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Woman works 18 years to recover from sexual abuse

When most people hear the words, "sexual predator," they may often picture a sinister looking man watching children happily play in a schoolyard, but that is a stereotype loosely generated by Hollywood.

In reality, according to Child Protect, a national clearinghouse on child abuse, the majority of sexual abuse victims is either related to the offender or at least knows him or her.

That is the case of Amanda, who asked that her real name not be used. When she was 13 and 14 years old her 19-year-old uncle, who lived with her and her parents, raped her numerous times. She is now 33 years old and lives north of Greenville. She said she is in her second marriage and that her first marriage fell apart because of what happened to her. This is her story.

Happy family

She is the oldest of five children and at the time of her abuse, the family lived in north Alabama. She said they lived a good life and they always did everything together.

"We were your typical Southern Baptist family with a two-car garage and a dog and a cat," she said. "When I watched Steel Magnolias and the comment is made about a family looking like 'it was carved out of cream cheese,' made me think to my childhood and laugh. But that changed when my Uncle Brian moved in with us."

She said her uncle moved into the room over the garage so that he could work with Amanda's father. She said her parents liked the idea because they had an instant baby-sitter when they needed one. She said nothing happened when he first moved in because he was just 18.

"As most girls do at 13, I began to go through puberty and as I changed, I got to noticing that Brian would look at me," she said. "I didn't think anything about it because he was my uncle. Who thinks their uncle is thinking anything other than love for a family member?"

First move

Amanda said she has always hated severe storms and would often go sit them out in her parent's basement bedroom.

"We had a bad tornado when I was about six and when we moved to a larger house, my folks chose a house with a basement so we would have a place to go," she said. "They converted it into a master bedroom."

She remembers that on a Saturday night, her parents had gone to the movies when it began to storm. She said Brian was watching the children and when the storm started, she went downstairs to her parents' bedroom.

"I had been down there for about 30 minutes when Brian came in and told me he was going to hang out with me and that the storm was really going," she said. "I was listening to the radio and he crawled up on the bed with me. I remember the day exactly like it was yesterday. It was raining terribly hard outside."

As the storm went on, her brothers came down the stairs and were laying in the adjacent sitting room. She said she became drowsy and started to doze off.

"I lay there, trying to fall asleep and I felt Brian's hands brush through my hair," she said. "I opened my eyes and smiled at him. He leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. I wasn't scared of Uncle Brian. I thought he was being sweet and trying to make sure the storm wasn't scaring me."

She said she must have dozed off because she woke up when she felt her uncle's hand inside her pajamas.

"When I asked him what he was doing, he told me to be quiet and I would like it," she said. "The next thing I knew he was on top of me and I was so scared I didn't move."

She said after he raped her, he told her that if she told on him, her parents would not believe her and send her away.

"Here was this adult family member telling me this and what was I supposed to believe?" she said. "Being a good Southern Baptist family, we didn't discuss sex in our home. It just wasn't polite conversation."

She said she jumped up and ran upstairs to the bathroom and vomited. She also said she realized she had blood on her pajamas and that scared her.

"Again, I didn't know what was going on," she said. "With a full thunderstorm going on outside, I ran myself a tub of hot water and got in it. I sat there in the tub trembling, not knowing what to do."

She said when she got out of the tub and got dressed in new clothes, she found her uncle just outside the bathroom door. All she could do was say something about the blood on her pajamas.

"He told me it was normal and that he would buy me a new pair and he took my pajamas," she said. "I guess he threw them away. He reminded me that my parents would send me away."

Situation grows worse

She said that threat worked on her for the next year. She said she quit eating and would only do so after her mother forced her to eat. It was during this time that she began to think about her own death.

"I wanted to die because of what Brian was doing," she said. "I actually put a whole bottle of pills in my mouth one night but didn't go through with it. Whenever he got the opportunity, I was his to do as he pleased. He would even bring up the topic at dinner about how he heard about a girl from town who was sent to a detention home for her bad behavior. My parents would just sit amazed and wonder what the girl did to deserve it."

She said about nine months after the first rape she began her day vomiting and felt like she was deathly ill.

"My mother finally took me to the doctor after about the fourth or fifth day when she decided it was not some routine virus I picked up from school," she said. "After my examination, the doctor asked my mother to step out of the room and when she did, he informed me I was pregnant."

She said the shock was too great for her and she passed out.

"When I came to, there was the doctor and his nurse standing over me looking very worried," she said. "I began to cry and tell him he was wrong. He said that it was obvious I had been sexually active and that I was indeed going to have a baby."

A mother's anguish

She said her mother heard her sobbing and rushed into the room and she rushed to her mother and clung to her.

"I was hugging her telling her I was sorry and to please not send me away," Amanda said choking back sobs as she recalled the memory. "My mother didn't know what I was talking about and I just blurted out that I was pregnant."

