Local authors release book about healing from sexual abuse
By Naomi Klouda
And by all accounts, it sounds like a pretty bad one.
Abi tells us her youth pastor talked her into modeling skimpy clothes while he took photos of her. She didn’t know this constituted sexual abuse, and didn’t really even know the definition of “pornography.”
For her, “WDOML” No. 2 came along when it seemed that everyone in her small town found out what she had been involved in.
Abi’s story introduces a new book offered by Homer authors PeggyEllen Kleinleder and Kimber Evensen, “The Thursday Group: A Story and Information for Girls Healing From Sexual Abuse.” Nanwalek artist Nancy Radke provided illustration for the book, adding the perfect touch in a visual format meant to ease the text’s tension.
Knowing that the topic matter is a difficult one for most to confront, the three women collaborated on an unthreatening format. From the book’s small size to its endearing female voice in Abi to the whimsical drawings by Radke, the book offers a gentle approach to a difficult issue.
A book signing from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Monday night at the Homer Public Library will include the unveiling of the new logo for the Child Advocacy Center, a program started this year on the Kenai Peninsula and administered by South Peninsula Haven House. The logo will be selected from several that were submitted as part of a contest, and funds raised by the sale of the books at this event will benefit the Child Advocacy Center, as well as The Friends of the Homer Library. The book also is on sale at all Homer bookstores, and is marketed nationally by its publisher, New England Adolescent Research Institute of Holyoke, Mass.
Kleinleder, a community health nurse who has worked as a children’s advocate, wanted to write a story to help girls heal from sexual abuse. In 2006, she approached Evensen with a draft and asked her to collaborate on the project. Evensen, who has 12 years experience as a therapist, has worked with both victims of sexual abuse and those convicted of sex crimes. For three years, the two co-wrote parts of the book. Kleinleder wrote much of the narrative, while Evensen filled in factual text to arm readers with information.
Both held full-time jobs at the time, and Evensen said she would often write from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m., while Kleinleder wrote in the early morning hours prior to work. At the end of each shift, the two would e-mail the work to each other.
“Our visions really aligned in our approaches to what we wanted to say,” Kleinleder said. At the end of the process, the authors had other therapists, adult sexual abuse survivors and teens read it for suggestions.
According to Evensen, sexual abuse usually happens in secrecy and isolation, with only one in 10 ever telling an adult what happened.
“Many people never tell,” Evensen writes. “Since sex and sexual abuse are both difficult subjects to talk about, and since abusers often use shaming to keep their victims quiet, most people suffer in silence after being abused.”
So what happens to all those girls who don’t tell?
“Bad things have to be worked through in some way,” Evensen writes. “If you feel like you can’t share the abuse with anyone, you can’t truly work through it, and it doesn’t get any better.”
In the book, Abi tells us about the ride to Anchorage with her mother and an advocate from the Women’s Resource Center. They were on their way to attend a grand jury hearing, as the youth pastor would soon be indicted. Eventually, he will be sentenced. But first, Abi has to survive the shame and discomfort of the long months ahead.
The story illustrates how the event of abuse is one event and what comes after is often an equally disturbing one, Kleinleder said. It’s traumatic to deal with the legal system as well, so the authors give readers information about their rights and legal matters.
“I knew that what comes after sexual abuse is as important as what occurred during it, but I didn’t know that until I was an adult,” Kleinleder said. “As much as anything, this is a story about how to be a friend to yourself after something traumatic happens.”
Not being believed can be as devastating as being abused. That’s why, many times, even parents do not find out what happened to a girl until she begins to “act out” or misbehave. Or, they accidentally find out through another process.
Evensen explained that this happens because the abuse is so emotionally charged, it takes a lot of rage-fueled energy to get out the disclosure.
The book addresses gentle advice to both victims and to those who want to support or help, but aren’t sure how.
“The best thing you can do is be a good listener,” Kleinleder said, offering advice on how to support a victim of abuse. “Maybe brainstorm with them about who else can be supportive and treat it very confidentially so that it doesn’t become gossip. Be very nonjudgmental.”
Since 2000, Evensen has provided clinical services to children and adolescents’ families in Homer. As a “criminal reformation clinician,” she is also certified to work with convicted sex offenders, which often gives her insight into the mental patterns of abuse. Previous studies characterized a majority of offenders as having been victims of sexual abuse themselves, she said. However, newer studies show it’s not nearly as many as previously thought.
“What is a factor seems to be domestic violence,” she said “Men who grew up in a violent home is a risk factor in that they are more likely to be an offender.”
Some offenders admit they purposefully sought out children who spend a lot of time alone; young people who might not be seen as entirely credible and who were vulnerable in some way. Offenders model themselves as ideal for the role of being around young people, such as the youth pastor in Abi’s story.
And contrary to popular notion, not all sex offenders are men. The men who were abused as children were often abused by adult women, Evensen said.
Kleinleder said the story was difficult to write. However, as hard as the subject matter was on certain days, dropping the project would have been unthinkable. Writing is healing to the victims, and the authors recommend it to their readers, along with drawing or singing or dancing. Beyond that, however, Kleinleder said she had a strong desire to usher the story into print in order to help anyone struggling out there with this kind of abuse.
“I felt like if I died and didn’t finish it, I would be so disappointed in myself,” she explained. “I wanted to transform what happened to me into something healing for the world.”
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