This is probably the most embarrassing picture of me ever taken. I am hesitant to even post this. Friends say I look adorable and am “The cutest cheerleader EVER.” But to me I simply felt exposed. I was in front of a lot of people, in a skirt no less.
Truth. This is me when I was being commercially sexually exploited and sexually abused by multiple members of my biological family. Everything looking “normal” is a key to how child sexual violence continues.
How can I be smiling in the midst of such horror? My exploiter isolated me by telling me I was more “special” than other little girls. I was often (but not always) “protected” from punches and being thrown against walls. This was also a few years before I started “getting wise” to understanding what was happening to me and confronted my exploiter.
Granted, my cheerleading “career” was very short-lived. I was embarrassed by the attention and towering over my peers (not to mention the fact I was — and remain — a tomboy who would rather be playing ball in overalls). I quit after one year and went back to hiding behind my books.
While this photo is personally mortifying, I am grateful this moment in my life was captured on film. Such childhood photos are physical evidence and reminders that we need to look beyond the obvious when keeping kids safe. Just because a child is smiling and participating in activities, doesn’t meet he isn’t hurting or in danger. We must look past the surface to keep kids safe.