It has taken me over a week to process everything I experienced last week in Harrisburg, PA. I was surrounded by intelligent and passionate people whose goal was to keep children safe. To say I was overwhelmed is an understatement. I felt moved, inspired, and at times way out of my league. I often remained silent, simply listening to the others who had greater experience than me in all things political. Now, anyone who has ever met me for even five minutes knows that remaining silent is not a common occurrence for me. However, I was keenly aware that this opportunity was precious, and I needed to absorb every ounce of it.
The purpose of this trip? To implore members of the House of Representatives to pass SB 46 – the Sesame Act. This important bill would prevent what is known as passing the trash, an all-too common practice of allowing educators accused of sexually abusing children to quietly resign and move on to other school districts. The bill will require school administrators to disclose allegations of sexual abuse for each educator given a reference. It will also prohibit confidentiality agreements between the school and the alleged abuser. In addition, the bill will help identify grooming behaviors commonly used by perpetrators and most importantly, would end “passing the trash”.
This bill has been passed unanimously by both the Senate and House Education Committee. There is only one vote which is needed in the House of Representatives in order for the bill to reach the governor’s desk and be signed into law. One vote. I don’t know if I’ve ever been routing for one vote quite like this before.
My role during the rally was to share some of my story as a survivor of educator sexual abuse and to put a face and voice behind all of the words. I needed to show everyone that this epidemic is very real and affects children for decades. Writing my speech for the rally was a challenge. I knew I needed to be honest and direct with my words. They needed to hear the damage that remaining silent or passing the trash can cause children. Sharing such personal information is never easy. However, I know in my heart that none of this is for me or about me. There are millions of children out there who need advocates to protect them. I think a bit of discomfort is such a basic trade-off for the hope and possibility of protecting kids from the pain I endured.
I pray that the children of Pennsylvania don’t have to wait any longer for that one vote to be cast. They deserve to be safe in their classrooms. No more passing the trash – pass the Sesame Act!
Sharing my story to help end passing the trash
Senator Williams urging the House of Representatives to pass the Sesame Act
S.E.S.A.M.E.’s president, Terri Miller, sharing her impassioned message
Victor Skinner, a communication specialist for EAG, just released an article that shares my experience of educator sexual abuse and my efforts to prevent future abuse in our schools. I’d like to thank Victor and the team at Education Action group for putting this article together and helping to spread the word about this troubling issue.
Honalee Gray has just come forward discussing the abuse she endured at the hands of her coach when she was 15 years old. Bravo, Honalee! Breaking silence is more important than I can begin to emphasize. Remaining silent hurts so many – ourselves, other children, and society. I know first hand how painful and frightening the process involved in deciding to speak out can be. I also know first hand how devastating it can be to remain silent, only to learn that your abuser continued to abuse others after you. The question of “what if I came forward sooner” will haunt me forever – it’s what propels me on a daily basis to speak my truth and encourage others to share theirs. I applaud Honalee for breaking her silence and sharing her story. I urge those of you reading this who were also abused by an educator to speak out as well. Feel free to contact me if you need any advice, support, or resources. Thank you!!
My goal is and always will be raising awareness about educator sexual abuse. I have written Invisible Target with the intention of shedding light on the dynamics of how a teacher can groom a student in an insidious manner and cross the line that no teacher should cross with a student. I firmly believe that by sharing my story, readers will have a much better understanding of warning signs and red flags, thereby increasing prevention of this terrible crime.
I am thrilled to announce that Carol Benanti-Nowlin will be adapting Invisible Target into a screenplay. Carol is quite a talented screenwriter. She placed in the Top 10 in Final Draft’s International Screenwriting Competition out of 3,500 scripts. She is a warm, passionate warrior for telling the truth, and I could not imagine a better person to take my very personal story and transform it into something screen-worthy. We are going to work together on this project, and I know I am in for quite a ride with Carol!
The thought of working together with Carol on a movie adaptation of my story, and that it could reach a larger audience and help keep our kids safe, has me extremely excited.
I am excited to announce that I have been invited to share my story and voice to leaders of the House of Representatives in Pennsylvania on March 19th. I am involved with S.E.S.A.M.E. Inc., which stands for Stop Educator Sexual Abuse, Misconduct, and Exploitation.
S.E.S.A.M.E. has been active with legislature to create the S.E.S.A.M.E. Act. Here are a few details about this very important act:
The S.E.S.A.M.E. Act seeks to put a stop to the practice of ‘Passing the Trash’ in Pennsylvania. Passing the trash occurs when a teacher accused of sexual abuse resigns, retires or is terminated and is allowed to quietly move to another school district without his or her new employer being alerted to the allegations of misconduct. This practice endangers countless students every year in Pennsylvania and around the country.
