Bill McKee, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Cumberland, gave opening remarks and turned the microphone over to Assistant District Attorney Jason Lawson, who moderated the event.
Panelists included Wilson County Detective Sgt. Walker Woods, Assistant District Attorney Tom Swink, 15th Judicial District Child Advocacy Center forensic interviewer Cece Ralston, Department of Children’s Services lead investigator Patrick Cockburn and abuse survivors Courtney Green and M.J. Lucas. Each panelist covered a myriad of topics, ranging from definitions and charges associated with child abuse to registered sex offenders and sex trafficking. Child abuse survivors Green and Lucas each shared their own compelling stories.
Green, who expects to receive a degree in counseling soon from Middle Tennessee State University, shared her story as a child abuse survivor, or as she liked to be referred to as an overcomer. She said she her youth pastor sexually abused her for about two years and started when she was 15 years old.
Green said she was a freshman in college when she read an article about a victim who believed the abuse was an affair and her fault in her case.
“Disclosing something like that initially can be such a daunting task,” Green said.
But Green said she decided to do something about it. The process started three years ago this month and ended with her abuser’s conviction.
“She is the greatest; she really is. When it was all over and the perpetrator was locked up, she threw a party and invited all of us,” said Swink, who worked on Green’s case.
With a lengthy amount of time between the abuse and the case going to court, Green said it was difficult to handle the emotional toll it took on her.
“It was kind of a paralyzing, blinding numbness with all the memories coming back,” But I will say that the people I worked with are some of the best in the biz…The prosecution at the time was something that was actually very empowering for me. It was very draining, but I found some of my greatest moments in getting my power back through that process.”
Green said she now makes a daily decision not to be a victim.
“It’s a fact of life, unfortunately, but it’s a decision that has to be made,” Green said. “…[Recovery] is really just a learning process. The open lines of communication and the understanding are the most important parts.”
Lucas’ story was first told in an article called Silence No More in 2012 in The Lebanon Democrat, but Tuesday was the first time she told her story in front of an audience.
“I was beginning to sense that sharing my story would bring hope and healing to not only myself, but also others who have suffered in silence,” Lucas said. “There are so many negative things associated with abuse, and secrecy is one of the worst. You feel isolated and afraid, and in my case, I thought I was the only one and no one else could possibly be going through the same thing. I have learned that secrets must be told and that telling them is powerful. You must tell someone, whether it is a friend, teacher, pastor, someone, anyone you can trust.”
Lucas said a family member abused her from when she was 6 years old until she moved away from home in Florida. She said she felt “scared, isolated and confused.” She also said she felt like she was in “constant survival mode and gridlock.”
Lucas didn’t tell anyone until she was an adult, when she confided in her grandmother. She also said she found comfort at church, where she found herself “thanking Him for another day to heal.”
Later on, Lucas said she confronted her abuser and eventually wrote him a letter of forgiveness. She has worked for WANT radio for several years and often turns to Facebook to offer positive affirmation to others.
“For me, it’s all about awareness and healing,” she said. “…I rediscovered myself as a positive person – a lot healthier for me.”