Do you imagine stockings hung by the chimney, hot cocoa and curling up by the fire with those you love?

 Unfortunately, this is not the reality for many. For some, Christmas is a time of deep anxiety and sadness. This couldn’t be more true than for those that have experienced sexual abuse.

Haley*, now a young adult, shares her Christmas story.

Haley suffered through sexual abuse from her father for many years – in silence. She told no one about the heartbreak she endured and tried to move forward with her life. Last Christmas, she visited her father, which was uneventful – or so she thought. The visit churned up feelings she had forgotten and immediately after the visit, she began waking up with horrific nightmares of her abuse.

Haley, now aware of her feelings, became afraid for her younger siblings and realized she had to speak out. She finally told her mother Karen* about the abuse, who instantly believed what Haley revealed; this is one of the most important moments in the journey of a survivor of sexual abuse! Karen immediately took Haley to the police department to file a report. The police department notified ASTOP and an advocate promptly arrived to support Haley and her mom.

ASTOP’s advocate offered services for both Haley and Karen. ASTOP provides support not only for survivors of sexual abuse, but affected family members as well. Haley and Karen each decided to see a counselor and a client advocate.

They have been utilizing ASTOP’s services since last year. Haley is having great success in counseling, and is using art projects as a way to open up her feelings about the abuse. ASTOP’s client advocate is supporting Haley and her mom through the entire court process. Haley appreciates the encouragement because she is reassured in making decisions that are best for her. It has been a long, difficult process, and Haley is grateful to have the ongoing support of ASTOP’s advocacy program.

Haley has become quite involved in other opportunities through ASTOP as well. She participated in ASTOP’s Equine Experiential Therapy program for clients. Equine-assisted therapy is a creative and innovative way to address many therapeutic needs. Through interactions with horses, clients discover and explore patterns within themselves and their relationships that they struggle with day to day. The size and strength of the horses stirs emotions while providing a way of identifying relational and interpersonal matters.

She attended a Survivors and Allies Task Force meeting, facilitated by the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault (WCASA.) Survivors and Allies Task Force Meetings are held to bring Wisconsin survivors and their allies together so they may network and discuss new developments in the sexual assault movement. Clearly, Haley is becoming an advocate herself for others working through sexual abuse!

“We need more people speaking out about sexual abuse and domestic violence,” said Haley. “Nothing changes until the community is aware of how real this is and often it is happening.”

Haley and so many more like her are the reason ASTOP exists. Haley’s courage in coming forward is inspiring. The mission of ASTOP is illustrated in her story, and it is exciting to see her move from surviving to thriving!

*names have been changed to protect privacy