'Never too late' to speak out, fight child sex abuse
Ten years later, she realized what had happened to her. And she told her mom her secret: she was sexually abused by her father's cousin, who lived with the family when she was 5 years old.
Today, her abuser is confined to a prison cell, convicted after a 2012 trial and sentenced to 24 years behind bars.
She took the witness stand despite being threatened by her abuser.
"I learned that it's never too late to speak up and defend yourself," the 21-year-old sexual abuse survivor told an audience Thursday outside of the Kane County Child Advocacy Center, an arm of the state's attorney's office that investigates crimes against children. "It was difficult to understand what they were doing to me. They were authority figures."
The event held for Child Abuse Prevention Month culminated in people blowing bubbles into the sky, symbolizing how survivors must first release the secret of being abused.
Deb Bree, the center's executive director and an assistant state's attorney, said the center investigated 330 cases of abuse in 2016. Each started with a child telling someone what happened, or an adult calling the Department of Children and Family Services hotline at (800) 25-ABUSE, she said.
"Child abuse is everybody's business and it's everybody's responsibility to say something," Bree said. "We've come a long way with awareness, but still have a long way to go with prevention and education. Society is still reluctant to discuss child abuse. Child abuse is hidden behind a wall of secrecy and silence."
State's Attorney Joe McMahon praised survivors who come forward and speak out and credited the center's investigators, doctors and social workers who take a multidisciplinary approach to each case.
"It does so much more than (investigate). It provides a safe environment" where victims and families get the support they need, he said.
The survivor credited Child Advocacy Center staff and prosecutors for standing by her and helping to take away her fear when she had to confront her abuser. She also thanked her mom and family for standing by her.
"Thankfully, I had the best support by my side," she said.
Monetary and in-kind donations may be made to by contacting the Friends of the Child Advocacy Center by calling (630) 208-5160.