Utah Child Abuse victims-turned-advocates
SALT LAKE CITY, UT – The winners — who are abuse survivors — stress forgiveness, staying positive and drawing strength from others.
As 8-year-old Keely Parry sat in her third-grade classroom listening to a presentation about sexual abuse seven years ago, she had a realization.
Her father had been abusing her and her older sister Kiera.
Their father was eventually convicted of the abuse, and the girls became advocates for other victims.
On Wednesday, Keely, Kiera and their sister Nieve Parry were recognized, along with fellow abuse survivors Grant Rutherford and Alex Smith, for advocating at a young age and working to prevent further abuse.
Prevent Child Abuse Utah (PCAU), an agency that works to educate the public and stop child abuse, presented the awards at a breakfast ceremony in Salt Lake City. According to a PCAU news release, 1 in 5 children in the U.S. is abused before turning 18. The reported rate of child sexual abuse in Utah is 27 percent, which is three times the national average of 9 percent.
Rutherford was sexually abused at age 8 by a girl a few years older than he was, he told the crowd at the banquet. This year, he centered his high school senior thesis around speaking out about sexual abuse.
Smith experienced physical, emotional and sexual abuse in his first 13 years of life — living in a Russian orphanage until age 5 that left him with scars from cigarette burns and knife wounds, then being adopted by two sets of abusive parents in the U.S. before he was adopted the third and final time by 4th District Juvenile Court Judge Rick Smith and his family.
During the next few years, Smith began to heal from his abuse and became more vocal about abuse in the foster care system.
In their comments, winners noted the importance of forgiveness, staying positive through hard times and gaining strength from the people around them.
PCAU is the organization that gave the presentation in Keely Parry’s elementary school and helped her identify the abuse she had experienced.
“It’s been a really long, hard journey,” an emotional Keely Parry said, “and if it weren’t for [PCAU] and my family, I don’t know what I would do.”
Though now-17-year-old Kiera Parry said she still experiences strong emotions stemming from her abuse, the love she feels from her support system helps her move forward.
Rutherford echoed those sentiments and encouraged audience members — including his graduating senior class — to take action.
“You have a chance to move on, to not only change your life but those around you, including others who may have been abused and don’t know what to do,” Rutherford said. “It’s up to you to speak up and change your environment, and I have a firm knowledge that things do get better once you do.”
The stories from child abuse survivors are inspiring, said PCAU board Chairman Tony Divino, but the agency’s ultimate goal is to “prevent these stories.” To do that, it offers free half-hour online courses to educate people on how to prevent abuse.
It’s a cause, he said, that will have a lasting impact.