Based on the statistics, someone you know has probably been sexually abused at some point. It’s difficult to know what to say. “What did you do to make this happen?” “You mean you didn’t tell anybody when it happened? So why tell now?” “I don’t believe you were ever abused.” “Can’t you just let go of it? Nothing is happening to you now.” Offering the right words to say, and so much more, is the mission of Trees of Hope.
Definition, effects & statistics
Sexual abuse is any sexual activity (verbal, visual or physical) engaged in without consent that causes emotional or physical harm and exploits a person in order to fulfill another person’s sexual or emotional needs.
Survivors of sexual abuse experience many of the following effects and are strongly encouraged to seek professional counseling before attempting to self-diagnose: low self-esteem, rage, addiction, spacing out, perfectionism, repeatedly feeling betrayed, anxiety, repeated victimization, seductive behavior, anger, depression, codependency and self-destructive behavior.
Statistics say that one in three girls and one in five boys will be sexually abused by age 18. Ninety percent of this abuse is committed by someone they know, love and trust. Sadly, only 35 percent of this abuse is reported, likely due to shame, especially for men. Every statistic represents a person, and it only took one person to start a ministry that God would use to redeem this mess.
The mission statement for Trees of Hope is to heal the wounds of those affected by sexual abuse and to equip communities with practical prevention skills. Founder Dee Proietto drew the ministry name from Isaiah 61:3: “So they will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.” Dee was sexually abused by a houseguest at age five. The abuse was a violation of her body and her trust and boundaries in relationships.
“It’s a club I never wanted to join and one I will never leave,” expressed Dee. “It is filled with the bravest people I have ever known. We are connected on a soul level that never would have happened without our abuse.”
Her own healing journey from sexual abuse began in 2007 at a pregnancy center in Coral Springs. She used her experience as a young unwed mother to minister to the pregnant teens at His Caring Place. After spending time with the women there who had also experienced sexual abuse, she conducted her first healing study at His Caring Place, His Caring Place is a maternity home young women struggling with crisis pregnancies. Two years later, Trees of Hope was born.
“Our purpose is to use something that could have destroyed us to be the strongest voices of our time,” Dee said. “We start movements, change laws, raise awareness and spearhead crusades of tireless activism. We will take the greatest risks and go to ends of the earth in hopes that just one child will be spared the horrors of sexual abuse.”
A healing study is a 12-week small group that studies sexual abuse and unearths its extensive impact on the participant’s life. Each healing study with Trees of Hope is facilitated by past participants and is offered every spring and fall. The Vine study is for women, Roots is for men and Bloom is for teen girls 14-17 years. Participants are encouraged to call themselves “survivors” to cast off the bondage associated with “victim” and to continue growing in their healing journey.
“Many of us have lost our childhood innocence and now we are life-changers, relentless survivors and thrivers,” Dee declared. “Our pain has fueled us and we can now move mountains to protect children.”
The ministry commits to corporate fasting and prayer every week as spiritual warfare is heavy and frequent.
Healing is only half the battle. Ninety-five percent of sexual abuse is preventable. The Trees of Hope prevention workshops aim to equip schools, churches, businesses and ministries to “start the conversation” until every adult knows how to protect the children they love. For example, one of the most empowering things that a child can do is to learn and use the proper names of their body parts. The workshops also cover misconceptions and what to do if abuse has already occurred.
What to say
Time and a listening ear are among the most valuable investments in someone on their healing journey. What gives you an advantage is simply knowing the facts about the epidemic of sexual abuse, especially the fact that nobody but God alone can heal the broken.”You are not alone.” “You are not crazy.” “Your response to what happened is normal.” “You can find hope and healing.” Trees of Hope has seen 1,200 people journey through the program.
“We continue the fight for our brothers and sisters who are in the throes of addiction because the pain of their past keeps haunting them,” Dee said. “We continue the fight for those who didn’t make it because the pain was too great to bear.”
Trees of Hope can be reached at 954-533-2416, [email protected], treesofhope.org and by mail at 116 NE 24th St, Wilton Manors FL, 33305.
Sasha Richardson is a freelance writer for the Good News and can be reached at [email protected].