This is the story--a grandmother's story--of the experiences and events that have shaped her life, including the sexual abuse of her four-year-old granddaughter in a daycare center. In these pages, the author will share her trials and tribulations and provide insight into overcoming life's adversities, as well as what to do when the unthinkable comes out of nowhere.
It is a personal, powerful, and agonizing story including a devastating fire, a flood, serious car accident, two failed marriages, a horrific family death, and the despicable acts of sexual abuse on her granddaughter, and the emotional impact it had on her family as well as the strength and forgiveness it took to overcome these challenges.
Child sexual abuse is a violation of trust that can happen anywhere, anytime. Sex offenders do not pick and choose. Every child id a potential victim. "When the Trust is Broken" will not only educate the public but assist in recognizing some of the warning signs. Included are many success stories and many resources available to share. Everyone should have the tools and the power to protect their family.
"When the Trust is Broken" will take you through the day of sentencing and the prosecution of the perpetrator. "Children need to know it was never their fault but the fault of the sex offender." The convicted sex offender in this case is now serving 21 years.
When the Trust is Broken When e Trust is Broken Sharon Grace When the Trust is Broken Just When You Think Your Children are Safe, Think Again Copyright © 2010 Grace Group. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, mechanical or electronic, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author or publisher (except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages and/or short brief video clips in a review.) Disclaimer: The Publisher and the Author make no representations or warranties with respect to the accuracy or completeness of the contents of this work and speciﬁcally disclaim all warranties, including without limitation warranties of ﬁtness for a particular purpose. No warranty may be created or extended by sales or promotional materials. The advice and strategies contained herein may not be suitable for every situation. This work is sold with the understanding that the Publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional services. If professional assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. Neither the Publisher nor the Author shall be liable for damages arising herefrom. The fact that an organization or website is referred to in this work as a citation and/or a potential source of further information does not mean that the Author or the Publisher endorses the information the organization or website may provide or recommendations it may make. Further, readers should be aware that internet websites listed in this work may have changed or disappeared between when this work was written and when it is read. Although the events in this book are true, some names have been changed or omitted to protect the innocent. Author Contact Information: Website: www.Sharongrace.com Email: Sharongrace@rochester.rr.com Edited by Barbara-Ann Clifton ISBN 978-1-60037-732-7 Library of Congress Control Number: 2009940093 Morgan James Publishing 1225 Franklin Ave., STE 325 Garden City, NY 11530-1693 Toll Free 800-485-4943 www.MorganJamesPublishing.com In an effort to support local communities, raise awareness and funds, Morgan James Publishing donates one percent of all book sales for the life of each book to Habitat for Humanity. Get involved today, visit www.HelpHabitatForHumanity.org. Acknowledgements: To my Husband: For the unconditional love, support, and patience. For the energy, enthusiasm and inspiration you give me each day. For believing in me more than I believed in myself and encouraging the completion of this book. To my Children: e greatest gifts in life, and giving purpose to mine. You have been challenged to overcome adversity and rejection. I could not be more proud for who you are and what you have become. Your strength and endurance continue to inspire me. I am proud to be your Mom. To my additional Children: ank you for your love and support and the joy you have added to my life. To my Mother: Whose loving relationship with me has come full circle. To Shirley and Red: Who have stood by me during every crisis and event in my adult life. Who taught me conﬁdence and the gift of giving from the heart. v To my Family, Friends, and Girls Club: You have inspired me more than you know. To Jean: My sister and my best friend who never once walked away or ever let anyone or anything come between us. Who gave my children a lifetime of love and support. To Greg and Sue: e best friends anyone could ask for! Your help, support, and encouragement to keep things in their perspective was greatly appreciated. As well as reminding me it’s OK to laugh. To my friend Dan: For your countless hours of support to make this book possible. To my friend Jean T: Who has listened to almost every speech I have ever written and endless material for my motivational programs as well as my book. To the Bivona Child Advocacy Center: Kathie and Lou Bivona for your generosity and life’s devotion to the success of providing a safe place, services and support for children of sexual and physical abuse. vi To e National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, New York Branch: For your help with prevention of child abduction and sexual exploitation; ﬁnding missing