A woman who suffered years of abuse at the hands of a family friend has a message for abuse victims: "Speak up. Don't wait."
The young Jacksonville woman is breaking her silence about how she was manipulated by a family friend who, she says, molested her for 11 years. She and her mother are sharing their story with the hope it will encourage other abuse victims to get help now.
She says it started when she was just 6 years old. The "nice man" who lived across the street befriended her father as he was going through a divorce with her mother.
"Getting $20 every other weekend for no apparent reason is really cool," says the young woman, who we are not naming to protect her identity as an abuse victim. We will call her Jane in this story.
Jane says she thought the man was just being nice. It started with her spending time with the man and her father together. Nothing unusual. But as the two got to know the man better, her father allowed him to take her on errands.
"He would have me go shopping with him to the Farmer's Market and do things to me, not only in his car to and from, but he would do it once we got to the location he was reaching," says Jane.
She says she hated what was happening to her, but she was afraid the man would hurt her father if she ever told anyone.
"He said he knew people in the mid-east mafia. I thought Al-Qaeda terrorist group at that age," she says.
The abuse happened during the same time as the September 11th terrorist attacks. She says the man molesting her was middle eastern, but had been living in Jacksonville for years. She says he was a well respected business owner, but, with her young age, she believed he could be a terrorist who would hurt her father.
At the time, Jane says her father was struggling with alcohol dependency. If she told her mother, she thought her mother would prevent her from seeing her father. Jane says she felt she was the only one who could take care of him.
Jane's mother says she suspected something was happening with her daughter because of her behavior when she would return from her father's house.
"I was constantly questioning her as to why this man was so interested in she and her father," says Jane's mother.
She says her daughter was turning into an angry, depressed, at times, violent child with severe anxieties.
"We went to, I bet, six different doctors, psychiatrists, trying to figure out what was going on. I had her tested for ADD twice, I knew something was wrong," says Jane's mother.
The secrecy that she was sworn to and the fear was so strong she would say, "No mom, you don't understand, he's just Daddy's friend and he helps us," recounts the tearful mother.
She says she had talked with her daughter about good touch and bad touch, explaining, "that nobody was allowed to touch those body parts, but mom, dad or the doctor."
Jane's mother says she thought she had done a good job educating her daughter about who was allowed to touch her body. Jane says the man who was molesting her would frequently refer to her as his relative.
"With every other person, I was strong about that, but the way he weaned himself in (into her life) to make him seem like family and family is included in the good touch, bad touch thing," explained Jane about why she did not think it was wrong that this man was molesting her.
"He was so bold, he had no fear of being caught," says Jane's mother, who is angry at how the man manipulated and hurt her daughter. She says, "he would do this with my ex (husband) in the other room. He did this in his place of business with other people in a separate room."
The abuse continued throughout Jane's elementary, middle and high school years. It was not until Jane was 17 that she broke her silence. She only did so after the man moved away.
"There was no way he could harm me or my family. My dad was gone, he was gone and I finally felt in my comfort zone," says Jane.
Jane's mother says, "it took my breath away," describing the moment her daughter told her what had happened to her for 11 years. Jane is now 22. She has been in therapy for years. She was never able to finish college because of severe anxiety attacks. Until recently, she had trouble working full time.