julie_marie_mansfield.jpgJulie Marie Mansfield was only 8 years old when her uncle had sex with her on a short-cut in rural St. Thomas, Jamaica, she said. “I used to get so angry in traffic because it felt like when I was under my uncle, like when I didn’t have control,” Mansfield said.

Her anger spilled over into her relationships and even sometimes to her children, she said.

The twice-divorced Mansfield who is now in a five-year relationship, said therapy and journaling helped her to control her anger and channel her disappointment toward the multiple family members who abused her, she said.

Mansfield turned her hurt around and is now helping victims of childhood sex abuse through her Catalyst Series, whose aim is to engender meaningful dialogue and healing to those impacted.

She formed a not-for-profit organization called Give Me Dignity and wrote a candid account of the abused she suffered in a book called Maybe God was Busy.

She will be one of the featured speakers at the Children's Services Council of Broward County 4th annual Broward AWARE! Protecting OUR Children campaign kickoff, Thursday, Jan. 9 at ARC Broward, an organization that serves children and adults with disabilities.

ARC Broward was chosen as the launch venue to highlight the fact that children and youth with special needs are three times more likely to experience abuse and neglect than other children.

Organizers say the reason for Broward AWARE! campaign is that families deserve to live in communities with resources and information that provide safe and healthy experiences for children.

Child abuse and neglect in Broward County has been on the rise, in part triggered by a persistent economic crisis and the increased stresses that come with it, a statement from the organization said.

 “We are not just talking about sexual abuse. We are talking about every kind of abuse and neglect,” said Andrew Leone, assistant director of Communications and Outreach for Children's Services Council of Broward County, who outlined from sleep-related deaths, to drowning to human trafficking as potential instances of child abuse and neglect. “But we understand that within some cultures sexual abuse is more hush hush and there is a tendency to blame the victim, according to Ms. Mansfield.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, estimates that 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before age 18, and only 20 percent of these cases are reported to the police. Ninety-three percent of children know and trust their abusers.

Mansfield’s book, which traces her journey growing up in Jamaica, gives a raw, unaltered look at an idyllic childhood interrupted by constant sexual abuse. From molestation, to incest, to sex with the “church brother,” to sex with the voodoo practitioner charged with saving a dying brother, to a pregnancy and abortion—sans anesthesia—at age 15, everything is revealed.

Maybe God Was Busy is a memoir saturated with abuse, survival, forgiveness, triumph and redemption — and yes laughter.

Mansfield’s Catalyst Series will include talks and book readings throughout the United States, the UK and the Caribbean, in hopes to inspire communities to mobilize to educate, empower and become agents of change to protect children and prevent all child sex abuse, she said.

Mansfield is concerned about the attitude toward CSA in her native Jamaica, and will take her series there Jan. 20, in conjunction with child protective agencies on the island.

When she reported her abuse it was deemed “a little sex,” she said, and swept under the rug. “The more we remain silent, the more predators attack. Silence is a breeding ground, telling people who prey on kids that we are all complicit in their crimes,” Mansfield said. “By openly and honestly discussing the ravages of CSA, we can and will bring change to how victims heal, how they shake the shame and guilt so often associated with CSA.”