Courage to speak out on the torment of sexual abuse

Davida Belone said she was sexually abused from childhood until she was 14 years old. Now an adult, she wants to live a healthy life and shed light on an ugliness that hides behind closed doors.

“I never got my answers as to why it happened, I probably never will,” she said bluntly. “I probably won’t ever feel like an apology is ever going to take the pain and suffering away.”

After a rebellious youth and several failed relationships, Belone finally decided to seek help, saying she wanted to protect her grandson and five sons.

“Domestic violence was a big issue,” the 44-year-old said. “I didn’t want my sons to have unhealthy relationships, so I figured to educate myself with relationships, as far as domestic relationships and intimacy. That’s when the ball started rolling and I started becoming involved in other classes and doing counseling.”

Victims of abuse often experience troubled romantic relationships.

“They call it ‘attachment hungry,’” Belone said. “When you’ve been sexually assaulted or have some kind of sexual violence against you, you’re week and not very confident in yourself. You can be coorced into the untruths and easily influenced by others that claim they love you.”

Belone said she sought help through the Renew Crisis Hotline, AXIS Health System, a primary care physician and the Family Leadership Training Institute.

“They are the ones that actually ignited this fire within me,” she said. “That’s when I took on the project of advocating against sexual violence. It just fell in with my past, my experience with my sexual traumas.”

While victims of sexual assault usually go unnamed, Belone said she wants her name to be known and wants to help others, encouraging them to call a hotline or attend a support group.

“I want to break that cycle or at least teach the community to be aware that it starts in the home,” she said, adding Cortez is a caring community. “If they can take that same caring and affection into their homes in every home in Cortez, I don’t think we would have such high numbers.”

According to Colorado Bureau of Investigation statistics, there was only one rape reported to local law enforcement in 2010 with seven arrests for sex offenses that year.

But officials estimate that for every reported sexual assault there are three or four that go unreported.

Joanne Denner, a coordinator for the 22nd Judicial District Sexual Assault Response Team said for the perpetrator, sexual assault is not about sex, but about power.

“The incidents of sexual assaults are high, and most incidents are not reported, for one reason or another,” she said. “A lot of times, people don’t even realize that they’ve been a victim of sexual assault. It could take years to really realize that yeah, that was rape.”

Further, Belone said in 90 percent of sexual assaults, the assailant is someone the victim knows.

“The sooner they can get help, the sooner they can manage their suffering,” she said. “They can choose not to suffer, and handle their pain accordingly as they learn how.”

Belone said the hardest part for her, was speaking out.

“The stereotyping alone, it can grasp you negatively to the point where you get subdued so much that you can’t speak out,” she said, adding acceptance is the first step. “I still have guilt, but (I’m) learning how to deal with it, that it was not my fault.”

Talking about the issue is particularly difficult in Native American culture, said Belone, who is a member of the Navajo Tribe.

“It’s taboo. Like death, you just don’t speak of it,” she said, adding every time she said something, she was not believed or sent to live with another relative.

Through her research, Belone said she learned that perpetrators of sexual violence were likely victims once.

“They themselves are suffering in not knowing how to manage their pain, and continue to repeat the cycle,” she said. “I want people to know that there’s two sides to the story and they’re both very traumatic. As soon as we learn to accept it, we can learn to speak out as a community.”

The anonymous Renew Crisis hotline can be called at 565-2100. The Wings Safehouse offers shelter for victims of abuse. For more information, go to www.renew-inc.org.

Reach Reid Wright at reidw@cortezjournal.com