An abuser will do whatever it takes to keep their victims quiet, but one woman is helping them speak up.
Aleesha Barlow's grandfather had molested her when she was 7 years old and bribed her to keep quiet. The now 27-year-old didn't tell anyone, encouraged by her mother and grandfather to not say anything. In a video, she explains how isolated she felt after her abuse.
"When I was molested as a child, I believed my grandfather was the victim," she says. "I honestly didn't realize how severe it was until I got older and had a kid. I had imagined [my daughter] going into a room with my grandfather and closing the door and that makes me mad."
After finding out her brother had also been a victim, she couldn't hold it in anymore. Twenty years later, she finally told her father. He was the one who encouraged her to make the video telling her story, which led to other reaching out to her and telling her theirs.
"A friend of mine told me, that she had been molested by her uncle as a child but didn't want to tell her parents as they both had cancer and were dying soon. I told the girl it was ok not tell, but my dad instructed me I was giving the WRONG advice. He instructed me to write her back and tell her to 'Tell Somebody!'" she told A Plus in an email interview.
From there, the "Tell Somebody" movement was born.
She created a website and started to produce clothing with the words printed on them to help those who have been victims to feel empowered and to educate others that ask about it.
Her movement really picked up steam, however, after she shared her story with the hashtag #TellSomebody on Facebook:
"I Was Molested By My Mother's Dad Growing Up. At age 7, I Told My Mom and Her Sister's, But They Told Me To Keep it a Secret From My Dad and The Police, and The Molestation Continued. So #TellSomebody, Me and My Daughter Out Here Working To Stop Child Abuse, with Our #TellSomebodyMovement! We Are Here To Bring Awareness To Parents, that Molestation Does Happen, and To Give Strength To Other Survivors, Its Time To Tell, So You Can Heal!"
In two months, it has gotten more than 47,000 shares. And emails poured in from people needing to have the shirts.
Her dad passed away in a car accident last March, but Barlow hasn't stopped the movement that he inspired. The Tell Somebody website includes help hotlines for victims and awareness facts. She uses the profits from the shirts to speak about her experiences across the country. And others are listening.
In the comments of her posts, others have shared their stories.
"I was molested at age 10 held at knife pointed and threatened if I ever told that he would kill everyone. (My brothers dad) As a child you believe any and everything adults tell you," one wrote. "It all ended when my aunt walked in on him and he's been in jail since 1989 where he deserves to live out the rest of his life."
Stories like these are all too common — 44 percent of child abuse victims are under 18 years old (usually by someone the victim knows) and only 68 percent of the assaults are not reported to the police. What's worse is that the abusers manipulate the victims and the victims are often not believed.
Barlow's own mother and aunts have disowned her for speaking up. But she wants survivors to know it's OK to #TellSomebody in spite of the negativity.
"It took me 20 years to tell my dad what happened to me. 20 years of pain that are now GONE. I have Freedom and its the BEST feeling ever!" she told A Plus. "I Want EVERY survivor to feel that."
If you know or suspect that a child is being or hasbeen sexually abused, please call the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453)