Amanda said when her mother regained her composure she asked Amanda who the father was.

"When I said Uncle Brian, my mother just went crazy," she said. "She began to say she would kill him and that is when she told me to get my stuff. Lucky for me, the doctor figured this was coming."

Before the two could leave the office, a caseworker arrived from the Department of Human Resources to talk to the two. While Amanda's mother waited in another room, the teenager told the woman everything. She asked if her parents would send her away and the social worker assured her that wouldn't happen. She did tell the girl they would place her with a nice foster family until things could be settled.

"Their procedure was simply to put me somewhere safe away from the situation," she said. "They were a nice family, but being away from my family was still a living hell for me. But that changed very quickly."

Change of address

When Amanda's father was told about the rapes and the pregnancy, he refused to believe his brother was capable of doing such things. He accused his wife of making it up. He accused his daughter of making it up. When he confronted his brother, Brian denied it all, saying that he had caught Amanda with different boys but didn't want to get her in trouble.

"He lied his way out of it and my father believed him," she said. "To this day I believe my father believes him still."

Eventually her uncle went to prison for the abuse and Amanda has not seen her father for 15 years.

After being in the foster home for a short time, Amanda and her mother were reunited at a Birmingham women's clinic.

"I was raised to believe that abortion is the killing of a human life," she said. "Here I was in this clinic having an abortion. I cried for days afterwards because of what had happened."

Her foster parents dealt with her depression and sadness and also with her thoughts of suicide. Their family pastor was called in and he and Amanda spent many hours talking about the events and she spent a great deal of time praying.

"For a teenager, I probably spent more hours on my knees in prayer than a nun," she said. "I had to pray. That is all I could do."

About six months later, Amanda's caseworker came to get her to drive her "home."

"I was surprised when we headed in the opposite direction," she said. "She finally told me that my mother and brothers had moved near Montgomery to be closer to my grandparents. She wouldn't answer anything I asked about my father or Uncle Brian."

Family torn apart

When Amanda met up with her family again, her mother explained that they had moved because she was divorcing Amanda's father.

"That really shook me too," she said. "But when my dad would call to talk to my brothers he would snap at me. One day he told me he knew I had lied about the whole thing. I went crying to my mother and she went back to court."

Because of her father's behavior, the court ruled he could only have supervised visitation with his other children and he eventually quit trying to see or even talk to them.

"Now I think about dad and wonder what he's like," she said. "I know he is remarried and he had more children. I don't know what happened to Brian after he got out of prison. The last thing my mother heard, he was living somewhere in Kentucky with his third wife and three children."

Continued healing

For the last 18 years, Amanda has seen a psychologist. She now visits once a month, which is far better than when she was a teen who spent every Thursday afternoon going through her thoughts.

"I was on all the anti-depression medications and I talk about how, even today, I dream about Brian," she said. "In those dreams I'm still 13 and he is dragging me away from my mother. In a way, what he said would happen, did happen. I was taken away from the family I knew. But I think I'm better off now."

She said after the abuse, she went through a series of emotions.

"At first I felt hate for him and every time anyone mentioned his name, the hatred for him would just boil up in me," she said. "It helped that we lived away from my dad's family. Sometimes when I heard my mother crying softly in her room, I would feel guilty about it, like this was my fault."

She said she married her first husband when she graduated from college.

"I followed the pattern and married an abuser," she said. "Needless to say, that didn't last long and I'm glad to be rid of him. Of course, I waited almost eight years before I married again."

Her husband has sat in on her interviews and as she talked about some of the darker moments of her life, he would sit reading a Bible. It is obvious that their faith helps them both cope with her past.

"God was always been involved with the situation," Amanda said. "Eventually, I realized that for me to be healed of this physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, I had to forgive Brian. So I prayed for him every day and you know I actually did feel a little better after each prayer."

Her husband said he too prays for both Brian and Amanda's father, and often, on stormy nights when his wife wakes up from a nightmare about Brian, he prays to himself about the man he has never met.

"She will have a nightmare and wake up crying," he said. "I just hold her and she calms down because she knows I'm here. I've never met her father or uncle, of course I don't consider either of them a part of her family."

Life goes on

Amanda said she is glad there are now laws like Megan's Law, which requires law enforcement agencies in all 50 states to notify schools, child care providers and parents about sexual offenders in their area. The law is named after Meagan Kanka who was raped and killed by a twice-convicted sex offender who lived across the street from her.

Amanda now works as a children's advocate, working to keep what happened to her from happening to another child.

"If I can help stop this from happening to one child, I know that life does indeed go on and I have a higher purpose," she said. "I would tell any teenager, boy or girl, who might be going through something like I did, not to give up on God or life. Don't be afraid to tell an adult they trust. Once you strip away the imagined outfit of the monster your mind had created, you realize the man or woman abusing you is just human. They can be stopped."