Child abuse survivor hopes story inspires others to step forward, seek help
April is National Child Abuse Awareness Month and with that, a Wichita woman shares her story of abuse, hoping it encourages victims to make their voices heard and to get the help they need.
Kayli Leach was sexually abused by her mother's boyfriend daily for about eight years. It's taken her years to get to the point where she can openly share her story.
She credits much of her ability to talk about her experience now to therapy and resources she received at Wichita's Child Advocacy Center. But she remembers what it was like to feel alone and to feel like nobody would believe her story.
Eventually, her mother found out about the abuse and brought it to the surface.
That's how Leach ended up at the child advocacy center where she met Ericka Purcell, her therapist. Leach and Purcell are friends today, enjoying time to laugh and catch up.
But about six years ago, they met under very different circumstances.
"(Leach) came to the center as a victim and began her journey through therapy and some other services that we provide here," Purcell says.
Leach was 16 years old when she met Purcell.
"I felt like a 5-year-old," she says.
In her situation, she says finding someone to talk to and help her recover from the trauma was crucial. This is where Purcell came in.
"It's so important to find someone that you do trust in your life to talk to and sometimes that can be the scariest thing you've ever had to do," Purcell says.
For Leach, the fear of not being believed came with embarrassment. This made it especially difficult for her to open up.
"He put a lot of stuff in my head, saying that no one would believe me," Leach says of the man who abused her. "That made me feel really embarrassed, but don't feel like that. There's always going to be someone there to help you through it."
Now, Purcell and Leach want to send a message to other potential victims of abuse.
"You don't have to suffer your whole life just because you have been a victim," Purcell says. "You can live a very healthy life and there are people out there that are willing to help you reach that moment in your life."
She says Leach is proof that this is true.
"When I was younger, I thought this happened to everyone," Leach says of the abuse she faced. "As you get older, you realize that it doesn't and as you come out of it as I surfaced and went through therapy and came (to the advocacy center) I realized it does happen to a lot of people and you just don't realize it."
Purcell says there are some potential warning signs of abuse that parents can watch out for. These include sudden behavior changes or a child showing inappropriate or aggressive behavior.
To show support for child abuse awareness and survivors of the abuse the Child Advocacy Center Friday (April 5) encourages people to wear blue.
There are also several resources out there if you suspect a child is being abused or neglected. One is the Kansas Protection Report Center, staffed 24-7. You can reach center at 1-800-922-5330.