When I was 9 years old my father brought me into his bedroom to tell me that he and my mom were getting divorced. I spent the night in his bed and that was when my worse nightmare began. My dad sexually molested me. I was devastated. As the years went on, the abuse got progressively worse.

When I was 11 years old my dad decided to tell the congregation elders of Jehovah’s Witnesses that he was sexually abusing me. First he talked to them and then I had to talk to them. I sat in a room with 3 grown men who asked me embarrassing questions about my nightmare. I felt relieved and hopeful that finally he would stop hurting me. He didn’t. Eventually he raped me. After many meetings with different groups of congregation elders I lost hope. I was too scared to tell my mom what my dad was doing to me and I felt so ashamed and dirty for not saying anything to stop it. A couple of the elders would offer to let me sleep on their couch on the weekends that I was at my dad’s. My dad would drop me off to strange homes where I slept on the couch and he picked me up in the morning. It was very awkward.

When I was 16 I finally got the courage to tell my mother that my father had been sexually abusing me. She did everything a good mother would do and called the police and Child Protective Services. I no longer had to go to my dad’s on the weekends and he was eventually charged with sexual abuse crimes and went to jail.

I thought that my dad going to jail would be the end of my nightmare but it was just beginning. I was depressed. I hated myself. I hated my body. I felt disgusting and used. In my mind I had no worth. My emotional distress manifested itself as physical ailments. I went to my doctor and thankfully she was intuitive enough to know I wasn’t sick physically but I was emotionally sick. She gave me a counselor’s card and told me, “Amanda, you deserve to be the woman you were meant to be.” Those words meant more to me than she could have ever known.

I began my journey of healing and quickly found out how expensive it was to see a counselor. I was going to need months or possibly years of counseling to unravel all the hurt and pain I was experiencing. I felt victimized all over again! I was sexually abused and now I had to pay to feel better! I did manage to pay for the counseling I needed but it was not easy.

Unfortunately, my nightmare was not something my family wanted to talk about, so we didn’t. It was as if nothing ever happened. Three years after telling my mother that my dad was sexually abusing me she was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. I can’t prove it but I believe that the guilt and pain that my mom felt ate her up inside and eventually manifested itself as breast cancer and ultimately took her young life.

I believe that if I had known earlier that I heeded counseling I could have avoided many destructive behaviors I got involved in, in an effort to feel better. I believe that if my mom had known she needed counseling she would be here today. I don’t understand many things that went on in my young life. For instance, how could all those grown men who had children themselves knowingly let my dad take me away while they did nothing. Why didn’t the Jehovah Witness elders call the police to help me? How could my father do this to me? I find comfort in not understanding them. I know I am stronger than they are.

Today, I am a Christian who is married to a wonderful man and has 3 beautiful boys. God had impressed upon me to use my experience to reach out to others who are confused and broken hearted from being sexually abused and help them get the healing they need and deserve so they can hear when God calls them. This is my work that HE has given me to do and I could not be more humbled or more honored. Through my foundation Fighting For Me I want to make it possible for anyone who has been sexually abused to get the counseling they deserve and the family and friends of the abused person to get the counseling and healing they need too. To me, FREE sexual abuse counseling is as basic a need as clean water.

Amanda Zarate is a passionate advocate for sexual abuse survivors. As a survivor herself, she has dedicated her life to helping men, women and children affected by sexual abuse.  Fighting For Me, a non-profit organization, offers free professional counseling to sexual abuse survivors and their families.

Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue please contact Voice of OC Involvement Editor Theresa Sears at TSears@voiceofoc.org

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