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Tina is a survivor of childhood sexual assault who became increasingly involved in advocacy work through her local crisis center and with the Coalition. Tina has learned a great deal about advocacy on multiple levels, and is excited to share that information with other survivors who would like to be more involved in creating positive change in the Granite State. Tina was a keynote speaker at the 2020 NH Womens' Rally. Read her powerful speech below and you can also see the video.
I am here to share my story as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse but more importantly my story of becoming a committed voter!
Just over three years ago I publicly opened up about my experience with sexual violence. Since then I have shared my story to legislative committees, to individual policy makers, and in crowded rooms. I’ve written letters to the editor. I’ve participated in statewide awareness campaigns. I’ve organized phone banks and served as a keynote speaker. I’ve told my story to my friends, my family, and my community. I’ve done everything in my power to help other Granite Staters realize that there is plenty of work to be done and we all have a role to play in eliminating this problem.
Even as I list all that I’ve done to advocate for my fellow survivors, I still can’t believe I’ve found the strength to do all of it. As a young girl, as a teen, and even as an adult – I struggled in silence. I didn’t open up to those closest to me out of fear of not being believed or being blamed for what happened to me. I couldn’t even imagine telling hundreds of strangers – yet, here I am.
When I was finally ready to shatter the silence, I still didn’t know if I had the strength to say it out loud – to share my most vulnerable and terrifying moments with the world.
It’s hard to talk about my father climbing on top of me in our car the night before my first day of school. It’s hard to talk about my father beating my brother and sending him to his room so he could then be with me. It’s hard to talk about my father making me feel guilty and scared as a 10 year old child.
Yet here I am
I am here because I don’t want another six year old girl to know what it feels like to have their father climb on top of them and wonder what they did to deserve it. I am here because I want every survivor to know that support is available. I am here because victims’ rights must be taken more seriously by our education and criminal justice systems. I am here because The NH Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence and other survivors showed me what was possible and why voting was crucial to make change happen.
I was one of those women who thought my vote didn’t matter. Sure, I knew how hard suffragists fought for the right to vote and how incredibly brave they were. That still didn’t make me feel like my vote mattered.
Today I feel differently
My story is no longer only made up of accounts of victimization – I have experience with advocacy, activism, and creating positive change. I’m no longer the scared six year old girl who was sexually assaulted by her father – I am a strong, driven, passionate, and powerful survivor who has found her voice. THIS is what made me feel like my vote mattered. I’ve told my story so loud that those in the highest elected offices have listened! That is why my vote matters! We need to be aware and learn about the candidates to make our vote matter!
I have found my voice – AND it’s not going anywhere
To close, I will borrow words from Michelle Williams’, “So, women 18 to 118, when it is time to vote please do so in your self-interest. It's what men have been doing for years, which is why the world looks so much like them but don't forget we are the largest voting body in this country. Let's make it look more like us."
Tina Smith is the Volunteer Director of the Coalition's Survivor Caucus, She is a pediatric nurse, a mom, and an activist. She is the Chair of the Greater Federation of Women's Clubs NH Fundraising & Development Program and also serves on the Club's Domestic & Sexual Violence Awareness & Prevention Committee. You can learn more about Tina in our Courage of Survivors Video.
If you are a survivor and would like to learn more about how to use your voice to create positive change, Tina is happy to speak with you. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or reach out to Tina to learn more.
Today, I am here to say that I’m taking my life back
In 2002, I was driving on 93 South while listening to NPR. The host was discussing the church sexual abuse scandal and I didn’t know that at that moment my life would be changed forever. One of the guests said, “for the victims that haven’t come forward yet, others will be abused by the same person that hurt you.” I remembered my heart beating faster and feeling flushed. My breathing was so fast and I couldn’t concentrate on the road. I was having an anxiety attack and had to pull over on 93. It took me several minutes before I could move. The only thing I could think of was the priest who abused me, abusing my children. I COULD NOT let my children go through the anguish that I did and I needed to do something about it.
I didn’t know what to do, so I contacted the NPR guest and had a conversation with him. The first thing he told me was that my statute of limitations had expired. I was denied justice because I hadn’t come forward in time.
From the time I was 15 years old until 2002, I felt that being sexually assaulted was a secret that I would take to my grave. I came from a deeply religious family, and both of my parents saw the priest who raped me as their hero. I couldn’t tell them what this man did to me. They loved and adored him; he was just as powerful as God. I was young and figured that it was my fault that this happened. I was a 15-year-old boy, why did this man choose to hurt me? I felt all alone and believed that I was the only one that this happened to.
It has taken me 18 years to understand and believe that I didn’t do anything wrong. I was just a kid who was targeted by a pedophile and I wasn’t the only person he raped. Ultimately, it has taken me 43 years to learn how to take my life back and to learn to love myself again. During this time, my parents both died not knowing what happened to me. I couldn’t destroy their faith in God.
Trauma is like a shadow; it is always with you. Since I first shared my story I have had to deal with the burden of that trauma and bear the cost it has had on my life. For years I have experienced night terrors and depression. I isolated myself from my kids, family and even friends. I was plagued with doubt and worried that I should never have said anything about my abuse and lived with the pain of silence. I am healing, but it has taken years.
I feel like I was a lucky person, because I didn’t turn to drugs or alcohol. However, I live as a workaholic because it is the only way I can function. It may not seem like a bad way to live but I haven’t been living just existing.
The effects of being sexually assaulted have reverberated throughout my life. It took me years to say that I was a survivor and even longer to heal. Today, I am here to say that I’m taking my life back. I’m a survivor, not a victim and I deserve the opportunity to seek justice whenever I am ready to.
David Oullette is a teacher and former director of SNAP-NH (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests). David recently testified before the New Hampshire Legislature in support of Senate Bill 508, a bill to abolish the civil statute of limitations for crimes of sexual assault.
No matter when abuse has occurred, it’s never too late to reach out for support. In New Hampshire advocates at the Coalition’s 13 independent member programs are ready to help.
24-hour Helpline: 1-800-277-5570 Chat and text support services are available at several member programs, and more are beginning to offer these services. Visit www.nhcadsv.org to learn more.
Activists seek end to statute of limitations on sexual misconduct lawsuits
N.H. sexual assault survivors call for statute of limitations reform
Member programs of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence
Get 24/7 confidential support and information at one of the 13 member programs of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.
Support for sexual abuse and assault outside of New Hampshire:
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