Me: Elizabeth, take me back to when you were a child, what was life like?
Elizabeth: I grew up in Idaho and I’m one of five children. My biological father is to this day a terrible person, who has been accused many times of sexually abusing children. One time he tried to kill my mother.
My mom became a single mother with five kids and then she met my stepfather who went on to adopt me; they collectively were great parents. However, they were busy dealing with my brother who had substance addiction, so they had no idea abuse was taking place in the home by another family member. I was sexually abused at the age of three and it continued intermittently until the age of 12. Pornography was a driving factor for the abuser; it was rampant and easily accessible. There were many Playboy and Hustler magazines and the movies that were watched; those things were acted out on me by the abuser who had an addiction; I was easy to access, everything but penetration is what I went through.
Regardless of what the act was one thing I have learned is that everybody has their own coping mechanisms and how they deal with trauma. So someone who has been fondled may be just as traumatized as someone who has experienced penetration.
Me: What caused the abuse to end at the age of twelve?
Elizabeth: Two things, I became more vocal about what was happening. I would say, “no” more or make my abuser aware that I would tell, plus lots of family members were moving away so access to me was no longer as easy.
Me: During this time how was school?
Elizabeth: School was awful. I had constant UTIs and I was constantly going to the doctors for random medical conditions; I complained a lot to my teachers. My grades were terrible and I remember one teacher pulled me to the side and scolded me in elementary school for how terrible my grades were and for not doing my homework. At no point did she ask if anything was happening at home, despite me showing up with holey clothes that were unwashed. I almost didn’t graduate from high school; it was a school counselor that helped me make it through.
I also experienced a lot of bullying in school because I was the kid who didn’t take care of herself.
Me: At what point in life did you start dating?
Elizabeth: I was 17 years old and I was raped on a college campus. I met a 19 year old who was attending Idaho State University pre law; the campus was 45 minutes from our house and my parents were out of town, so I got in the car and drove to the campus; we were supposed to be attending a party.
When I arrived, he started giving me a bunch of alcohol and of course I indulged and then he began to advance sexually. I vividly remember telling him, “No” and I froze through the entire situation so he proceeded and I was raped. Late into the night he finally fell asleep, I got into my car and drove home.
It took me a month to report it to the police and they told me, “It’s your word against his” this was because the college student was adamant that it was consensual, this was back in 1997. This left me feeling like I didn’t have any help and there was no place to turn; there was nobody in my life I could trust with the information.
I ended up finding a victim’s activist with the help of my school counselor, which is how I made it through high school.
Me: How did you end up meeting the college student?
Elizabeth: We met each other through AOL it was an online chat room. Unfortunately due to my past, despite being a virgin at the age of 17, I was having inappropriate conversation online and my dress code reflected the desire for attention. What can I say? I was taken advantage of, it shouldn’t have took me to even to have to say no because today if you don’t say, “Yes” it’s automatic grounds for charges.
Me: So there is a long list of trauma from the age of three, you had just turned 18 and then what happened?
Elizabeth: I moved away to another state where one of my sister’s was living; I wanted to run away from my past and the entire trauma. I began dating too much, not coming home at night, I didn’t stick with college, and I had no path in life; I was completely lost.
After several months, I got myself into an abusive and emotionally damaging relationship, to the point where I spent a few nights in my car. My Sister forced me to go see a counselor; my parents had shown up. For the first time in my life someone looked me in the eyes and said, “Who sexually abused you?” This was the first time my parents found out that I had been sexually abused my entire childhood; they were mortified, my Dad cried. I will never forget the guilt that they felt that day. This was no reflection on their parenting; they had no idea and were consumed with my brother’s issues.
Me: What happened after the counseling sessions? Did you heal or did your past continue to take you down a rocky road?
Elizabeth: I ended up joining the military to become a police officer and it gave me a career and some consistency. However, I continued to go down a destructive path of traumatic and abusive relationships. A big reveal like the one with the counselor doesn’t create instant healing.
I met a man in the military and he was great, very charismatic, sweet and attractive. We met in training at the security force academy, I had just moved away from home, got out of a bad relationship and he was four years older than me; I was naive. I later realized he was very manipulative. He would sneak in things and guilt trip me by saying; “Oh I don’t care about you enough if I don’t do certain things for you.” I didn’t even want him to do them knowing they would get me in trouble, like sneak into my dorm room at the academy. He never had a problem bending the rules as a way of making it appear that he cared about me. He would send me down guilt trips and manipulate me.
Then he moved away to his military base and I moved away to mine; he would come visit. We continued our relationship until one night he left early, stayed at a hotel and started a relationship with someone who worked at the hotel. This was his way of blaming me, telling me I angered him so much, causing him to go sleep with another woman. He constantly verbally abused me and put me down. I’ll never forget the time I told him I had been abused and raped, he said, “You are just looking for attention and making people feel bad for you.” He was definitely a narcissist; I later found out.
We were together just under a year and the night he left is the night I conceived our son. I knew I needed to stay in the military, I was only 20 years old; this was the only way I would be able to raise my son. However the military didn’t appreciate single moms nor did they want us in the military. I remember a week before I gave birth, my captain sat me down and said, “You need to get out, if you don’t you are going to get deployed and sent to Saudi Arabia, you are going to have to give your son to a family member and let someone else raise your him.”
So, I gave birth and when my son was 2 weeks old, I left and moved back to Idaho with my honorable discharge papers. I was a single mom working for Wal-Mart and Pizza Hut; I had no career path, I was not old enough to be a police officer. I did the best thing I knew at the time. I had no child support and I was on welfare for several years; I was living on and off with my parents. I also continued down the path of toxic relationships. My son’s father had no communication with us.
Me: When did you get into your next serious relationship and was it toxic?
