Shannon holds a school-age photo of herself, taken from one of the scrapbooks her mother made over the years. The photo has been trimmed with decorative scissors, and the sticker that attaches it to the page says “Season’s Greetings” in cartoon-style type. The young Shannon sits poised against a dark blue color-washed backdrop, her shoulder-length hair softly curling against one side of her face. She wears a red dress with white polk-a-dots and a lace collar embroidered with a festive holly design. She’s smiling just enough that you can see the shadow of a missing front tooth. She looks like any other child who’s been asked to hold still for the camera. But in just a few years, the girl in the photo will become a victim of sexual abuse that will affect her for the rest of her life.
Shannon—now in her thirties—reflects on her child self. “I feel very sad for the little person that I remember myself being,” she says. “You know how in movies when somebody has a spirit trapped inside their body or something, and it’s trying to get out? That is how I picture my childhood. Here’s this little person who has so much joy and love; yet there’s this thing that’s inside of her, just really trying to morph out of the body that it’s in and she’s continuously doing whatever she can to prevent it from coming out.”
Here’s this little person who has so much joy and love; yet there’s this thing that’s inside of her…
Shannon, a Pennsylvania survivor whose abuse by a family member began when she was about ten years old, recalls her feelings of fear and isolation as a child: “The very first time it happened, I was completely in fear of what this meant for my life…I really thought that I was taking this to the grave. I suppressed the memories but they would come up from time to time and I would convince myself, You are going to die with this secret…which is a really isolating feeling and a scary place to be as a kid, feeling like I was completely alone in that.”
When Shannon was in her teens, she learned that her older sister Danielle had also been victimized by the same family member. Encouraged by her sister’s willingness to talk about what happened, Shannon was able to also come forward. “It just caused all of the memories to come out and start flooding back to me,” says Shannon, “and I got the confidence and the bravery to say something to my parents.”
Having a sister who knows what it’s like is a big deal: “We’ve been fortunate to have each other to lean on during this process. A lot of people don’t have somebody who really understands on that level.” As adult survivors, Shannon and Danielle are both thriving—but their healing journeys became possible when they found the courage to talk about the trauma they experienced.
I told myself, “nobody can ever know this” because that’s how shameful it felt.
As a child, Shannon hid her pain and suffering from others. “I was very much a rule follower and I wanted to be this picture perfect kind of child,” she recalls. “And so I walked around with this facade: on the inside I was screaming but on the outside, I looked like a very happy-go-lucky kid.” As an adult working in the child advocacy field, Shannon recognizes in her young self the feelings of shame and secrecy that many victims carry: “What happened to me was so painful that I tried in any way to cover up those feelings and cover up the shame that I was feeling. At the time, I told myself, I’m taking this to the grave; nobody can ever know this because that’s how shameful it felt.”
The SHINE campaign helps survivors like Shannon and Danielle know that their voices matter. “That’s what SHINE means to me,” reflects Shannon, “just really taking the stigma away from being a survivor and letting people know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
That’s what SHINE means to me…taking the stigma away from being a survivor and letting people know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Shannon reflects on how far she’s come from the childhood trauma she lived through: “I’m doing tremendously today.” Shannon works in the child advocacy movement and is grateful for the opportunity to “give back” to people who survived the same thing she survived. “It’s like I found my place in the world…It’s really an honor to be working in this field.” Shannon feels a calling to help inform people about the hard realities of child abuse. She says there are a lot of misconceptions: about how abuse happens, when abuse happens, which children become victims, and who perpetrates abuse. “I always make it a point to make sure I’m educating along the way,” says Shannon.
Shannon is a big advocate for educating children about their bodies. “It’s cliche to say, but knowledge is power and kids knowing what their body parts are, and what their functions are, is so absolutely key to making sure that they understand when something is not being handled properly,” says Shannon. The same thing goes for emotions, and Shannon wants parents and caregivers to make sure their children are encouraged to talk about how they feel: “I was definitely raised in the children-are-seen-but-not-heard way. And that’s shifting now, but there are communities out there that still operate in that way. We need to teach children that they have a voice, they can use their voice, and that if they tell a trusted adult they will be believed and supported.”
In addition to professional fulfillment, Shannon’s also found herself thriving in her personal life: “I’m married to a wonderfully supportive person, I have three fur-babies, and I’m just very happy and grateful.”