When the Trust is Broken
When e Trust
When the Trust is Broken
Just When You Think Your Children are Safe, Think Again
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Edited by Barbara-Ann Clifton
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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.
To my Family, Friends, and Girls Club:
You have inspired me more than you know.
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.
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.
is book is especially dedicated to:
My little diddle dumplin’
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
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.
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
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
“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
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
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?”
at single moment changed our lives forever.
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
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.”
At that moment, I was convinced that miracles really
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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