My name is Marsha Barth. I was raised in the foothills of West Virginia, but have lived here in Pennsylvania for the last 35 years, where my husband and I started and ran our business for 27 years. Today I work as an advocate, author, and speaker. I have had many opportunities to raise awareness about the issue of child abuse, support survivors, and even reach out to perpetrators of crime. I have spoken at events such as PCAR’s “Vision of Hope” and the National Crime Victims Rights Rally, presented to university students in Criminology and Psychology programs, participated in forums on domestic violence and child abuse, and been interviewed for many radio podcasts and television spotlights. I have worked at an addictions facility, presented at prisons and recovery programs, and developed and taught a four-week study for Teen Challenge (PAATC) on going from Victim to Victor. As an author, I have had four books published.
I love helping the broken and shattered—whether they be in rehab, prison, or working as a politician, nurse, or doctor. Abuse has no boundaries, but crosses all barriers of lifestyle; it affects rich and poor, educated and uneducated, the social elite and the financially despairing. But I never thought that I would be doing this work. One does not just go from being a victim to an advocate.
“Healing” is a journey—a long and painful journey—but a worthwhile one. This is probably one of the greatest challenges for victims: we must face and slay our giants from the past and not bury them under denial, minimization, and justification. I often say that “we must deal, to heal, to feel again.” This means that to heal, we must deal with our issues so we may truly feel again and be set free. Resilience may help us to survive the trauma we have experienced, but it does not heal us.
We must deal, to heal, to feel again.
My story starts with a good family, but sadly there were some bad people in our family. When I was four years old, I went into my grandparents’ coal bin to get two eyes for my snowman. My grandfather had a workshop down near the coal bin; seeing me alone there, he sexually molested me that day. Terrified, I didn’t tell my mom, but she discovered it when she bathed me that night. When I was eight years old, my parents separated and it was then that my father began to sexually abuse me. That abuse lasted until I was 14 years of age. The pain of abuse cannot be described. It shatters your hope, your identity, your trust, your heart, your dreams, your innocence and purity. Broken can be fixed, but shattered leaves you in pieces that you cannot put back together again.
I tried many times to escape my father’s abuse. I was too afraid to tell anyone. I was afraid of what people would think of me. I was afraid my dad would go to jail. I was afraid that my brothers and I would be put into an orphanage. I was afraid that my dad would commit suicide—he tried it twice and my brothers and I had found him both times. I thought if people found out then it would be all my fault. What kept me quiet was the fear and shame, the guilt and blame.
I did find a hope during those troubled years. Every Sunday, my brothers and I would walk up a dirt road to the top of a mountain where a little country church stood. It was there that I learned that my identity was more than that of a shattered and abused child. When I would dig my fingernails into my wrists and think how easy it would be to end this life of pain, a still-small voice of God said to my heart, ”not this way.” He made me believe that I was more than a victim; that He had a purpose for my life. I began to believe this, and ultimately excelled in school despite the abuse. Yet sometimes I came crashing down to such lows that I actually begged God to let me come home. The fear and shame, the guilt and blame, that a child has to survive is as great as the abuse itself. A child is not equipped to know how to sort all of this out, how to cope, how to survive, how to hope. I never told anyone about my abuse until I was 20 years old, when I told my fiancé, who is now my husband of 47 years.
Healing is a journey. We go from victim, to survivor, to overcomer, to conqueror…and ultimately to VICTOR! It is a journey whereby we learn to willingly give up the hurt, the pain, the anger, the unforgiveness; to surrender the fear and shame, the guilt and blame, that we were never meant to carry. It is a journey through which we can experience the true joy of overcoming and shine again from the inside out to let the world know that our abuse does not define us. We must know that it was never, never our fault. The fear and shame and guilt and blame was not ours to bear but was thrown onto us by the perpetrator, like a heavy weight that threatened to drag us down and break us. But we rise again. Truly, we can rise again. For me it started with that one single thread of hope that I found in a little Sunday school room, that thread that helped me heal and grow from victim to victor.
We must know that it was never, never our fault.
When I was young, there were no advocacy centers or resources for children like me. I am so very thankful for Children’s Advocacy Centers of Pennsylvania and the work that they are doing to intervene for our children when abuse happens and help those victims heal…yes, into victors!