Survivor’s war on abuse
Janice McLean fought through depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts after being abused as a child. It wasn’t until she attended a presentation by charity Saving Children and Revealing Secrets in 2012, that she opened up about what had happened and started to heal. Three years after taking the Darkness to Light Stewards of Children Training the preschool teacher became a facilitator, determined to share what she has learnt to help others.
“I am a survivor and like most adult victims I didn’t come forward — I was abused from 10 to 13 — until 16 years later,” Ms McLean, 37, told The Royal Gazette.
“They [Scars] were doing a presentation at CedarBridge and they happened to have a stall afterwards and I just revealed everything to them.”
A few weeks after attending the presentation, Ms McLean took part in the training and became certified.
“It was like they were telling my story,” she said. “That’s when I realised I’m not alone — there’s many more of me out there.”
She started counselling but stayed in touch with Scars founder and executive director Debi Ray-Rivers and director of programmes and operations Helen Ponte.
“If you’re trying to heal yourself, it’s kind of hard to advocate,” she said. “Eventually I just learnt to deal with different coping mechanisms.
“Just talking about it helped a lot. The big thing was forgiveness, forgiving the abuser.”
Statistics from the United States-based organisation Darkness to Light state one in ten children will be sexually abused before the age of 18 and 90 per cent of victims know their abuser.
To help tackle the issue in Bermuda, Scars has trained more than 5,700 people on sexual abuse prevention — making the island the first country to train more than 10 per cent of its adult population.
The programme is aimed at all adults who care for children, and local sporting clubs, churches, summer camps, charities and schools, along with members of the public, have participated.
Because of Scars, many organisations are now implementing codes of conduct and making it a requirement for staff to be trained.
And as awareness has grown, more people have opened up about what has happened to them.
But according to Ms Ray-Rivers, there are still many more who have not, with shame the number one driver in keeping them quiet. Three years after becoming certified, Ms McLean felt ready to become a facilitator and her involvement with the charity increased as she “realised that there’s so many of us out there”.
“The children need to be protected and it was just timely. I’m healed, it’s nothing to be ashamed of, it’s time for me to give what I’ve learnt.”
She still felt apprehensive about telling people what had happened to her because she did not want their pity.
“I felt sorry for myself for the longest time. I didn’t wear dresses, I covered my body [ ...], I fought through depression, anxiety — suicidal thoughts were the big thing.
“But then I realised, if my story can inspire one person to seek the help then it serves a purpose.”
The Warwick resident, who moved to Bermuda in 2008, now participates in the trainings at Argus on Saturdays and volunteers whenever she can.
“I’m a huge advocate. Any time there is volunteer work, I am there.
“All of the Adventure Land staff are trained because I signed them up.”
She added that one of the reasons she became a teacher is to make sure children get to remain innocent.
“They shouldn’t have to deal with other people, adults, hurting them and it’s a big epidemic.
“The more training I do, the more people come forward and say ‘I’m a survivor’.”
Ms McLean was also featured in a Scars documentary where she told her story of how she went from being a victim to a survivor.
“I do talk about my story now. I basically say, as a survivor you can realise that you can heal.”
Ms McLean said she can see the change in the participants — they leave the course with a “bigger perspective” and aware of the importance of asking more questions.
“We also help parents talk to their children about their bodies,” she said.
“It’s a difficult topic and not all parents know when and how to talk to their children.”
And for those who have been abused themselves, she added: “It’s not their fault. They have nothing to be ashamed of. They did nothing wrong.”
“The big thing is they need to basically forgive. Don’t let that define who you are because for the longest time I did.”
Scars also offers the Safe programme, which provides a “tool box” of information for those entrusted with the care of children.
“They’re a great organisation, they are compassionate, they are always available 24/7 — we never stop working,” Ms McLean said.
“There is always someone in the office, someone to talk to. And we are not going to stop till every person in Bermuda is pretty much trained.”
Ms Ray-Rivers added: “Scars is incredibly blessed to have Janice as a part of our Scars family. After three years of countless hours of volunteering with Scars, Janice became an authorised trained facilitator with the Darkness to Light Organisation and subsequently a Scars facilitator. We appreciate her more than words can say!”
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