Freedom from Shame

For years I have wondered if I even had the courage or strength to write this. It has been a heavy burden on me, filled with doubt and anxiety—should I dare? Would anyone listen? Would anyone care? What makes me so special? These, and many more, doubts and fears have plagued me. So I kept silent, not knowing that part of me was withering away and tending to a festering wound that was slowing killing me.

I say now with complete confidence: Time is up.

I now have the strength to say that Wayne Heflin, a science and Bible teacher at Holly Grove Christian School, sexually abused me over the course of a summer, five months after my mother died in 2001.

It disgusts me to say, see, and type his name, however, he must be revealed for the monster that he is. For seventeen years I kept silent, only telling those closest to me and various therapists and psychiatrists. I’m shaking as I type this now, but I physically and emotionally cannot stay silent anymore. I don’t care if it makes you uncomfortable, or angry, or if you think I’m lying—this is my story and you have no say in it.

I will first start off by addressing the abuser.

Wayne Heflin,

Do you have any idea what you have done to me? No, and likely you are denying it. You have made it almost impossible for me to have a normal relationship, you have caused me to look over my shoulder in bars or restaurants, I cannot stand in line at Starbucks or a grocery store when there is a man in front and a man behind me—I have to get out of line. I have flashbacks of all the times you touched me, whispered in my ear, and then had the audacity to pray for me. You have made it impossible for me to ever trust any member of a church.

How many others have you done this to? How many little girls have you violated?

You took advantage of my grief and confusion over losing my mother, you manipulated me into thinking that you were a force of comfort and grace. In reality, you were a predator sizing up your prey, waiting for the right opportunity to strike. I cannot go to that park in Pocomoke, your essence still resides there, your voice echoes in the trees and in the water. That was your plan, right? To take me to desolate areas so that nobody would know that you’re actually grooming me? Deny it all you want, lie to everyone, I know what happened and you will not silence me anymore. You have lost your power over me, your grasp on me has ended. I heard recently that little girls don’t stay little forever, that they turn into strong women who come back and destroy your world. Now I am a goddess, a world eater, and you are nothing—a small, insignificant man who’s only power was to manipulate and take advantage of little girls—no more.

I know I will not get the justice I deserve: to see you rot in prison and pay for your crimes. This is something I will have to endure, however, I will not endure it silently anymore. I will take away your power, and I will crush your reputation. You do not deserve to wear the banner of “Christian” or “man of God,” I will strangle you with that banner, and make sure that the world knows what kind of vile, repulsive man you are.

Now I will address the institution that enabled this predator.

Holly Grove “Christian” School,

It has been seventeen years since this incident, you have probably changed—last I heard you were accredited or something. If you are seeking congratulations from me, don’t hold your breath. To me, you will always be a cesspool of lies and deceit.

I was fourteen years old when this transpired, now I am thirty and I am much more capable of standing up for myself—and I intend to do just that. People are wondering “What did the school have anything to do with it?” My reply is quite a bit.

I came to you in hopes that you, a Christian institution, would stand up for me, and hand this predator over to the authorities. You did not. Instead, you warned him about what was happening and let him go. You did not cooperate with Social Services, nor did you offer any comfort to me or my family. In doing this, you showed me that you did not care what happened—all that mattered to you was your precious reputation, not the students inhabiting your walls. Mr. Bess, Mr. Johnson, you were in charge of this institution. You had the power to do something about this, you were supposed to be men of God, you were supposed to stand up for those who were too weak to do so themselves. Instead, you enabled a predator and simply brushed the entire situation under the rug. Do you realize that in doing this, it was basically like being abused all over again? That you silenced me, you made me feel ashamed—that it was my fault this happened to me. Mr. Johnson, a few years later, when you became principal after Mr. Bess left, I was visiting the school to see my sister—you called me into your office to talk to me about a post I made online about how unfair your treatment of my fellow classmate was. You had the nerve, the audacity to say to me: “How could you have said all this? We’ve done so much for you.” I would like you to tell me what exactly you have done for me. Because all I remember is this: you and your colleges shamed me and made me feel like my voice and story was meaningless. You caused me to doubt everything that happened. You enabled a predator to walk free, and you then pretended as if nothing had happened. That’s what you did for me, and I will never forget it.

I have no idea who is still at this institution, or how much it has changed. Quite frankly I don’t care. That does not erase or condone what happened to me and who knows how many others. I will never have any respect or admiration for Holly Grove Christian School.

I know that many of you are wondering “Why now? Why bring this up after seventeen years?” My answer is this: I will not be shamed into silence anymore. I will not allow that predator or that institution control my life anymore. I have kept silent about this for too long. It is time to open the curtain, to show what is behind it and show why I am the way I am.

If you are angry and think I am lying or over-reacting if this offends you or makes you uncomfortable—well I don’t really care. This didn’t happen to you, you were not the victim of it. It didn’t happen to Mr. Bess or Mr. Johnson, it didn’t happen to my classmates, as far as I know, this happened to me. This is my story, my voice and I deserve to be heard. I am not saying any of this to destroy anyone, this isn’t some mission of a vendetta—this is not for anyone but me.

I used to believe that I would never be anything more than a victim, I know now that is not the case. That is what that predator and that institution want me to think, to be silent and pretend as if it never happened, to “move on” with my life. I know that this is a part of me now, but it will not define me—nor will it have power over me anymore. That little girl inside me was dying to cry out, yearning for some sort of kindness and understanding—instead, she was silenced and met with cold indifference. Now I have given that little girl a voice and would like to sincerely apologize to her for how long it took. I would like to hold her and tell her that she is worthy, even when “men of God” tell her she is not.

To those of you who are suffering in silence, who have been shamed into it, I want you to know that this is not easy for me at all. I am still shaking now, even toward the end of this impact statement. However, even though I am scared, I have gained my power back. I want that for you as well, whatever form it may take—whether it be a statement such as this or some other way. You deserve to have a voice. Your story matters because it is yours, and how you choose to tell it is up to you. I have taken my destiny back, my past will not define me anymore. I have the courage to stand firm in my story, despite what naysayers do, despite what “Christians” may have me believe.

As I said before, I don’t really care what anyone says, does, or believes to be true. I know this happened, and while I am still struggling to believe that it has to be enough, I know in the future I will come out of this stronger. To those of you who have believed me, and have been there for me throughout this journey: To say thank you isn’t enough, to tell you that I appreciate everything you have done isn’t enough. I will never be able to express how much it means to me that you simply believed me, and stood beside me.

If you are still reading this, for whatever reason, thank you. You have enabled me.