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Victim fights his own demons

A 29-year-old local man who was the victim of a sexual predator when he was 13 says he went through his personal hell out of love for his parents.

Today, he is married with two young sons. He and his wife both work full time jobs. They seem like the perfect American family.

"I've been watching the news about those two girls and it brought back so many memories and I believe more has to be done," he said. "Children don't deserve this."

Edward was the victim of a sexual predator from the age of 13 until he was 15. The man threatened violence if he told anyone, Edward says. Statistics have shown that male victims are less likely to report abuse than females.

The good life

Edward (not his real name) told his story over four different nights, many times leaving the room to regain his composure before returning to relive his nightmare.

The first night it took about an hour before Edward actually verbalized the words, "I was sexually abused," but the relief once he said it was obvious.

During some of the interviews his wife sat beside him, holding his hand or squeezing his knee.

"He told me a year after we started dating when he decided to ask me to marry him," she said. "He said he didn't want any secrets between us. When he told me, I knew I had found myself someone very special."

Edward grew up in an affluent neighborhood in north Georgia. He talked about his parents and how much he loved them and how they obviously loved him. They lived on a quiet street and since his parents were some of the younger adults living there, he was one of only a few children who lived on the street.

"I was probably what folks called 'spoiled,'" he said. "Our neighbors were always dropping in or we were doing large cookouts. I remember when we had a pool put in, everyone came for a big pool party. That pool is what started the nightmare. To this day, I still won't go swimming in a pool.

"I think the first time anything happened was when I was 13," he said. "This was the second year we had the pool, but my parents always were having people over. These were always people my parents trusted, so I trusted them."

One of those people was a man he called Richard, who lived next door with his wife of about eight years.

"They didn't have children and he was probably in his late 40s," Edward said. "They were always doing things with my parents and they often treated me like I was a grandson."

He said when the weather was warm enough in 1989, he began to swim every afternoon after he got home from school. The private school had a swim team and he wanted to be good enough to make the team.

"I would hit the pool every day and swim laps," he said. "I would spend two to three hours a day doing that. I would be wrinkled when I finally went inside."

The rule of the house was always, "No pool without an adult present."

"Since my mom was a teacher, we got home at the same time, so she was there when I went in," he said. "One afternoon, Richard came over and asked if I minded if he swam some with me. His being there at the pool was not anything new so I told him to enjoy himself."

Matter of trust

Statistics show the majority of children who are sexually abused know their abuser.

"This was nothing strange or weird because this was a man I looked up to, I trusted, and he and his wife were at our house all the time," Edward said. "We were raised to watch out for the old man in the car offering us rides or candy. We were not raised to watch out for the guy next door who your parents played cards with on Saturday night."

He said the first time he was inappropriately touched by Richard was during what he thought was an innocent game of roughhousing in the pool. He said he didn't think anything about it when Richard grabbed him on the buttocks.

Edward, who is an only child, said the man began to pick him up and toss him about in the pool and that each time his hands moved farther up his legs.

"I still didn't think anything about it," he said. "When my friends and I played in the pool, we often did the same thing."

The "game" was cut short by Edward's mother coming out to see about the noise, and when she did Richard got out of the pool and sat talking to her. Over the course of the next few weeks Edward said every time he was in the pool alone, the neighbor would come over and swim with him.

Predator makes his move

One summer, Edward's mother left him alone one day while she went to a continuing education conference. Edward couldn't go in the pool alone.

"They believed at 13 that I was old enough to stay by myself, but the rule about not going in the pool stood," he said. "So I would sneak out there and swim and have my clothes dried by the time she got home."

He said Richard caught him in the pool one afternoon and threatened to tell his parents.

"That was how he first got me," he said. "He knew how badly I wanted to be on the swim team. He told me he wouldn't tell if he could help me train."

Edward said Richard got in the pool with him that first day and told him he was going to test his strength by placing his hands under him and letting him swim.

"I had watched the swim coach do this so it sounded like a good idea," Edward said. "We did this for awhile and then I felt his hand move lower."

Edward said when he pulled away from Richard, the man seemed appalled at his behavior. He said Richard went to get out of the pool and said he guessed he'd have to tell his parents after all.

"So I told him I was sorry and begged him not to leave," Edward said. "He came back and this time his hand went even lower and I didn't stop him. I wanted so bad to be on that swim team, I figured I would have to get used to being touched by other people."

Over the next few months, the neighbor arranged for more time alone with Edward.

"My parents had to go on a trip for dad's business and Richard told them his wife and he would keep me while they were away for four days," he said. "My dad used to say he wished they had not taken that trip."

It was during those four days that Richard finally got aggressive with Edward and raped him. When it was over, he told Edward that if he told anyone, he would shoot both of his parents.

"When you walked into their house the walls were filled with animal trophies from his hunts, so I knew he was a good shot," Edward said. "He told me my parents would be dead before I could stop him."

