Sex abuse survivor shares tale of despair, helped get law to protect young victims.
By Melissa Fletcher Stoeltje | My SA | Thursday, April 26, 2012
Jenna Quinn is a sex abuse survivor who turned her painful experience into triumph in the form of Jenna’s Law — a 2009 Texas statute that requires school districts to educate students, teachers and parents on the signs of child sexual abuse.
On Thursday, Quinn, 25, addressed some 300 attendees at a luncheon during an annual conference put on by ChildSafe, a local nonprofit that helps more than 1,700 victims of child abuse each year.
The event, continuing today with a host of seminars for professionals, brings together about 35 organizations that focus on child welfare, social services, law enforcement, nursing and the judicial system.
Quinn, who lives in Dallas, told the crowd her dark tale of despair that ends with a message of redemption.
“I felt trapped,” she said, talking of her pain while the abuse was going on. “I felt isolated, confused, fearful but most of all shameful. Every victim feels a false sense of shame, but they don’t do anything to bring the abuse on.”
Her pain started when she was 12 and the child molester — her basketball coach and a longtime friend of her family — began “grooming” her.
“He was like a father to me,” Quinn said. “Our families went on vacations and holidays together.”
The man — a pillar of the community and regular church member — disclosed sexual things to her, warning she had to keep their talks secret or it would destroy both families.
Two years later, he began physically sexually abusing her, torment that would go on for two more years.
Over four years, the once-popular teen withdrew from life, growing distant from family and friends, overeating in hopes of making herself unattractive, cutting her ankles with a knife, hardly sleeping.
Her grades dropped. Eventually Quinn made preparations to commit suicide.
Baffled, her parents took her from doctor to doctor. Not one brought up the possibility of sexual abuse.
Finally, in 2003, Quinn told an insistent older sister what was going on. Her family closed ranks around her.
“I’m lucky,” she said. “Many victims don’t get any support within the family.”
Found guilty, the perpetrator was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Quinn and her family thought life would resume normally after that, but her depression and post-traumatic stress disorder increased as suppressed feelings about the abuse surfaced.
After much counseling and a renewal of her faith in God, healing slowly happened, Quinn said.
“You cannot experience freedom without forgiveness,” she said.
While she was doing an internship for a degree in psychology, Quinn learned the statistics: One in four girls and one in six boys will be molested before age 18.
“Thirty percent of victims never disclose to anyone,” she said. “I thought: Where are children all day? They’re in school.”
Quinn decided to act.
The result was Jenna’s Law. Besides mandating awareness programs in schools, the law requires districts to have a plan to report abuse and offer counseling options to victims.