Survivor Stories

Breaking the Silence

Empowering survivors one story at a time.

When victims share their stories, they become survivors. When survivors share their story, they have the last word; it’s hope. By sharing personal stories of abuse, disclosure, trauma, and healing, we will bring unity and strength to the community of men, women, and child that have experienced the evil of child abuse. We hope to give others the courage to break the silence. Speaking out about abuse is difficult—sixty-two percent of children who endure sexual abuse never disclose it. We will lend you courage. As you read these stories, if you have experienced abuse, we hope you will find your voice.

Tiffani Shurtleff

“I would write letters to my third-grade teacher. I never had the courage to send them, but I always held out hope that someday she would notice. I just wished so often that she would save me.” Tiffani Shurtleff, Child Abuse Survivor.

My dad passed away when I was very young.

Looking back, that trauma alone was enough to cause me to hide. However, it served as the most common excuse for adults to explain away my anger, rebellion, and withdrawal. I was labeled “the angry one” in my teenage years, so I began to live up to their description.

It started when I was only five. A little girl who was missing her father, perhaps it made me an easy target. Looking back, I was groomed. Special gifts, secrets, nicknames, ways to be isolated and alone with him… He would threaten to hurt my family. I knew I didn’t like it, but I honestly didn’t realize just how wrong and sick it truly was.

I look at young children now, and my heart breaks all over again. My innocence was taken at a time when I didn’t even know what it was. I suffered in silence for more than a decade.

There were times that my life was in danger; my abuser would strangle me until I passed out. Then, he could rape me without resistance. Then, he would give me pills and alcohol when I was only twelve and thirteen years old.

In 2005, at the age of 15, I tried to commit suicide for the first time. Since then, I have survived two other attempts. During the hospitalization in 2005, I disclosed for the very first time. “I was raped.” I finally told. I was finally brave enough to speak up for myself, and nothing happened.

After my first attempt to take my life, I confided in a trusted friend. She was only 15 as well, and she was suffering through her own abuse. It was a very unhealthy relationship, but it was the safety we created. We decided we would hurt ourselves instead of allowing him the privilege. It felt like an attempt to self-medicate.  We shared our stories and began cutting together, being angry together, and searching to reestablish control that had been taken from us.

The distraction of my suicide attempt allowed my source of pain to be swept under my depression. Loved ones didn’t know how to talk about it, so they didn’t even try.  From that moment forward, I knew healing would have to be my own responsibility.

I’m 31 now. I am proud to say I have been seeking ongoing therapy for the past five years. It was eleven years of isolated coping before I sought professional help.  I’m grateful Children’s Center offers therapy for victims after their disclosure. Being heard, believed, and then given tools to heal is life changing.

What does healing look like?

A possibility. I will never arrive, but always walking towards it. I am always pursuing mental health. I celebrate that I have fewer bad days, and they are further apart. I know how to recognize and redirect when triggered, and I have healthy ways to push back against the darkness.

What helps you on bad days?

I do something for myself. I go somewhere, even if I want to be alone; I don’t allow isolation. I may go sit alone in a park – but that’s healthier than staying alone in my own head.

I enjoy writing, music, and I actively practice gratitude. Also, spending quality time with my son is an active part of my recovery. As you can see, my tattoos are also therapeutic for me.

Body art to remind me of the victories I have earned.

What would you tell an adult, encouraging them to report suspected child abuse?

Don’t leave the burden on the child. It’s too big and too heavy for anyone to carry alone, but for a kid, it feels too big to tell. Don’t make them. Step in and be their rescue.

Parents should continually ask the hard questions to create the time, space, and safety to share.

“Has anyone hurt you?”

“Why are you so angry?”

Either of those questions, asked by a safe adult, would have changed my life.

Many caring people try to encourage me with words like, “you should be over it by now,” “you need to try to forgive and forget,” or “that it was so long ago.” Unfortunately, those words do not encourage; they hurt. Conversations like this are valuable. I’d like to help educate well-meaning friends and families. Please don’t make those assumptions. Don’t speak out of ignorance, don’t minimize, and don’t re-traumatize. Your words feel just like a kick in the face to a wounded soul.

What are you most proud of today?

Surviving. He doesn’t have the final word, He didn’t win.  I am a good mom, strong, independent, and healing more every day. Even in my struggles, I didn’t quit. I am willing to walk through the layers of trauma. And, because I got help, I have tools to cope, and I am here to raise my son. I still struggle, but I am working towards rewriting my trauma story.

Tiffani, we thank you for sharing your story.

Thank you for breaking the silence. There is a powerful transformation that happens when what was done to us doesn’t determine who we will be. Your healing and recovery will always be a part of your daily story, but it’s a part of your beauty and strength. It’s yours to share to inspire and empower others. Tiffani, you are a survivor.

Kristina Dunlap

Kristina Dunlap, a successful local business owner, recently sat down with Children’s Center to share her story. While her childhood includes years of abuse, her story is one of survival, perseverance, healing, and hope.

It is personal and intimate when victims share their experience of abuse. While no one has faced the same circumstances, survivors have a common thread that unites them. There is power and freedom available when you break the silence by sharing your story. When you speak out, you shine the light, and it means you do not suffer alone anymore.

Throughout Kristina’s childhood, she interacted with people who could have intervened. School teachers did not question, Sunday school teachers turned a blind eye, emergency room doctors failed to notice the patterns; essentially, the system failed her. Broken relationships, low self-esteem, and a damaging stigma plagued her early years. She was a child longing to be rescued, one who never outgrew her abuse.

At the age of fourteen, Kristina wanted to commit suicide. After more than 20 years of abuse, Kristina decided to heal. While there was no quick fix solution, years of healing choices and establishing boundaries have given Kristina the ability to remake her life.

Looking back, what’s the one thing you wish would have happened?

“My childhood filled with physical abuse from the person who was supposed to love me; sexual abuse from people who were supposed to protect me.

I just wanted someone to save me.

I wanted someone to see that I wasn’t okay. I needed help.

I needed to be rescued.

If you skip all the horrible things that happened to me, the evil and abuse, the unhealthy ways I responded to that evil. At fourteen, I wanted to die. If you look at my life today, you must know that life can be what you make it. My kids are incredible human beings; my business is a blessing to us and others; we live in the most amazing place with the most amazing people. Life is beautiful.”

She and her husband now live in Carl Junction; own Bailey’s family restaurant, have three beautiful sons, and a grandbaby.