children; assisting victims of child abduction and sexual exploitation, their families, and the professionals who serve them. To e Monroe County District Attorney and Assistant District Attorneys of e Child Abuse and Domestic Violence Bureau: For the conscious eﬀort you make and the thankless hours of work on behalf of all of the children who are victims of sexual and other abuses. Most of all—My Grandchildren: Like ﬁnding a rare and precious gem, each in a setting of their own. A mother’s ultimate reward and compliment to her family. For allowing me to be your voice and teaching me the importance of making a diﬀerence in the lives of other children. vii is book is especially dedicated to: My little diddle dumplin’ viii is book is dedicated to Chloe, a child who’s been robbed of her innocence by the ruthless behavior of a trusted adult and a system that failed her before she had a chance to ﬁght back. On a personal level, nothing satisﬁes me more than knowing we’ve had the privilege of helping children like Chloe regain conﬁdence in themselves and learn to trust that not all older people are bad; that there are, in fact, a lot of people that fundamentally do care about their well being and happiness. And, have the strength of character to stand up for them. anks to the wonderful staﬀ of the Bivona Child Advocacy Center for their commitment and labor of love on behalf of all the children who cross our path. With your help and dedication, many kids like Chloe and their families have a better chance in life. Chloe, may you grow up to be a brave young woman; that you fulﬁll your dreams and aspirations to become an accomplished member of your community; and live a happy, full life. God bless you. Lou Bivona ix I will never forget the look on my granddaughter’s face when she told me about the ‘bad man’ and what you did to her. Sharon Grace to Michael Bennett, Monroe County Court, June 13, 2007 PROLOGUE O ne warm September evening, my husband John and I went to visit my daughter Morgan and her family. We were all sitting in the living room, talking casually and playing with the children, when our attention was suddenly drawn to the six o’clock news playing in the background. “Our top story tonight focuses on allegations of sexual abuse of a four-year-old girl at a Penﬁeld daycare center,” the male announcer said. Everyone in the room stopped what they were doing. We were stunned by the news, especially since my grandchildren had recently attended a Penﬁeld daycare center. en a photo appeared on the screen of the man who’d been arrested for the crime. Aside from his orange, prison-issue jumpsuit, he looked like a pretty 1 Prologue normal guy, someone you might see at the grocery store, the post oﬃce or church. He was a husband, a father and someone’s son. But to me, he was the monster that committed this horriﬁc, unthinkable crime. Not once, not twice, but multiple times. When I turned to look at my four-year-old granddaughter Chloe, I saw she was paralyzed with fear. She seemed terriﬁed by what she had seen on TV. e expression on her face told me immediately that something was terribly wrong. Instantly, all of the signs from the past months made sense to me. Her eyes widened, her head jerked backward and her mouth opened wide. en she covered it with her tiny hand as she gasped for a breath, pointed at the television and screamed, “Nana, that is the bad man. Do you know what he did to me-e-e-e-e-e?” Oh—my—God! at single moment changed our lives forever. 2 CHAPTER 1 T he trust we place in people is something we take for granted every single day. Without trust, our society would fall apart. When we’re driving down the highway at ﬁfty-ﬁve miles per hour, we trust that the person in the oncoming car isn’t going to cross the yellow line. When we’re in a grocery store, we trust that the food we buy is safe to eat. We trust our doctors’ decisions and that the medications they prescribe will help us heal. We have learned many times and in many ways to trust. We teach our children to build trusting relationships with teachers, coaches, bus drivers, priests, politicians, ﬁremen, police oﬃcers —the list goes on and on. But sometimes it’s challenging to try and establish trust without promoting mistrust. 3 Chapter 1 Unfortunately, some of the people we trust most wind up slipping through the cracks. And when that happens, we can’t rewind the clock. Every family struggles with some type of dysfunction. I believe that no matter who you are, where you live or what you have, at some point in life, everyone is challenged by the unexpected. One thing I know for sure is that strength, attitude and faith brought this 55-year- old daughter, wife, mother and nana to it, through it and, eventually, beyond it. I had always been the type of person who tried to put her best face forward, just like I was taught to do: hair groomed, nails polished and makeup done, even on days I didn’t go to work. My clothes were always pressed and appropriate for the occasion. My shoes and bag had to match, and even my jewelry was well coordinated. Although I seemed pretty together on the outside, I hid the pain, the hurt, the secret suﬀering and the growing fear of the unknown for many years. I found it diﬃcult to trust anyone, and I found myself growing skeptical and more suspicious. But I’m getting ahead of myself. 