Charlottetown survivor of childhood sexual abuse leads awareness group

A survivor of childhood sexual abuse says there needs to be more awareness about the problem and less fear discussing it.

WARNING: This story contains discussion about child sexual abuse and may be disturbing to some

Kate Eastman and her family run the group Turn on the Lights, offering support to survivors of childhood sexual abuse. (CBC)

A survivor of childhood sexual abuse says there needs to be more awareness about the problem and less fear discussing it.

Kate Eastman of Charlottetown has set up an organization and a special walk to bring the issue into the spotlight.

Eastman was sexually abused by her stepfather starting when she was six years old.

"There were times that he would just climb on top of me," said Eastman. "He wanted to be my first and this was a relationship to him."

He was charged, eventually pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to four years in prison.

Kate Eastman says survivors of childhood sexual abuse can feel that no one is going to understand them and no one is going to believe them. (CBC)
It's a hard story to hear, but Eastman says childhood sexual abuse needs to be talked about.

She and her family have set up the group Turn on the Lights to offer support to others.

"It's the abuse that's not talked about, and we keep it unreported, and we keep it silenced all the time and that's not what it should be," Eastman said. "So we started Turn on the Lights in hopes of raising awareness and bringing more people forward, and letting them know that they're not alone."

Family part of group

Another family member involved is Eastman's mother.

"We called it Turn on the Lights because it's bringing light to a crime that happens in the dark, and that there's darkness about, we want it to be brought to the light," said Deborah McEachern. "Abusers operate in secret, they operate in the dark."

 'Somebody has to be an advocate.'-Kate Eastman

Eastman tries to help people through her facebook site, email, or talking in person.

Some of those who reach out still haven't reported the abuse.

"I think you have that feeling of just being alone, that nobody is going to understand you and nobody is going to believe you," she said.

Had publication ban removed

Eastman herself had to get a publication ban lifted in order to speak publicly about what happened to her.

"It's easy to kind of print it in the paper and not say the victim's name and say the perp's name or even, you know, this girl, or this boy had it happen to them," explained Eastman. "But to have someone stand up and say, 'No! Use my name, use my face, somebody has to be an advocate for somebody."

Eastman still struggles some days, she said, but feels silence is worse.

"I find it uplifting, it's peaceful knowing that you're helping other people in this world," she said. "If there had been something like that when, before I came out, I probably would have come out sooner."

Deborah McEachern, Kate Eastman's mother, says her family wants to bring something good out of something bad. (CBC)
Her family hopes someday to turn the group into a charity, so they can help people financially as well.

"Everything you knew is gone, your home is gone, your furniture is gone, your friends are gone, everything you ... knew has vanished, that's what this is like, you lose everything," said McEachern. "It doesn't matter what he did, we were married, I'm responsible for his debt."

Kate Eastman sees a counsellor, and walks are always good therapy as well.

Her family says they want to bring something good out of something bad.

On Saturday night, the Turn on the Lights group will hold a walk on the Charlottetown boardwalk.

It will begin with a moment of silence, with walkers holding lights, a chance to show other survivors — and those still living with abuse — that they're not alone.

Kate Eastman said at last year's walk, a participant told her it was the first time that she didn't feel so alone.