An open house was held Friday, Dec. 7 for the newly established Mikailia Child Advocacy Center. The center was made possible by a grant from the California Office of Emergency Services and works with various agencies to support and assist children and developmentally disabled adults during investigations and prosecutions by endeavoring to reduce the amount of trauma to victims of child abuse and their families.
A tall, self-possessed young woman with a warm smile stood just inside the door. Her name was Mikailia. The center’s namesake had this to say, “It is such an honor to have the Mikailia Child Advocacy Center named after me … This center is a place for anyone who is a survivor of abuse to come and tell their story. There will be no judgment, just love and support. They can help you, like they helped me.”
Mikailia is a survivor of child sexual abuse inflicted upon her by her stepfather from the age of 5 until age 13. Mikailia lived two lives: one as a normal child and the other as an abused child.
For fear of breaking her mother’s heart and being judged by others she kept the abuse a secret. A secret capable of eroding her confidence and damaging her sense of self throughout her formative years.
Suddenly, at the age of 18, she was called into the Lassen County Sheriff’s Department.
“One day I received a call from a detective who requested I come down to the station for some questioning.” Assured by the detective that she was personally not in trouble, Mikailia recalls, “ … I had a gut feeling that I knew what it was about.”
Her inkling proved accurate, “When I arrived at the department, the detective informed me that they had received a call from my ex-step father’s sister. His sister told the detective how her brother had committed all these crimes toward me over the years.”
When asked if this information was true, she recalled, “I had always planned to deny it with every ounce of my body, but something was different this time. Without even thinking, I yelled out ‘yes’ and immediately began to cry. So many emotions began to rush through my body, because now my secret was out.”
Though no longer a child, Mikailia was reminded of the hundreds of lies she had been told during those years: “Would people really view me differently? Would the guy I was dating not want to be with me?”
And the fears: “How will my family react? My mom is going to be so hurt.” What about my safety? Because he’s still out there.
“All of those thoughts played over and over in my head. I was scared, but speaking out was the best choice I have ever made. I realize none of those lies were true.”
Though frightened, Mikailia chose to fight for justice. “I wanted this man to own up to all the life-altering pain he caused my family and me.”
Alex Caroline Robboy, of The Center for Growth, said, “The goal of confronting your abuser is for you to regain your voice and re-do things so that you can play an active role. You can change the outcome of history for others who would be affected by the abuser, and rewrite yours so that he or she no longer has control over your life.”
Her decision to speak up was just the first step on her journey to justice. After carrying the secret for so long, Mikailia would now be required to tell her story repeatedly and in the intimidating atmosphere of a courtroom, in order to prove the charges and put the pedophile behind bars.
The lies Mikailia was told were weapons of fear to ensure her silence. So much shame is inflicted upon victims of sexual abuse that it can be crippling.
Anais Nin, author of “It wasn’t your fault: Freeing Yourself of the Shame of Childhood Abuse with the Power of Self-Compassion” educates on the subject of shame.
“Former victims of child abuse are typically changed by the experience, not only because they were traumatized, but because they feel a loss of innocence and dignity and they carry forward a heavy burden of shame.
“Emotional, physical and sexual child abuse can so overwhelm a victim with shame that it actually comes to define the person, keeping him/her from their full potential. There may also be a great deal of shame due to the exposure of the abuse.”
This sense of shame is an aspect of the harm that has been committed to one’s body and soul, along with the inflicted abuse. It is a lie about oneself that is further damaging long after the abuse may have ceased.
Overcoming the obstacles involved in facing this battle would require an immense act of bravery.
Mikailia chose to fight. “For three years I fought, at times I felt weak … but I continued to fight because I deserved a new beginning.”
During this time, Victim Advocate, LaToya Salas offered emotional support. Mikailia recalls, “Latoya is amazing, she was there by my side from the very beginning to the very end and she continues to supports me. I’m so grateful for her.”
Victim advocates also provide additional resources and assist with paperwork to help cope with the stress of criminal justice proceedings.
“The man who I had once longed to be a father figure to me was now facing up to 100 years in prison.”
Probation officer Jennifer Sommerfield conducted an extremely detailed background check of the defendant to be used in determining sentencing. Faced with a century of hard time for his crimes against Mikailia, the perpetrator and his attorney offered a plea bargain.
Special prosecutor Dan Howe was also in the trenches with Mikailia. His hard work and persistence resulted in a sentence of 61 years. Notes Mikailia, “Now he can never hurt another child ever again.”
She adds, “ Throughout this journey I have learned that I did not, and will not let this define me. I loved and absolutely love my life. Yes, there were challenges, and yes, I’m still overcoming some of them. But, it is possible!
“I want my story to be heard so that other survivors can find their own voice. Please speak up and be released from the burden of trauma you have experienced. The center is a safe place for survivors of abuse to come and tell their stories.
“Please, if you have suffered any type of abuse … speak up. You are already strong, be brave.”