Elizabeth: When I was 26 years old I met who I thought was the man of my dreams. We met online on a religious dating website. He was in the Army and I was trying to go back to school and find my way in the world. The fact that he was LDS, from Southern Utah, and from a big family, he captured my heart. He took me home to meet his family and I was hooked; we dated for six months and got married. I found out a few weeks before we got married that I was pregnant.
Weeks later I found out he was abusive and we only lasted just over 1 year. He was controlling and bossy which escalated into physical, he picked me up at Christmas, locked me in the room and charged after my son. I picked up the cell phone and said, “I am going to have you arrested if you touch my child.” That was the end of the relationship.
Me: When did things start to turn around in life for the positive?
Elizabeth: I was living on my own with my two sons and I became a journalist. I started to believe in myself and gain confidence. It took me finding my career path to turn life around and go to counseling. I was taking my time with relationships and focusing on myself. I was strengthening, growing, and healing by way of counseling, religion, anti-anxiety medication, fitness, and healthy eating.
It was at the age of 28 that I spoke out publicly for the first time, admitting that I had been raped and sexually abused. I was living in Southern Utah and
I was working on a story about a high school party gone wrong. The high school student had been raped at a high school party; at one point an officer gave some tips on things high school girls could do to prevent from becoming victims. We received tons of hate mail from people saying, “The officer is victim blaming.” So I wrote a letter about a high school girl who had experienced a party gone wrong and all of the things she wished she could have done, I ended the article with, “By the way, that high school girl was me.” I received a text and phone call from an ex boyfriend that said his girlfriend was upset that I had previously been raped and she was forcing him to get tested for STDs; she was afraid I had something. My rapist also reached out to me on Facebook, I had to block him and go through the motions of protecting myself.
I continued to focus on myself, and my kids, I became a radio host and a Television co-anchor. I was no longer afraid to walk away from bad situations.
Me: Are you in a healthy relationship today?
Elizabeth: Yes, I was 32 years old working for a TV station in Idaho because my career took me back there; I was working as a TV anchor and I had to do a story about the first female Marine to graduate from an all male program. I had to go through the communications strategy and that put me on the phone with my now husband. We became friends first.
During our time of dating, I found out that my youngest son was being sexually abused. So I went from being one of the few journalists would cover childhood sexual abuse and rape to being a journalist and advocate who has that child being abused. I found out my son was being abused because he had all the warning signs; bed wetting when he was potty trained, night mares, talking about sex at a young age and too much knowledge about sex, plus he constantly had medical issues. He would freak out when it was time to visit his dad.
One day, I was scheduled to take my son to a specialist in Utah before seeing his dad when his father showed up at our hotel room the night before and told me about an incident in the bath tub; he knew I was going to find out about the abuse. It took my entire journalist training to hold my emotions together and when he left, I sat and cried my eyes out on the hotel bathroom floor.
It took a total of 4 years of fighting for my son, getting a restraining order, spending $70,000 and uncovering that my ex was the physical abuser not the sexual abuser. The person who was sexually abusing my child was a minor family member, my ex husband’s nephew. My ex knew about the abuse and he continued to let my son see his nephew, he didn’t tell me prior to the night in the hotel nor did he report it.
But despite all of this I ended up marrying my boyfriend. We have been married since and he is an amazing man! He has stood by my side through the entire trauma with my son; I am so grateful that I have found the love of my life.
Me: Wow what a story! Where are you and your family at today?
Elizabeth: Today both of my sons are safe and healing. My oldest son is 19 and about to join the military and my youngest son is 12, he is advancing in life through love, support, and counseling. My husband is working on adopting him. My husband and I are best friends and he is in the Marines; I am working in public affairs and competing in beauty pageants; I won the title of Mrs. Virginia America 2016.
Due to the military we have moved a few times and we currently live in California. The more we learned about childhood sexual abuse, the more we found that the military doesn’t have a support system; the Army back when we were dealing with my son, didn’t want anything to do with the situation, they didn’t care.
We feel military families deserve better so we created Operation Innocence.
In 2018, the media began reporting on a startling revelation: the military was failing to protect victims of child sex abuse. Operation Innocence is pledging to bring awareness and training to more than 850 U.S. military bases around the world.
I am so incredibly proud of you Elizabeth; well done SHERO you truly have lived the advice that you give to others, “Regardless of what someone has done to you yesterday or is doing to you today, you have control over tomorrow.” You have shown that it is possible to take control of life once you escape a toxic situation and gain back your power.
To all of our readers if you would like to follow the success of the SHEROS check out updates on Facebook by clicking here.
Each SHERO featured will receive a relaxing mix of Nectar Bath Treats’ most popular bath and body treats. Nectar Bath Treats is a cruelty free bath & body company that creates bakery inspired treats for deliciously smooth skin. Their delightful handmade treats range from adorable cupcake soaps and milkshake inspired coconut milk bath soaks to stress blasting bath bombs, all natural sugar body scrubs, ice cream shaped bubble bath scoops and so much more. If you need to relax after a long day or give yourself smoother more kissable skin, Nectar Bath Treats has you covered head to toe. Each treat is handmade with love by their team of professional soap artisans and skin care specialists for skin so soft and smooth you’ll swear you just left a luxury spa treatment.
The SHEROs will also receive a candle by Sugarboo and Co…Dealers in Whimsy, reminding them that they are a light in the world. Sugarboo believes in putting good out into the world whenever possible. Their hope is that each Sugarboo piece sent out into the world will add a little good! Rebecca Puig’s (artist and owner) inspirations are family, nature, animals, old things, children’s art and folk art. She loves juxtaposing old and new, light and dark, serious subject matter with fluff and anything with a message! Sugarboo’s Motto is “Put Good Things into the World”