No Longer Invisible - Shedding Light on Sexual Abuse, Molestation

Barrington M. Salmon | 11/22/2011, 1:45 a.m.

One night, after a day of the usual children's horseplay and banter at her aunt's house, a little girl's cousin stood the five-year-old on a chair.

Then without warning, his head disappeared under her nightgown. Startled and afraid, she froze, hoping that if she did nothing he would stop.

The young girl was molested by her 17-year-old cousin in front of his 12-year-old brother. Following his brother's lead, for the next eight years, the younger boy also sexually abused her. It finally ended when Lavinia Battle Freeman was 13 and he was 20.

Freeman survived the anguish, anger and confusion of being sexually abused and started a conscious clothing line called No Longer Invisible (NLI) a year ago to shed light on an issue she said is too often brushed under the rug. She also established The NLI Foundation to fund counseling services for survivors.

"Someone you know and love is a survivor of sexual abuse and someone you know and love is an abuser," she said. "The stereotype is of a dirty, old man looking at kids on a playground. It's not what you wore, or how you looked. It's a lack of self control of the abuser who takes the opportunity to take advantage of someone who is weaker than them."

Freeman, 42, said her cousin cornered her every chance he got, groped her, touched her and forced her to touch him.

"Earlier on, I didn't know it wasn't my fault," she said. "I definitely felt responsible. Most kids do because they don't know any better.

Freeman, wife of a pastor and mother of three, said she never told anyone of her ordeal except her mom when she was 28 only after her counselor "made me." She told her twin sister years later and informed the rest her family within the last year only because she started NLI.

She paid a hefty price for her silence.

"I was an angry child. I was very mean and didn't want anyone to touch me," she explained. "I felt I didn't have any control of my body. I attributed it to the pressure and stress of being a victim."

"When I was 28, it was literally eating me alive. I didn't say anything as a child because my dad would have killed him," said Freeman. "My cousin has a great sense of humor and people like him. Abusers are savvy at wearing masks themselves and casting themselves as a caring, reliable person who has the child's best interests at heart. It's sad. So many people have been through it."

Statistics indicate that about 80,000 sexual abuse cases involving children are reported each year in the U.S., but an untold number go unreported because children are afraid to tell anyone.

"Child victims hardly ever tell," Freeman said. "One in four girls are survivors and one in six boys are abuse survivors too. That's high. The numbers are astronomical. As we go about our business and people are living their lives, children are being molested. It is so secretive and so sensitive that no one talks about it."