4 When the Trust is Broken From a very young age, it was apparent how much I loved to help other people. I’ve always tried to make a diﬀerence, by solving problems, consoling those in pain or just oﬀering a soft shoulder to cry on. I especially enjoyed caring for and attending to the needs of children. Aside from watching my younger siblings, my ﬁrst real babysitting job was for the daughters of my orthodontist. It was in their big blue house at the end of a cul-de-sac where my love for children really blossomed. Each time I entered their house, which was just about every weekend, I felt a great sense of responsibility. Not only did I have fun feeding, bathing and telling bedtime stories to those lovely blonde-haired little girls, but I gained quite a bit of experience, too. I grew my business and babysat for friends and neighbors all the way through high school. At the time, I thought ﬁfty cents an hour—and seventy-ﬁve cents after midnight—was really good money! As far back as I can remember I’ve always been interested in talking to people. Because of my social nature and my interest in personal grooming, it was only natural that I developed a penchant for hairstyling at an early age. At ﬁrst I worked on my dolls’ hair, and then when I was twelve I gave my ﬁrst live haircut—to my younger sister on family portrait day! 5 Chapter 1 While in high school, I attended beauty school and began my career as a stylist. After graduation, I meshed the two things I enjoyed doing most…talking to people and making them feel good about themselves. I thought I was oﬀ to a pretty good start, but the next two decades proved extremely challenging. Since I grew up in a very large family, I was expected to go to high school, get a job, get married and raise a family. I did just that, all in the right order. I’m not sure if I did it to escape my family situation or because I thought it was the right thing to do. If only I knew then what I know now, maybe I would not have been as trusting or have allowed so many bad things to happen in my life. I had really looked forward to having a family and living a happy life. I was the third of seven children and the ﬁrst daughter. ere was always a baby around, always a youngster in a car seat and always someone to take care of. I truly enjoyed taking responsibility for the younger children, and I especially loved getting them up ﬁrst thing in the morning. ey had such a look of innocence, and that sweet, fresh smell of Johnson’s baby powder that they’d been sprinkled with the night before. I would parade them up and down the street in the stroller, so proud to be the big sister. 6 When the Trust is Broken As I watched my mother hover over the little ones, gently teaching them to walk and talk, I could only hope to be as loving with my own children someday. She didn’t make it look very hard. Get the children up, feed them and send them oﬀ to school. Do your chores and errands, make dinner, have coﬀee with neighbors or relatives, send the children to bed and start all over again the next day. I could handle that, I thought. Like my own mother, I married at the young age of nineteen. But unlike her, my ﬁrst child didn’t arrive for another ﬁve years. I’d been told that my chances of bearing children were slim because of a prior medical diagnosis, which I had a diﬃcult time accepting. I couldn’t imagine not having children, especially since I felt so well prepared to care for them. What I wasn’t prepared for was such a crushing disappointment. Imagine me not having children! I had dreamed of being a mother all my life. I knew there were alternatives, and I would have considered them all, especially adoption. But then one day, after exhibiting an extraordinary amount of patience, I ﬁnally heard my doctor say the words I’d longed to hear—“You’re pregnant, and everything looks good.” 7 Chapter 1 At that moment, I was convinced that miracles really do happen. I couldn’t believe it. I wanted to jump up and down, and tell the whole world I was having a baby! I would get to wake up every morning and go to bed each night with a child of my very own to love and nurture. I was overwhelmed by emotions, both anxious and excited about the many wonderful experiences that awaited me. I wanted so much to be a mother, and I prayed that I’d be a really good one to this child. My family would mean everything to me. ose nine and a half months went by more quickly than I expected, and on that anksgiving night, I ended up with much more than just indigestion after my turkey dinner. Early the next morning, my lifelong dream was fulﬁlled. I delivered a beautiful, healthy baby boy and named him Michael. Every gift I received was blue, from clothes and pajamas to knitted blankets. Even the toys and building blocks came in all shades of the color. en, just as I was adjusting to motherhood, I was blessed with another miracle. I became pregnant again, and this time around, our house was ﬁlled with pink, pink, and more pink. I gave birth to a baby girl named Morgan. 