A Changed Life, Changing Lives

Antoinette’s Story for Child Abuse Prevention Month

AntoinetteIf you see her walking her golden retriever, Athena, along Third Street South, you might admire her beautiful smile or her confident posture.

You might notice her gentle demeanor with her pet, and if you engage her in conversation, you’d be struck by her intelligent, articulate manner of speech. You might be surprised to learn that this mature young woman is just 21 years old, and you’d be even more surprised to learn that she grew up in the most horrendous of situations. Antoinette is a survivor of child abuse: sexual, physical and emotional, from the time she was a toddler. But she has refused to let her history define her.

“I can’t go back and change what happened to me, she says, but I can control what I do from here.”

Today she speaks to audiences large and small about the abuse she suffered; how she kept her terrible secret until age 16, when Child Protection Team at the Children’s Advocacy Center of Collier County started her on the road to healing and CAC’s advocates helped put her abuser (and the abuser of several other children) behind bars.

She talks about the choice she made to not become a statistic, and her commitment to help other children begin their own journeys to healing.

As she speaks, candidly and without a hint of s e l f – pity, individuals and groups are moved to tears, and inspired to learn what they can do to help prevent child abuse and support the work of agencies like the CAC.

“I grew up in a single-parent household with two younger siblings. We never lived in the same place for more than a few months. Because of multiple incidents of abuse I was in and out of the foster care system. I lost family members to drug overdoses, and others to incarceration.  My family never quite knew how to express their love for me, nor did they know how to make me feel valued. I was often told that I’d follow in my relatives’ footsteps and that I would never have a good life.”

“When I was about fourteen years old, my sister and I started going to church, and were overwhelmed with the acceptance and love we experienced from people who didn’t even know us. It was the first time we ever heard the words “I’m proud of you.” I found the same kind of acceptance at the CAC, and that’s when I got the courage to let go of my terrible secret and begin my healing. It’s a nurturing place, painted bright with kid colors; there are pictures on the walls, toys, and stuffed animals. I had to go into extreme detail about my experience, but the Child Protection Team staff made me feel comfortable about my disclosures. Later, I met my advocate, Meghan Greene, who helped me through the long legal process. Because of the detail I was able to provide, the Child Protection Team and the police were able to track down other girls who had been victims of this abuser, and their stories were the same. Thankfully this man is now in jail where he can’t hurt people anymore.”

“After my case was finished, Meghan asked if I would be willing to share my story. Now, I speak both to individuals and to large groups. People tell me that I am helping change lives, but I believe that it has changed my life the most.”

Antoinette is currently enjoying her job as a pet groomer. It has been a nurturing experience and given her time to contemplate, as her plans for the future continue to evolve.

“I now realize that I can help others by sharing my story, and speaking on behalf of abused children,” she says. “After one of my talks recently,” to a group from the Naples Children & Education Foundation, the founders of the Winter Wine Festival, “a patron came up to me and said that he was inspired by my story. I was genuinely shocked that someone who gave so much to the community and helped me through supporting the CAC would be inspired by who I have become.”

“I’m over 21 now, no longer a child, but the CAC is still in my corner. I am glad, now, to be able to do that for others.”

To learn more about the Children’s Advocacy Center of Collier County and how you can help, visit www.caccollier.org. Or call 239.263.8383.


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