Damaged: Perspectives on Abuse - Part 1 - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Damaged: Perspectives on Abuse - Part 1


by Jamie Grey

GALENA, IL (KWWL) -- While crime rates fluctuate year to year in Iowa, experts from the Riverview Center say sexual violence continues to increase. Statistically, rape crisis centers report one in three girls is sexually assaulted before they are 18 years old. For boys, that number is one in six.

Here are the stories of two such women who were both abused as children. It's part one of our special series, Damaged: Perspectives on Abuse, in conjunction with the Telegraph Herald.

"He put a blanket over our lap, which was not uncommon. I snuggled into his arm, not uncommon for a little kid to do, and the next thing I knew, his hand went down my pants. I clammed up; I closed my legs. I was like, oh my gosh. What's happening?" Laura Berning said.

That was more than thirty years ago, when Berning, a restaurant owner in Galena, was just six years old. Berning was abused multiple times until she was sixteen, each time by her brother-in-law.

85% of abuse victims know their attacker. Berning says her abuser was an alcoholic, drug user, and was abused himself.

"My mom abused me physically, and I was running out of the apartment building, and the neighbor boys caught ahold of me and raped me. Nothing was done about it," Christina Rios said.

That was also around thirty years ago, when Rios, now an abuse prevention educator in Illinois, was just out of seventh grade. Rios was abused again when she was 18, by a supposed friend of her deceased father.

Both women say their abuse left them scarred with emotional pain they still deal with.

Both had feelings of self-doubt.

"Being abused kind of held me back from knowing what I could do on my own. You know, having a voice, being able to speak my feelings," Berning said. Berning says in high school, she wanted to be a cheerleader and play volleyball, but constantly felt judged and didn't do either.

Both also discussed trouble trusting people.

"Even when I was telling the truth about something that was happening, nobody was listening and nobody could help," Rios said. Rios says she sometimes still struggles with trusting that people really care and don't have other motives.

Many people who've been abused carry guilt and wonder if they could have stopped their attacks.

"If I wouldn't have been in the room with him, if I would've left when the other kids left, he wouldn't have touched me, or if I wouldn't have put myself in the compromising situation walking past him in the hall, he wouldn't have touched me," Berning said, only starting the list of possible scenarios she'd thought about.

Both women turned to the Riverview Center in Galena, decades after their abuse. Both women say with the Riverview Center, they have finally come to terms with their abuse, but both say they still feel the impact.

"All of the ideas I had in my head about how I might have stopped that from happening to me, or what I could've done, or how I might have deserved it were taken away from me. That's very liberating," Rios said.

"If we all hang onto it, and think, I deserved it, I did it to myself, you can't move forward. You're just stuck in that mud, churning it over and over. Kathy [a counselor] helped me dig down in myself and realize... It's not my fault," Berning said.

As for other victims, Berning offers this message: "You have the strength to move forward. You have the strength to speak out, and help is available."

If you need help, you can call the Riverview Center's 24-hour crisis hotline at 1-888-707-8155.

Online Reporter:  Jamie Grey

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