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In her own words: What this child sex abuse survivor’s experience means now as a mother

These statics are from ChildUSA, an national organization led by a nationally known expert on child sexual abuse, law professor and lawyer Marci Hamilton.
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Connie Altamirano is a survivor of childhood molestation who began her crusade against the sexual abuse of children in the state legislature.

When this mom-activist found her voice, she knew she could help others find theirs.

In this first of a three-part series, she shares how her own experience as a victim has affected her as a woman, and most importantly at this juncture, as a parent.

Sexual abuse of children has become a terrible epidemic. Amid growing concerns about this emotionally charged issue — each year, more than three million reports of child abuse are made in the United States, according to ChildHelp.org — a headline-making report from a Pennsylvania grand jury last month revealed stunning findings about abuse within the Catholic Church. It turns out that hundreds of Pennsylvania priests may have molested more than 1,000 children over several decades.

These startling revelations have motivated one brave New Yorker and mother of two — who is still fighting demons from her difficult past — to keep advocating for victims, as she and other survivors continue to fight for justice in Albany, while bringing awareness about child sex abuse to their local communities.

At 44, Ridgewood, Queens, resident Connie Altamirano looks back on her struggles as a victim, and says she has spent years coming to terms with her ordeal and searching for her voice, so she could live a meaningful, happy life and help other victims find their voices.

But Altamirano is still healing. In a recent tweet she writes, “My past is always in my present affecting my day 2 day living.”

Since first sharing her story with New York Parenting readers back in 2015, her goal has been to fight for reform of New York State’s archaic and rigid child sex-abuse laws. But the battle has been an uphill climb.

These frustrating laws, says Altamirano, help protect the abusers, while leaving victims like herself and others in the dust, scrambling to pick up the pieces, so they can live relatively normal lives.

New York’s problematic legislation, which seemingly hasn’t budged an inch in decades, continues to anger impatient victims who have been seeking closure. Sadly, the wheels of justice haven’t been moving fast enough, and time is of the essence. Although she’s remaining hopeful, Altamirano says, “I’m getting old.”

In short, everybody agrees that this deplorable situation can be remedied by reforming our statute of limitations and by making the so-called Child Victims Act the law in New York. Due to New York State’s outdated statute of limitations law for these offenses, future generations of children are at risk, as predators go unpunished for their crimes — even for decades.

Individuals and organizations have worked tirelessly on behalf of the Child Victims Act. And hopefully, persistent voices like Altamirano’s will ultimately prevail, as she and others continue to point out the unfairness of current law and the damaging effect it has on our society.

The central point of contention on this issue seems to be the “look-back window,” a provision survivors and advocates have been pushing for which would open a one-year window during which child sexual-abuse cases whose statutes of limitation have expired could be brought in civil court against both abusive individuals and any institutions that enabled or protected them.

While the act has been passed several times in recent years by the assembly, it has, year after year, been stalled in committee and has yet to even reach the floor for a vote in the state senate.

“We need the look-back window to expose those hidden predators. Without it, they are free to abuse more children,” Altamirano says, adding, “as of now, there are no updates … I’m disappointed that the senate failed to act during this session, and I would hope that any senator who’s about protecting our children would return to Albany for a special session to negotiate a bill that will rectify the past, protect the present, and secure the future safety of New York’s children.”

“I have come to realize, as citizens, we must maintain regular contact with senators, assembly members, council members, but also in our communities. I’ve learned it’s important to pay attention to politics and current events.”

Altamirano, who is one of the estimated 42 million survivors of child sexual abuse in America, as estimated by the National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse (naasca.org), says, “We must stop this evil epidemic with prevention and awareness education in our schools.”

And she feels she has a moral obligation as both a survivor and mother to have that conversation and alert parents that their children are at risk if the Child Victims Act continues to stall.

“This bill would not only extend the amount of time a New York survivor has to come forward with their abuse, but create a one-year window to allow us to identify all the sexual predators who have been abusing children for decades in New York but remain hidden throughout our communities.”

As of this writing, the act remains in limbo in Albany. So, Altamirano continues to speak at rallies, protests, community boards, and community events; she has been involved with outreach to community leaders, while still advocating by lobbying and meeting with lawmakers, and says she will speak on the issue wherever she can.

For survivors like Altamirano, living in the aftermath of abuse becomes a daily emotional battle. Her rocky journey toward healing and inner peace, and from victim to survivor and mom-activist, began after she gradually realized something wasn’t right. She knew she had to take action, as soon as possible — or endure a lifetime of misery.

Despite her terribly unfortunate circumstances early on, Altamirano has created a family of her own, raising her daughter, now 13, and her son, now 9, all while navigating a scary world. Like all parents, she says her number-one priority has been to protect her kids and teach them how to stay safe and make sound decisions as they get older.

Below is Altamirano’s story in her own words.

Parenting as a survivor of childhood molestation

I wanted to share what it’s like to parent as a survivor with readers.

My daughter wants to walk home from school — without me. It’s a bus and five blocks, but the thought of it makes my heart and mind race.

I want to encourage her to be the independent, adventurous girl she is, and to live without fear. Yet, I cannot help scanning every room, worrying about every stranger, and constantly questioning the safety of my kids.

As a child, I was not safe. My step-grandfather began sexually abusing me as a toddler and continued through second grade. When I finally told my grandmother, she beat me and called me a liar. Police and social workers came and left. I waited for my rapist to kill me and my mother. I suffered from migraines, panic attacks, and nightmares. I was afraid of everyone, and so angry at all those who failed me: my family, the schools, the police, and the city.

When I started high school, I could not handle the attention from boys and feared I would be raped or killed. I quickly dropped out, locking myself safely away.

Survivors deal with trauma differently. Many of us choose not to have children, but I am blessed with two who are my light and my loves. They know what happened to me. They know why mom comes on every field trip.

Their “normal” includes my constant surveillance and concern. When my son wanted to ride the subway for the first time, I enlisted a full entourage to make sure we were safe. A dream trip to Disney World required a network of helpers to ease my dread.

I still fear that I will be raped or killed.

How often do you think about the worst thing that ever happened to you? How much does it affect your daily life? I carry the baggage of sexual assault with me every day, while my abuser lives free. I know I am not alone.

For now, I continue to try to be my best for my children. I am blessed with a support network that helps me face my limitations and grow my boundaries, giving me time to process change, and encouraging me when the fear takes over.

I see the independence in my children and want it to flourish. I let my son ride the bus, fighting the urge to follow behind. I check out the five-block route from school and beg my daughter to stay on the left side of the street, away from construction areas and dark alleys. I enroll them in self-defense classes and talk to them about dangers.

My daughter thinks I will follow her to college. She knows my heart is calm when she’s safe and asleep at home, and how I struggle with her evolving freedom. I am so proud of the confident young woman living without fear, and I’m grateful for her patience as I grow with her.

I’m still in transition from being a victim to being an advocate. The system failed me, and yet I am still here, fighting to change that system that protects predators and abusers instead of children and victims.

Stay tuned for Part 2.

Tammy Scileppi is a Queens-based freelance journalist, parent, and regular contributor to New York Parenting.

Updated 4:06 pm, November 2, 2018
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