The S.E.S.A.M.E. Act will combat passing the trash with a three-pronged approach:
· Require school administrators to disclose allegations of sexual abuse for each educator given a reference
· Prohibit confidentiality agreements between the school and the alleged abuser
The bill also makes it easier for victims of abuse or suspecting co-workers to report a problem by reducing the mandated period for reporting abuse allegations to the Pennsylvania Department of Education from 60 days to 20 days. Further, it requires that registered sex offenders receive written permission from a district’s superintendent before entering school grounds.
I am proud to represent S.E.S.A.M.E. and survivors everywhere on March 19th. My goal is to have the act become a law in every state in our country. Our children deserve this protection!
During my recent interview, the reporter asked me how I respond when people say that sometimes the “victims” of educator sexual abuse initiate it and basically really aren’t victims at all. I wish I could have shown this clip from the film “Hard Candy”
I got a message yesterday afternoon asking if I was available for an interview with NBC and CBS news affiliates in Texas. I was really excited to have another opportunity to speak out to the world about the realities of educator sexual abuse. Two hours later, my Skype was set up on my computer, and I began speaking with Anoushah Rasta, a great reporter/anchor with channel 9. She dove right in and asked me some tough questions. I described my story and my thoughts about why this abuse occurred. I tried my best to use talking points throughout the interview. These interviews are tough for me. I look into a webcam and visualize that I am talking directly to a person. This takes practice!
I continue learning through these interviews how vitally important each statement I make can be. I always want more time, more statements, more viewers. None of this is about me or for me – it is for the kids out there who deserve to be safe in school. I look forward to more opportunities to share my story and the many lessons I have learned on this journey.
As always, thank you so very much for sharing this website with others. Together, we can make schools safer for our children.
I was looking through the S.E.S.A.M.E. website tonight, and I was pleasantly surprised to find my story, website and book featured on the front page! S.E.S.A.M.E. stands for Stop Educator Sexual Abuse, Misconduct, and Exploitation. This organization is the national voice for educator sexual abuse prevention. It provides support, resources, and advocacy for survivors and their families. S.E.S.A.M.E. also is extremely active with legislation, focused on getting laws passed that would keep more children safe in schools across the country.
I first came in contact with S.E.S.A.M.E.’s president, Terri Miller, years ago when I decided to speak out about my story. Since that time, I have become a member of S.E.S.A.M.E.’s speaker’s bureau and am always more than happy to represent S.E.S.A.M.E. and other survivors who may be silenced. Terri has consistently been an amazing source of support and encouragement every step of my journey. The work this woman can accomplish is mind-blowing. I often tell her I want to be like her when I grow up!
The reason I am so excited that she featured my story and book is simple: The more awareness, the more prevention. I feel like there is much more good than evil out in this world. The good needs to ban together to stomp out the evil. Thank you, Terri, for all you do and for helping me serve my purpose on this Earth.
Here is a link to S.E.S.A.M.E.’s site and my story:
I have the media page up and running, and I was able to upload the video from my first television appearance. Well, technically it’s my second television appearance. My first TV appearance was on Romper Room when I was three…good times!
I apologize for the poor video quality of this piece. This was taken from a vhs tape which was converted to dvd. I may work on trying to obtain the original material, but since Montel no longer has his show, it may prove to be a bit difficult. I am just pleased to start this media page. My hope is to fill it with more videos, interviews, and appearances. The more I can speak out to folks willing to listen, the brighter our kids’ future can be.
I was exceedingly nervous appearing on the Montel show. I had just begun going public with my story, and I had very little experience discussing this personal topic in such a broad manner. All I knew was that I needed to do this. I trusted the process and prayed. I can say that Montel Williams was most impressive. He was taping multiple shows that day, and he had very few notes to follow as he taped our show. During commercial breaks, he would not interact with anyone. He simply looked at the floor, focusing on the upcoming segment. I found Montel to be a very professional and gracious man.
This television experience greatly helped me begin to hone my public speaking skills. I learned that with limited time, I need to get my points across in a concise and impactful way, something for which I was not quite prepared on the Montel show. Live and learn!
I just found the vhs tape of my appearance on a live interview for Fox News in 2005. As soon as I convert it to dvd, I will upload it here as well.
This has been an exciting and overwhelming week for me. The outpouring of support you all have provided me is truly inspiring and welcomed. Many of you have shared this website on your Facebook pages or simply told others about it. Thank you so much for doing this. The more awareness we can create about educator sexual abuse, the more we can prevent it.