Coming out from the Shadows of Shame: One Woman’s Journey to Overcome the Mental Health Challenges of Childhood Abuse
According to a study by a team of Harvard University researchers, led by Dr. Martin Teicher, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, early adversity such as “physical, sexual and psychological trauma in childhood may lead to psychiatric difficulties that show up in childhood, adolescence or adulthood.”
Ms. Sonia Parker was a young lady whose life was forever changed after she experienced all three forms of trauma at an early age – physical, sexual and psychological.
Parker is the founder of a 501(c) non-profit organization called Parents Against Predators (P.A.P.), where she works with parents, schools, communities and churches to reach young people with vital messages that empower them to speak up and tell somebody if anyone harms them in any way. After her experience with childhood abuse, Parker made a commitment to work hard to end the suffering of abused and neglected children in the community at the hands of any physical, sexual and psychological abusers.
Parker was born in Houston at Riverside General Hospital in 1966. She became the victim of sexual abuse at an early age. From the age of 11 until 13 years old, Parker was sexually assaulted, but never spoke about it until 2009, when she started her non-profit organization – at 43 years of age.
“Honestly, I never wanted people to know about what happened to me because it was a secret,” said Parker. “When you are younger, you don’t know what to do in that situation. It was embarrassing.”
Parker struggled with self-esteem issues for years after the shame of what happened to her, so she began looking for some form of stability and security in her life.
At 18, Parker got married at an early age and during her tumultuous marriage she suffered from more abuse – this time physically, psychologically, emotionally and once again, sexually.
“My first husband was very abusive,” said Parker. “He would often give me black eyes after severely beating [me], and I was even raped by him. Once again, I felt like it was my fault, but I was in so much pain that I knew I had to do something to get out of such an abusive relationship before he killed me.”
Before things became worse, Parker was able to overcome that battle and move on from that abusive relationship and raise her three children. Struggling to provide for her children, Parker was faced with opposition. In order to try and make ends meet, she found herself getting into trouble with the law and landed in jail.
It was after that experience that Parker learned from her mistakes and turned her life around.
Parker went on to remarry in 2003 and moved out of the country with her military husband. After living in Germany for a year, Parker moved back to Houston and went back to school to obtain her diploma. Through dedication and hard work, she was able to graduate from Parkview Baptist School and her journey to overall healing began, along with her pathway to starting her non-profit organization. The journey has not been an easy one though.
One of the things that has been a real and serious mental challenge for Parker, has been her internal struggle with the fact she wanted so desperately to tell her mother and father what happened to her, but they both passed away in 2003, before she got a chance to do so. Parker hid the sexual abuse from both of her parents because she felt dirty and ashamed about the entire issue.
“I felt ashamed. I felt like it was all my fault,” said Parker. “I didn’t think they [her parents] would believe me, so I kept all that stuff bottled up inside for years. It has been a real problem for me and something that I regret every day.”
Because of what she has had to endure and deal with emotionally, Parker felt like it was time to start helping other children who may be going through the same thing, and make up for the years of pain she has suffered because she had not spoken out earlier in her life.
Parker says that she was sexually assaulted by not just one, but two separate male members of her family. She says that she still has issues, because she still sees one of them every now and then. She says that she doesn’t even believe those two family members felt they did anything wrong, because they never brought it up or apologized for it.
“Honestly, I still see one of them from time to time, and even now, I still feel so uncomfortable when I see them or when I am around them,” said Parker. “I have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), as well as being diagnosed as bipolar, because of all this trauma has caused me.”
Parker states that she is getting therapy and going to counseling, which is really helping her cope with the trust issues, mood swings and her overall emotional state.
“Being physically, emotionally and sexually abused as a child, and adult, has really caused me some major mental and relationship problems over time,” said Parker. “It has affected my sex life. I have trust issues. I am cold-hearted toward people and I have mood swings.”
In addition to therapy and counseling, in order to focus on moving past that traumatic part of her past, Parker has dedicated her life to her non-profit organization, where she feels it is her duty to make sure children tell somebody if anyone forces them to do something they don’t want to do, and speak out if someone touches them inappropriately.
