Cook: Take back the story

Cook: Take back the story

October 12th, 2014 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse /Times Free Press.

The story of her childhood howls with pain, but don't turn away.

It may be your story too.

The first time was in the back room of a bar. Afterward, he carried her -- she was that young -- back out into the main room, where everybody was drinking and carrying on, like nothing happened.

It was poor Appalachia. Mind your own business.

She got older, so he'd drug her, and take her to truck stops, parties, the mechanic's garage, more bars. For him, it was simple economics. He needed cash to get high, and men paid him to be with her.

"I was told this was love, and this was special, and only special little girls got to have sex and go to adult parties," she said.

It was as much a hell as you'd imagine it to be.

"Shattered," said Kate Price.

Price's story is both rare and common. She is a victim-survivor of sexual slavery -- a commercial sexual exploitation survivor, she calls it -- right here in America. Not the Third World. Not far away.

And while being sexually exploited in America -- sold for money -- may not be common, child sexual abuse certainly is.

One in 12 American youth experiences sexual violence and victimization, reports the Crimes Against Children Research Center.

"There is so much shame," said one friend recently.

He's trying to build a local support group of sex abuse victims.

"Sexual abuse is devastating to society. It permeates everything: work, school, family, relationships," he said. "Yet our society says, 'Don't talk about it.'"

(For more information on the local support group, send an email to behavr38@epbfi.com)

"I have started speaking out," Price said.

On Wednesday, Price travels to Chattanooga as the featured speaker at the annual Take Back the Night march and vigil, sponsored by the Partnership for Families, Children and Adults and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's Women's Center.

In the face of domestic and sexual violence, the Partnership offers a crisis hotline (423-755-2700), intervention services, counseling, shelter and hope to tens of thousands of individuals and families in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama.

"Ninety percent of the time, children are sexually abused by someone they know and trust," Price said.

After high school, she left -- her abuser, her hometown, her family. During and after college, she was drawn to work and research with sex abuse victims.

There, she found a way to tell her own story.

In a way, it's ours too.

"We're No. 1 among industrialized nations for child death from abuse and neglect. We're No. 2 among industrialized nations for children living in poverty," she said.

Such conditions together create what Price called a "perfect storm" for child sexual exploitation and abuse.

"We have this perception of ourselves as a country that puts a premium on child safety, but in actuality, we don't," she said.

Sexual violence in America exists on a continuum. At one end, the very brutal: rape, abuse, exploitation. At the other, a softer system of messaging: online porn, the way women are portrayed in films, a hyper-masculinity that's culturally encouraged.

"Our pornified culture," said Price. "We are teaching [children] this is what you need to mimic. This is what sexuality is in our culture."

It's cyclical: Price reported that 60-90 percent of the women involved in prostitution or pornography have a history of being sexually abused as children; their adult lives then are just an extension of that early violence, which is encouraged and repeated by this "pornified" culture.

Yet there are cures: a growing awareness of the issue, a rejection of proto-male stereotypes, a spreading courage for victims to speak out and -- never forget -- education.

"I learned how to read. It was a place I could go and survive," Price said. "I view my library card as my first passport."

She's now a researcher at Wellesley College in Boston ... and a wife and mom. Her story now shouts with power and freedom.

May it be yours as well.

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.