Photo Credit: Viktor Talashuk, Unsplash.com

Written by Tom Kress
October 30, 2019

Trigger Warning: This article speaks to sexual abuse.

While being sexually abused, I remember having a certain awareness and feeling that this wasn’t right. I was just 7 years old and this man was doing things to me I couldn’t understand. Of course, they were painful and confusing. Also, he had gotten me drunk, so I passed out during it. Unfortunately, almost 50 years later I still remember as if it were yesterday. Waking up the next day, I remember thinking, “what did I do wrong?”

I was threatened to keep it a secret. So, I did. For a multitude of reasons, I kept it secret. Remember how I said I had an awareness of these acts not being right? I did, but I didn’t know what to do with that awareness. Instantly when I awoke, I felt shame and said to myself, “don’t tell anyone—that way you won’t get into trouble.” 

For a very long time, I thought it was my fault this happened to me.

I know you’re all screaming at me while you read this, “Just tell someone! Tell someone!” Do me a favor, I want you to think of one thing: during your childhood, how often did you have conversations with anyone about how to keep your body, mind, and spirit safe from sexual, physical, emotional abuse? I’m certain your answer’s going to be never (If it isn’t, consider yourself lucky). 

Our schools do a great job of keeping us safe with fire drills, lockdown drills, bus drills, intruder drills, tornado/earthquake drills and more. Until 10 years ago, we never talked about sexual abuse in our schools.

Fortunately, slowly but surely, we’re getting smarter and smarter teaching our kids about this terrible crime. Finally, we have a hero giving children who are in the midst of being sexually, physically and emotionally abused a voice. Her name’s Erin Merryn. Around 10 years ago this social worker, sexual abuse survivor, and now mother of three has gotten a law passed to mandate public schools to speak on/learn sexual abuse awareness and prevention. It’s appropriately called Erin’s Law.

The law was passed in my home state of Illinois first. Since then, 36 states have signed on and passed this law. Just this past year, New York and New Jersey have passed. Erin has been advocating endlessly and tirelessly to get this law passed in all 50 states. She’s promised to never give up until that happens.

The Power of Judgment

Early in 2016, through a dear friend, I learned someone was presenting an Erin’s Law program at her school. I asked if I could come to her school and take in the program. When I showed up at school I met the presenter. His name was Victor Pacini and he proceeded to present his program “Be Seen and Heard.” It was fantastic. You could see each student being empowered by this message. Afterward, I asked him who was doing this with you and he said no one. I then said, “what can we do to make it happen that I help you spread this important message?”

In October of 2016, I quit my job of 15 years with Hewlett-Packard and began speaking in schools on this very important topic. Fulfilling the mandate of Erin’s Law for the schools, empowering children to stay safe from sexual abuse with “Be Seen and Heard.”

From the first presentation, I knew I’d found my purpose. Empowering children so they would never experience the pain and suffering of this hideous crime. Two years ago, Victor and I came to an amicable business agreement to go our separate ways. Since then I’ve written an Erin’s Law program based on my own experiences, especially the experience of getting my power back. This highly effective Erin’s Law program is called Your POWER Project.

To date, I have presented to 180 schools, presenting 725 times to students, staff, and administrations, totaling 76,000 people taking in this powerful message. Of course, the goal is to empower that one child to disclose of the abusive situation they may be in. Fortunately, that number is 63 (and these are the ones we know about).

The absolute key to us staying safe from any type of abuse is having great awareness about our surroundings and about how we feel. So, I ask this question everywhere I go–to kindergarten through high school-aged students–I ask, “Who here believes they are powerful people?” 

It’s so interesting how it breaks down. It’s my belief we were all born to be powerful people. The kindergartners through fourth graders know it and feel it. They raise their hand immediately, every single one of them. Then in fifth grade, hands begin to stay down or raise more slowly. Usually, it’s about 80% of hands are raised as soon as I ask. In sixth grade it goes down to about 70%, then seventh grade is 50%, and in eighth grade and high school that percentage is well below 40%. It’s also my belief that the main reason for the precipitous fall in hands raised is one thing: judgment

Beginning in third grade and on up into high school, I ask them, “how many of you have been judged by your family?” Quite a few hands go up. I then ask, “who here has been judged by your friends?” Again, more hands go up. Then I share the big question, “when you fail that test or drop that ball, how many of you judge yourselves?” Almost all of the hands go up. 

The Power of Your Voice

This is where we lose our power the most. When we allow others to judge us–and even worse, when we judge ourselves–we lose our power in a big way and it isn’t how we’re meant to live. We’re meant to live powerful lives so that we can reach and realize our goals and dreams. 

Your POWER Project is an Erin’s Law program based on how we can keep our power and have awareness when someone has crossed our boundary–and utilize our powerful voice–so we can speak up and tell of our abuse (sexual, physical, or emotional).

This is such a vital part of the program because as you read earlier, this was the bane of my existence for 22 years until I finally found my voice when my wife, Jill, was the first person I ever told of my abuse. Our voice is such a powerful tool and our relationship with our own personal hero is so incredibly important–especially in times of abuse, bullying, or self-doubt. 

We keep or get our power back when we use our voice to talk about the things that are troubling us. 

There’s a part of the program that talks about young minds and how they aren’t fully developed until they’re 25 years old, especially in the frontal lobe where we make decisions and make sense about how we feel. This is why social workers are in our schools. The program continually encourages that our young people must communicate more about how we feel. We even share songs that my nephew and his band helped me write, record, and perform. 

It’s true with all of us, we were all born to live a powerful life. Judgment sucks our power away continually. I learned to live in my power from the teaching of iPEC (Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching) when I became a life coach 10 years ago. Then, taking their graduate course, COR.E Dynamics, in 2014 was pivotal in my coaching practice. It was even more impactful in my personal life, especially when I read the book Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach. Now, I live an incredibly powerful life and want nothing more than to pay it forward. That’s why I do what I do.

Hear more from Tom on his One Idea Away Podcast episode!

Photo Credit: Viktor Talashuk, Unsplash.com