Parker works diligently to spread online awareness about child abuse and shares critical information with parents to keep them informed about all signs of child abuse to look for. She also posts social media updates on missing and murdered children every day, and keeps parents and the community informed about sex offenders located in their respective communities.
“I have dedicated my life to my organization and I’m trying to make a difference in the world,” said Parker. “I talk to all of my grandchildren about the different signs of child abuse. I talk to them and teach them how to stay safe. It is so serious and important.”
Here are some alarming statistics:
- Annually, approximately 1.5 million children are abused.
- Yearly, 350,000 sexual related crimes are reported
- 1-3% of American children experience child abuse/neglect each year.
- Types of abuse:
-Physical Abuse: 200,000
-Sexual Abuse: 60,000
- Typical abusers are: Related Caregivers – 90%; Boyfriend of Mother – 5%; Unrelated Babysitter – 4%; Sibling of child – 1%
- Approximately 60,000-70,000 sexual offenses are committed against minors under the age of 18
- There are over 24,000+ sexual predators in Texas
Characteristics of an abused child:
- Demanding, difficult behavior
- Decreased level of functioning
- Intellectual ability equal to or above the parent
- Usually less than 5 years of age
- Boys are physically abused more than girls
In 2001, approximately 3,844 children were reported as possible victims of child abuse and neglect in the United States.
Of the cases confirmed:
- 54% were for neglect
- 19% were for physical abuse
- 10% were for sexual abuse
- 3% were for emotional maltreatment
- 14% were due to other forms of maltreatment
Here are some other alarming statistics:
- Every day, 13,700 children are abused and neglected
- Every 11 seconds a child is reported abused or neglected
- Every day, 4 children die from child abuse
- Every 2 hours a child is a homicide victim
- Every day, 27 children die from poverty
Since founding Parents Against Predators (P.A.P.), Parker and her organization have been on a mission to:
- Build community resources to prevent child abuse statewide
- Build public awareness and provide education about child abuse and neglect and everyone’s role in preventing it
- Bring awareness to parents in various communities by providing information on registered sex offenders locally and worldwide
- Advocate for and empower individuals who have experienced any abuse
- Provide stronger protection for children and keep the community safe
- Deter perpetrators of any type of abuse
- Hold societal structures accountable that try to hide perpetrators and fail to protect children
- Bring all perpetrators to justice
- Assist individuals who have experienced trauma and/or sexual, physical, and emotional abuse as a child
As an organization, P.A.P. offers different services such as attending court appearances with the parents of victims of child abuse. In addition to that, P.A.P. provides necessary school supplies for low-income and needy families; provides degreed volunteers to assist parents with the appropriate training they need to deal with their kids and others; partners with physicians who are committed to help bring about change in the family home for anger resolutions; has a volunteer service program that allows individuals to come on board to assist P.A.P.in accomplishing its goals; and provides a service to support parents to keep them involved and motivated with ongoing activities and projects.
Parker works with various department stores to make sure children in various communities have new clothes and shoes. Her organization hosts Christmas parties, Easter events, Back to School drives, Balloon Releases for victims of Child Abuse and missing murdered children, summertime Stranger Danger fun days in the park; and P.A.P. has also donated money towards the funeral expenses of murdered children. She has made a difference all across Houston and doesn’t plan to stop fighting until she can put an end and stop to all child abuse, locally and worldwide. Parker and her organization were honored by former Mayor Annise Parker, who declared April 27, 2012, Parents Against Predators Day in the city of Houston and “A Day in Remembrance for Victims of Child Abuse,” during a proclamation ceremony.
“This is my fight!” said Parker. “Before I leave this earth, P.A.P. will be known worldwide. I will not stop fighting to end child abuse. I will not stop fighting until we have tougher laws that will keep predators behind bars. I will continue talking to children all over the world and letting them know that it’s okay to speak out. I will keep fighting for all victims and hope many more will join me in this fight. I hope my story can help other people [to] speak out.”
It is everyone’s responsibility to report suspected child abuse. In the state of Texas, you can make a report in two ways – by phone or over the Internet. To make an anonymous report, you must call the state hotline at 1.800.252.5400. This hotline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can also file an online report at www.txabusehotline.org.
To find out more about Sonia Parker and her organization, Parents Against Predators (PAP), please visit their website at www.protectchild1.org.