Darkness, fear and shame are what I felt when I told my mom on my thirteenth birthday, that “He did it to me, too.” Those six words and the actions of a forty-two year old former family friend, firefighter, and policeman changed my life forever. I, like one in ten children in the United States, was sexually abused before my eighteenth birthday. I never thought something like this could happen to me. But, sexual abuse can happen to anyone—even a child you know and love. Even your own child. Growing up in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, my home was surrounded by farm fields. I enjoyed carefree days and thought I was safe. My mom always role played with me and my sister on how to react if a stranger was looking for their lost puppy. But she never talked to me about the possibility that someone I knew could molest me, which happened when I was twelve during a sleepover at a friend’s house. Like many victims it has been a long and hard fight. I wish I could tell you it was easy. I had many dark days and contemplated suicide. I felt worthless and ashamed. But through counseling, time, prayers and support from family, friends and fellow survivors, I started to believe that I could become whole again. This allowed me to slowly put together the pieces of my shattered childhood. I was determined to not let my past circumstances define me for the rest of my life. I was a survivor. Today, I believe that my purpose in life is to promote prevention initiatives, provide hope, and empower child sexual abuse survivors. I never want anyone to feel alone. Breaking the silence and encouraging families and communities to talk about child sexual abuse will shine light on an issue that is many times uncomfortable to talk about. Sexual abuse can happen to anyone, anywhere and at any time…even a woman wearing a crown.
Kayla Schneider is a student at Lock Haven University, Lock Haven. She is the current Miss Pocono 2017 and will compete for title of Miss Pennsylvania, a preliminary to the Miss America Scholarship Pageant with the platform: “Darkness to Light: Promoting Awareness and Empowering Child Sexual Abuse Survivors.”