Testimony of Letty Merritt
My name is Letty Merritt. I reside in SW Portland, and I support House Bill 2827.
My name is Letty Merritt. I am 39-years old and I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I was sexually abused by several male relatives when I was a little girl. The abuse began when I was 6-years old and it did not stop until I was 13-years old.
I was born in Portland, Oregon, and raised in Beaverton, Oregon. I am of Mexican descent. I was raised in a culture where many dark secrets co-existed and intertwined with my familys’ new beginning in a different country, in the USofA instead of in Mexico. My reality was one where some of my male cousins and uncles would act out their sick fantasies on me and my sister. A world where as one cousin told me “he could figure out if he was gay or not”. It was an existence where older men would prey on quiet, young, innocent, little girls; little girls who looked up and adored their numerous relatives, as we were taught to do.
I received conflicting messages from my environment. Through their abuse, these relatives would convey to me that I was special, yet no one would speak out loud about the special-ness that had just taken place. It was very confusing to me how more dark secrets were occurring, and somehow I took the cue to look the other way and pretend it was acceptable.
The numerous acts of sexual abuse broke me. It shattered my confidence, my self-esteem, my self-worth. I believed that what happened to me did not matter. I believed that I did not matter. I became more introverted. I learned that if I acted like an intelligent strong, and outgoing person that I would eventually become that intelligent, strong, outgoing person. On the outside I convinced others that I was a strong person, yet internally, I did not believe I had any real self-worth. I co-existed in two separate worlds. In one world, I tried to become the person that I believe I should become. In the other world, the ugly secrets existed behind locked doors.
I graduated from Portland State University in the mid-1990’s at the age of 29. It was during those college years, after more than two decades of harboring these dark secrets of childhood sexual abuse, and of struggling with self-esteem issues that I broached the subject of my childhood sexual abuse with a counselor. When I say that I broached the subject, I merely asked the counselor (with a ten foot pole) if there was any possibility that my personal struggles were somehow connected to my past of being sexually abused as a little girl. I was very much in the biggest state of denial that I did not continue with any on-going, in-depth counseling. The Oregon State statue of limitations regarding childhood sexual abuse was never introduced in any counseling session. Another decade came and went, I married a wonderful man when I was 32-years old. One thing was clear to me, I did not want to have children. I did not want any other child to experience my childhood.
My husband provided me with a loving, stable, secure environment. We bought a house and adopted two dogs from dog shelters. My life was complete and fulfilling, yet the dark secrets from my past began to haunt me again. The perpetrators, these relatives of mine, where now grown men with daughters and granddaughters of their own. They would talk with me at family functions. I would watch them interact with other, young female relatives, and I would wonder if they had abused other family members. No matter how much I tried to deny the existence of my sexual abuse, the dark secrets infiltrated my married life. Four years into my marriage, I embarked on a three year, intensive, counseling journey and finally shared all the dark, ugly secrets of the childhood sexual abuse to Dr. Amy Reiss
In 2008, two years into my intensive therapy with Dr. Reiss, I found my voice. I found the courage to say “No one had a right to sexually abuse me”. I became that strong woman I had always wanted to become. I confronted the three living relatives that had sexually abused me. Two of the three molesters apologized for abusing me. The other relative is hiding behind his alcoholic past and is still in denial. There is a huge monetary cost to confronting the abusers. Even though my husband and I are fortunate to have medical insurance, we still have had to pay over $5,000 in medical co-payments towards my individual therapy. I attended group therapy for woman survivors of childhood sexual abuse. This ten-week group therapy was made possible through a Federal Grant. The non-monetary cost is that I have been ostracized from the family. I have been called a lying whore. I understood that there would be backlash from the family, so I spoke out when I was emotionally and financially ready to expose the dark secrets of sexual abuse.
I am making a difference. I have sent a clear message that childhood sexual abuse will not be tolerated. I will not be silenced any longer. I will not cover up for the molesters. It was wrong and those who abused me need to take responsibility and be held accountable. These male relatives should help pay for my individual therapy, for the harm that they caused. Because in the end, the State of Oregon pays through social programs for the harm caused by these perpetrators who sexually abuse children.
I support House Bill 2827. It will help stop this culture of sexual violence. This law will determine if I can get some justice.