Turning the Awful into Good
“When my oldest son turned 10, it suddenly struck me that this is what a 10-year-old looks like, so young and vulnerable,” Kristen Pfautz Woolley, clinical director and founder of Turning Point Women’s Counseling and Advocacy Center, recalled.
“That’s when I realized just how young I was when I was abused and that I hadn’t really done the hard work on myself to heal. I realized I owed it to myself to do that hard work.”
Between the ages of 10 and 12, Kristen Pfautz Woolley was sexually abused by a friend of the family. But as a result of the domestic violence at the hands of her father that she and her mother and sisters also experienced throughout her childhood, she felt that she didn’t want to add to the family troubles by telling anyone about the abuse.
So she kept it to herself, something that she said isn’t unusual.
“The facts are that one in 10 children will be violated before their 18th birthday,” Pfautz Woolley said. “Ninety-five percent of all perpetrators are known to their victims … and the average age of disclosure is age 42.”
That’s a long time to carry the burden of abuse.
“Victims often don’t speak up out of fear or from being threatened and often from worry about consequences implied by the abuser,” Pfautz Woolley said.
She also said that victims can delay speaking out because they’re afraid they’re going to be blamed, or that no one will believe them.
“I knew if I told my mother, she would believe me,” she remembered. “But I remember making the choice, at that young age, to not disclose the abuse because I wanted to protect my mother. I did not want to break her—it was my worst fear.
“My abuse went on for two years,” Pfautz Woolley said. “This person was someone my mother thought I would be safe spending time with. I remember asking at age 10 what the word sex meant. I realize now that I was being groomed. I also realize now that the abuse stopped because I had reached a certain age and was simply no longer attractive to him.”
It was during her college years at West Virginia University, where Pfautz Woolley received a bachelor’s degree in nursing, that she began having debilitating panic and anxiety attacks.
“I sought help for them and through that process, I disclosed what had happened to me as a child,” Pfautz Woolley said.
The counselor she was seeing insisted that she disclose the abuse to her family, something Pfautz Woolley was adamantly against doing.
“But the therapist insisted, so I went to see my mother and told her,” she remembers. “She was shocked and angry at the man who violated me … but 10 days later I saw her for a very brief 10-minute conversation where she confessed to me that my disclosure had caused her to remember that she had been violated as a child as well.”
Sadly, very soon afterward, her mother died.
“I was devastated and felt so guilty. I felt like by disclosing my abuse, I had broken my mother—my fear as a 10- year-old had literally come true.”
Fast forward two years. Pfautz Woolley received her master’s degree in social work, causing her to now, under two licenses, become a mandated reporter of child abuse—including her own.
“[Although] by then I was only 25 years old, I had no legal rights. I lost them when I [turned] 23,” she said. “It was just one more blow. During that time, however, I did work on dealing with my grief surrounding my mother’s death. But it wasn’t until my son turned 10 that it really struck me: I had to do the hard work on [healing] myself. I had never grieved for what happened to me as a child.”
Pfautz Woolley set out to do that hard work needed for her own recovery.
“As I was finally receiving the therapy I needed, and as a trained therapist myself, I started to think about how I could help others to work through their struggles with abuse,” Pfautz Woolley shared. “I had all this knowledge and access to all kinds of information, but how could I go about sharing it?”
It was while wrestling with those questions that the idea for Turning Point was born.
Pfautz Woolley founded Turning Point in 2012, using money she inherited from her mother. She felt it was the perfect way to honor her. Turning Point is a women’s counseling and advocacy center serving women and teenage girls who have suffered from childhood sexual abuse.
The Turning Point staff also provides educational opportunities for the community on important aspects of sexual abuse, and they advocate for survivors’ rights.
Because Pfautz Woolley experienced these traumas firsthand, she has a great deal of empathy and understanding for others going through it.
“My mother died never healing from her own trauma,” she said. “When you’ve been violated, you feel like you don’t matter, and it takes a long time and a lot of hard work to get past that. I wanted Turning Point to be a place where women and girls can find others who understand exactly what they’re going through. There is healing strength in numbers. They just need to know someone else gets it.”
Her goal in starting Turning Point was that something good would come from her and her mother’s terrible experiences.
“I’m so pleased to say we’re accomplishing that goal,” Pfautz Woolley said. “We’ve had a multitude of women come through our doors that have, after receiving the help they need, walked back out leaving their shame at our doorstep. They leave feeling whole and beautiful. And I’m proud and also humbled to be a part of that. It is a great honor.” BW