8 When the Trust is Broken At that point, it seemed like I had it all: a son, a daughter and a nice home. It was exactly what I’d envisioned during all those years of babysitting. Of course, alcohol abuse and inappropriate behavior weren’t part of the perfect life I’d planned for myself. But they turned out to be the elements that destroyed my marriage soon after Morgan was born. Our family life was shattered before it ever really began. Had I not seen the signs or had I chose to overlook them? Having grown up in a family plagued by alcohol issues, I thought I would have known better than to put myself in such a position. I never believed I would make that kind of mistake, and the fact that I did made me feel like such a failure. e divorce was ﬁnal, but my guilt and shame lived on. ere I was, a single mom with two small children and a fractured fairy tale for a life. What would people think? What would happen to my children? I knew they were too young to feel any kind of emotional attachment to their father or understand what they would be missing in their lives. Regardless, I worried about how this life change would aﬀect them later on. No matter how horrible I felt about what had happened, I knew I had to move on. It didn’t take long for me to realize I’d been handed a tremendous responsibility. But 9 Chapter 1 there was no turning back, and my children were all that mattered. Somehow I managed to learn how to balance taking care of my kids, working hard and even having a little fun when I could ﬁnd the time. For instance, my girlfriends suggested that I join a softball league. ey thought I might be spending too much time on my children and not enough time on myself. As much as I loved sharing all the daily activities with Michael and Morgan, I had to admit I secretly craved adult interaction. e decision to join the softball team proved to be a good one. I found the experience very rewarding, and I made many lasting friendships. I brought my children to the games because leaving them home with a sitter was not an option. I felt much more comfortable having them close to me, and I didn’t really trust them with too many people. Taking them to the games also provided a great opportunity for them to learn how to behave in public. And it helped me teach them how to respect others and communicate well, two life skills that had always been important to me. I thought that having my children see me from a diﬀerent perspective would help establish a bond of trust between us. And besides, they enjoyed sitting on the 10 When the Trust is Broken sidelines and rooting for their mother. Not to mention all the attention they received from the other adults. It was through my softball league that I met my second husband, who was actually one of my coaches. He seemed like a very nice man and took an immediate interest in my children. As soon as I got to know him better, we started doing things together with the children, including picnics, parties and even outings with friends. While we were dating, I had a serious car accident that left me with a minor brain injury. It happened during a driving rainstorm on a Rochester expressway, when a tractor-trailer ran my new-to-me Camaro oﬀ the road. I had just picked up the freshly painted car a few days before, from the father of my best friend. It took me four months to recover and a whole year to heal completely. During my recovery period, my children spent most of their time with our sitter, whom they lovingly called Aunt Mamie. When the other moms came to pick up their children, they would ask how I was doing. Aunt Mamie told me Morgan would repeatedly say, “Do you know why my Mom didn’t die in her car accident? Because she has two lovely children!” at thought has stayed with me ever since and been a driving force in my life. 11 Chapter 1 Less than a year later, after being in a coma for eight days, my youngest brother died, the result of a tragic motorcycle accident. He was only nineteen years old. Crushed by sadness, I thought I had felt every emotion there was to feel…until I stood over his grave as hundreds of balloons were released in the air and the song “Free Bird” played in the background. But I kept my head held high; I didn’t want to look weak. I was still too tough to cry in front of anyone. Looking back now, how I wish I had cried for my baby brother. Around the same time, my coach was also in an automobile accident, which he miraculously survived. After so much tragedy, I was emotionally worn out. Relying on each other for strength, the coach and I continued to develop our relationship. We bought an old farmhouse in the country and decided to get married. He also began adoption proceedings to insure that my young children would be given roots, stability and the same last name. Our new life kept us very busy. We both had full-time jobs, and we spent many hours caring for our ninety acres of land, which we’d turned into a Christmas tree farm. After months of remodeling our home, we woke up one cold February morning to ﬁnd the family room ﬂooded. 12 When the Trust is Broken Apparently, some of the pipes had burst during the night. We got started right away on repairing the damage, which required us to replace all the ﬂoors and walls. As we continued to pour our blood, sweat and tears into the house, we got another big surprise. But this time the news was good, and soon we were preparing for an addition of another kind. 13 CHAPTER 2 A year and a day after our wedding, I gave birth to my second son, Blake. It had been nine years since Morgan was born, and the joy I felt far exceeded my expectations. Another miracle! Life had certainly changed over the years and changed for the better. We were now a big, happy family, all living together in a large but cozy farmhouse. We entertained often; our family and friends would drive out to the country to enjoy a tractor ride, a walk around the property or a quiet afternoon with the kids. Because he was so much younger than our other children, Blake was always the center of everyone’s attention. Michael and Morgan would ﬁght to have a turn at holding and feeding him. I promised both of them th
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