A 14-year-old girl wowed me with her outlook on life as she told me what it was like to be sexually assaulted at age 11 and to find meaning in life again.
I've interviewed victims of all types of crimes but had never talked to a child sex crime victim who is still a minor.
Autumn Bolten-Smith exemplifies empowerment. Her chains of trauma have been broken. She's a poised, attractive teenager, well spoken and positive. She realizes she was a victim through no fault of her own. She realizes she is a person of worth and has no reason to feel shame.
She is using her experience to encourage children and teens in similar situations to tell someone, to get help, to deal with it and move forward.
Her abuser, now serving 30 years in prison, was her mother's boyfriend.
Autumn says she doesn't blame her mother. She calls her “my rock.”
It's hard to imagine how a child processes being a victim of sexual abuse. It was hard enough for Autumn that she tried to take her own life.
But Autumn, a Christian singer, is using her voice and her words to make a difference in the lives of others.
She was asked to sing Friday at a crime victims' program in Gulfport. Most people in the crowd knew nothing about her.
In a beautiful and dramatic voice, she sang a song about the power of Jesus to break every chain. People in the crowd seemed to be moved by her performance. But in my opinion, it wasn't a performance. It was her story, a profound statement of faith.
Then, she spoke briefly of what had happened to her. You could hear a pin drop.
I think she could encourage anyone. She sure encouraged me.
And, by the way, her recovery shows the positive things that can happen when police, child advocates and prosecutors work together to help children cope with sexual abuse and the process of justice.