in my heart—through some of my deepest pain—to cultivate a divine purpose for me: To be a light, and to give hope to others.
Writing became my outlet (like Diane talks about here). Turning to writing instead of cutting wasn’t a quick or easy process, but now 14 years after that last time, I’ve had countless opportunities across the country to shed light through my story.
Healing is not linear.
I’ve walked through the impact of sexual trauma for many years. But the healing I’ve found has come through facing hard things head on. Through it all, my faith has been my guide.
I have been sharing my story publicly since 2012, but recently, thanks to Robert Peters, founder of Shield Task Force, I have expanded my reach by partnering with Dr. Timothy Saar of West Virginia. Together we offer unique combined presentations such as:
- The Psychology of Surviving: Forensic and Survivor Perspectives on Trauma and Offender Mindsets.
- Pursuing Justice: A Survivor and a Psychologist Journey from Forensic Interview to Trial and Beyond.
- When Darkness Meets the Shining Light of Hope: An MDT Investigation from a Survivor’s Perspective.
- Speaking the Voice in Me: Finding Light and Life-Giving Breath After Sexual Trauma: My keynote speech.
Speaking has allowed me to be a lighthouse.
Lighthouses are used to guide ships or to warn them of danger. This is what survivors who blazed the path before me did. Now it is my passion and duty to do the same for those that come after me.
I’ve also become an educator, of sorts.
The physical impact of sexual trauma is so real.
Since 2019 I have faced the pain that’s been in my body for a very long time. I created my @victoryoverpelvicpain Instagram account (#victoryoverpelvicpain), and recently my @victoryoverpelvicpain Tik Tok account, to raise awareness about pelvic health in the context of trauma.
Healing may not be linear, but it is ABSOLUTELY worth it.
As a woman of strong faith, a passionate voice, and an open heart, it has been an honor to share my journey with all of you.
Melanie Sachs is a sought after presenter across the country at child advocacy center events, as well as at local and national conferences. She also is currently a consultant at Shield Task Force. Contact Sachs at firstname.lastname@example.org.