Victims of child sexual abuse speak out for changes to laws

Charles Dunlap
A protestor holds up a sign at the Save Our Children protest Saturday at Veterans Memorial Park in Boonville. The purpose of the protest was to create a safe space for victims of child sexual abuse to come tell their story, organizer Carmen Shoemaker said. She plans further protests locally and at the Missouri Capitol to seek changes to sexual abuse laws.

Victims of child sexual abuse wanted to give a voice to voiceless children and so held a Save the Children protest Saturday in Boonville.

Around 25 people attended the protest, with many sharing their story at Main and High streets at Veterans Memorial Park, organizer Carmen Shoemaker said.

The protest is not a response to the sentencing of former KWRT news director Robert Bosma, she said. Bosma pleaded guilty Aug. 5 to child molestation, receiving five years probation. He was arrested Aug. 19 on a probation violation. A hearing was held Monday, which resulted in a continuation to Sept. 14.

“It was not necessarily based off of him,” Shoemaker said. “I just have noticed more and more #SaveOurChildren was trending and it’s a very personal issue for me.”

Shoemaker was the victim of a child sex crime when she was five or six, she said. Adults around her did not provide support or believe her, she said. Because of Shoemaker’s age at the time of the abuse, she had not yet been taught by family that what happened was wrong, she said.

“We need to be the generation that breaks the silence and opens people’s eyes,” Shoemaker said. “The children this is happening to are so scared and fearful about what will happen if they don’t speak up, so they don’t know what to do.”

Shoemaker is pushing for stricter punishments for perpetrators and to eliminate statutes of limitation, which can prevent victims from seeking criminal charges if too many years have passed between the abuse and when the victim was ready to bring charges.

“We, as adults, need to take that responsibility and pay more attention to our children when they are talking to us,” she said. “We need to create a safe space for them, so they can know they are being listened to.”

While most of the speakers Saturday were women, Shoemaker emphasized that not all victims are girls and not all perpetrators are men.

“Around one in three girls and one in five boys are sexually abused,” she said. “That is a sad, sad number.”

According to an updated study by Darkness to Light, child sexual abuse statistics indicate 10.7% to 17.4% of victims are girls and 3.8% to 4.6% victims are boys, with the overall range at 7.5% to 11.7% of all children.

This is why Shoemaker feels so strongly about changing statutes of limitation.

“It is just protecting these disgusting people and needs to be lifted,” she said.

So, more protests are being planned locally and at the Missouri Capitol.

“That is where [change] needs to start is with our people who are in higher power and can actually do something about changing these laws,” Shoemaker said.

Protests are just in the planning stages, and so, in the meantime, Shoemaker is looking for a partner organization to assist, support and to provide guidance, she said.

“We created noise, but we also created a safe space for people to feel support and to feel heard,” Shoemaker said about the Saturday protest, noting people came from all across the region.

One speaker came from farther away than the north of Interstate 70 region. Mary Trexler of Branson is working to get her story known about her childhood and how she was treated by her family.

“I have tried to do this once before without a national movement behind me,” she said.

Trexler was abused by her adoptive father from when she was about 4 years old until 11 years old, she said. Other family members did not believe her and actively worked against her when she tried to speak out, she said.

“I was asked to come stand with those who maybe are not quite ready to speak out yet,” she said.

Trexler is working toward forming a support group for victims in her area.

A friend of Trexler’s contacted their school’s guidance office when they were 13 after reading a note from Trexler that described her depression and self-harm. The guidance office contacted law enforcement after it learned about the alleged abuse.

“My adoptive mom coached me into retracting my statement and she has fought, for the last 18 years, and my adoptive sisters have fought against me,” Trexler said.

Trexler ended up estranged from her adoptive family, but had briefly reconciled. Her daughter, around the age of four, told Trexler that her adoptive father had allegedly abused her, too.

“So, we started the process all over again with me in a different position,” she said. “I have not had contact with them since 2014.”

In 2017, Trexler learned that another young family member was allegedly abused by her adoptive father.

“I testified to provide the pattern of behavior,” Trexler said. “Once again, [my family] were able to get the case closed and now with the Save Our Children movement, it felt like the right time for me to speak out.”