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From Fear to Freedom
Mercy Home Helps Young Woman Escape Trauma of Abuse
A packed suitcase hidden under Olivia’s bed was the only indication that something wasn’t perfect at her foster parents’ house. Appearances and secrets were woven into the foundation of their home just as much as cement and lumber. Perception was everything. If those on the outside saw a perfect family, nothing else mattered.
But inside the home, things were far from perfect.
Olivia was no stranger to foster families. She was born to a drug-addicted mother and removed from her care at birth. There weren’t any relatives who wanted to take on a newborn baby, so she spent the past 13 years moving from foster home to foster home.
Each different home brought on a unique set of challenges. Some foster homes were overcrowded with too many kids or parents who were at best indifferent. Others had parents who were actively cruel.
When Olivia was 7, she lived with a family that viewed their foster children as servants. She can still feel the cold tile under her knees as she scrubbed the kitchen floor until her hands were raw. And when she was 9, in another home, her foster sister frequently stole from her. It was little things, mostly–candy, pencils, nothing very important. But Olivia never forgot what it was like to feel like nothing she owned was really hers, that nothing was truly safe.
He would tell me how special I was and how we had a special bond.
When Olivia was first introduced to her current foster family, she thought that finally things would be different. They seemed like the perfect family. A beautiful mom, a successful dad, two older foster brothers, a perfect suburban home, even her own room–all things Olivia had never even allowed herself to dream of.
In the early days of her time with this family, Olivia was overwhelmed by the praise, love, and attention that was heaped on her, particularly by her foster father.
“He always paid way more attention to me than to my foster brothers, and even my foster mom,” Olivia remembered. “He would tell me how special I was and how we had a special bond.”
At first, Olivia was enamored with the attention. She had never had a parent figure who seemed to care so much about her. She basked in the attention. This is what being part of a real family feels like, she thought. It really did feel like a dream come true.
But as with all dreams, eventually you have to wake up…or wait for the dream become a nightmare.
It wasn’t unusual for Olivia’s foster dad to come into her room at night. He always wanted to talk to her, to hear about how her day went, to make sure she was okay. And she liked these talks. But over time, it became more than just talking.
Hugs and little touches progressed to touching and other things that Olivia didn’t like. Her foster father assured her this was normal, that it was because he just cared about her so much. Olivia didn’t know what to think. Her foster dad’s behavior made her feel dirty and uncomfortable. But he told her that this is what people who love each other do. And Olivia really, really wanted her foster parents to love her.
Olivia wasn’t allowed to tell anyone about her “special” relationship with her foster father. He told her that it was a secret between them. Olivia never really had a secret with someone before. And this was a secret she wasn’t so sure she wanted to keep. But her foster dad told her that if she started telling people, her foster mom would be so upset and make Olivia leave the house. She’d be all alone, he told her.
Olivia was afraid of being alone. But as her foster father’s behavior progressed further and further, she was also afraid to stay. So she packed her suitcase and hid it under her bed, in case she needed to escape quickly. And then she told her foster mother.
Her foster mother begged her not to tell anyone about the things her foster father did. She said that people would get the wrong idea about what went on in their home. “And anyway,” her foster mom added, “who’s to say if you’re even telling the truth?”
That scared Olivia into silence for a while. If nobody believed what she said, then what was the point in telling anyone? But her suitcase was still packed. And even if nobody believed what she said, that didn’t mean they could keep her in that house. So she left.
But Olivia had nowhere to go. And she was not prepared for life on the streets. Fortunately, after half the night sleeping on a park bench, a police officer found her. She explained that she had run away from her foster family’s home. When he asked why, she hesitated, remembering her foster mother’s words. But she decided to be brave, and tell the truth.
From there, things moved quickly. Olivia’s foster father was arrested, and Olivia moved in with a new foster mother, an elderly woman who knew about Mercy Home from her local parish. Recognizing the amount of trauma Olivia experienced, she thought that our Home could help Olivia deal with the unspeakable things she endured.
When Olivia first moved into Mercy Home, she felt uneasy. It wasn’t living with other girls or even the structure. It was the fact that everyone seemed to care about her. She was suspicious of people who claimed they cared or thought she was special, given her experience with her foster dad. It took a lot of time to realize that our Home’s coworkers truly did want the best for her, no strings attached.
Therapy helped Olivia deal with the many hardships she experienced in her young life. Before, she didn’t have anyone to talk to. She didn’t have a family, not a real one. Every burden she had, she needed to carry on her own. But that’s not the case anymore. Now she’s the member of a real, loving family: the Mercy Home family.
We never forget that it’s friends like you who save so many children just like Olivia every year. Thank you for being such a compassionate member of our family.
Please note: because we care deeply about protecting our children’s privacy, the names and certain identifying details in this story have been changed.