Following the initial rape, Richard used scare tactics, a favorite of sexual predators, to continually gain access to Edward.

One day Edward said he and his father returned home from an outing and he saw Richard standing behind a shrub.

"He had his rifle and he saw me looking and he motioned for me to come over," he said. "I shook my head and when I did he frowned and raised the rifle and pointed it at my dad. I had no choice but to go over there, and he raped me."

During the next three months Edward was made to submit to numerous sexual acts with Richard. During this time, he began to have nightmares that would wake him screaming for his parents.

"My dreams were so real because (Richard) would tell me how cruel he would be while killing them," he said. "The things he told me moved into my dreams and I began to go without sleep. I became moody and my mom would look at me and wonder who this gloomy, angry boy was, and I couldn't tell her anything."

Help arrives

Over the course of the next year Edward would not leave the house without his parents. If he heard that Richard and his wife were coming over, he would go visit his grandparents.

"Anything I could do not to see him," he said. "I was trying to break free from him, but he somehow always got me and would reiterate his threats."

Edward blamed himself for the abuse and thought of committing suicide.

"I went through periods of hating myself and wanting to die and I began to think that if I died, my parents would be safe. It's amazing what the teenage mind will think."

Over time, Edward's parents noticed he no longer used the pool. He said the pool became a symbol of Richard.

"To this day I cannot get in a pool," he said. "Sometimes I get angry because I wonder if I could have been an Olympic champion had I gone on with my dream. That is just something else Richard took from me."

Almost two years after the first sexual encounter, Edward and his mother began the day arguing and he slapped her.

"I was shocked at what I did," he said. "I just ran out of the house with my dad yelling for me to stop. I didn't stop running until I couldn't run anymore."

A friend of his found him and she told him his parents were worried about him. He began to cry and told his friend everything. His friend promised not to tell.

"Of course, you tell a teenage girl and she is going to tell somebody," Edward said with a wry smile. "She told her mother who was our guidance counselor at the school. The first thing she did was call the Department of Family and Children Services. They then called the police and it went from there."

Edward said he watched from his bedroom window as two police officers took a crying Richard into custody. He said the man's wife was yelling for them to stop, that they had the wrong man.

"What she didn't know, and that none of us knew, was that he had been convicted 18 years earlier for molesting another boy," he said. "Because of his prior conviction, he was denied bond."

Edward said he was interviewed by a DFACS psychologist and then again by the district attorney.

"Later I learned that they compared my story to both of them and then from what my friend had told them and realized that I never deviated," he said. "I think that was a good indication that I was telling the truth."

He said Richard denied the abuse until he died shortly after entering prison.

"Along with my story, they also found pictures he had taken of me with his Polaroid camera," Edward said. "He also had one of my swimsuits and some stuff from other children. Put all that together and they convicted him."

Richard died in prison.

"I'm sorry that he died, but I'm not sorry that he went to prison," Edward said.

Hope and faith

Edward's parents moved shortly after discovering the abuse to a secluded farm near Columbus, Ga. They began to take their son weekly to Atlanta to visit a psychiatrist. His mother also began to see one.

"That really helped me and her, I think," he said. "I continued to see a shrink until I was 22. Also, during that time my family found strength in a support group and in our church. I came to realize that God still loved me and that this was not his plan for me."

Their lives returned to somewhat normal but Edward's dream of becoming a swimmer was lost forever.

"Plus, my parents became very protective of me," he said. "Everything I did, they knew about it. Secrets became non-existent in our family."

He said even today Richard will occasionally pop into his mind and if he's asleep he'll wake up with a start or break into a cold sweat.

"For the most part I don't have the guilt," he said. "My father dealt with his guilt until he died of cancer in 2001. A few days before he died he told me how sorry he was that it had happened. He told me he had failed me as a father."

Edward said he cried that day and assured his father that he didn't blame him for any of it and that he had not failed his son.

"I like to think he died knowing it was the truth," Edward said.

Edward' mother explained how, as a teacher, she should have picked up on the signs.

"I had guilt because his mood shifts and cold sweats, especially when Richard's name was mentioned, should have told me something was wrong," she said. "If he had been just a regular student in my class I would have picked up on it. I guess by it being at home, I didn't get it."

She said her therapy did help her, but each time she hears about cases like those in Florida, it all comes back to her.

"What my son went through was horrible," she said. "But I realize now that it could have been much worse. I could be without him today and that really frightens me."

"We are given our children to love and protect so that they will grow into productive citizens," she said. "No child deserves this to happen to them."

Edward nods his head in agreement.

"At some point, through faith, I forgave Richard," Edward said. "It's funny what you can forgive, but I'll never forget him. He stole a part of my life. He stole a part of my parent's lives. He took dreams away from me. That I won't forget. And I hope that other parents and victims won't forget."