Beauty Instead Of Ashes
Child sexual abuse is a wide spread problem and the growing number in statistics is shocking. The effects of the abuse can be long lasting, but Kaylee Ewing, Miss International 2018, has a message for us all, “We have a choice.” We can remain a victim or through the journey in healing, we can thrive and become a voice for those who are trying to find one.
Me: Kaylee describe what life was like growing up as a child.
Kaylee: I grew up in a happy home, my parents were married for 24 years and by the time I came along my parents had been married for 7 years so they were very much in love and traveled the world together. I had loving parents and a brother who was 3 years younger than me. We were religious and went to church.
Me: So here you were with this picture perfect life, what happened along the way that side swiped you and took you down the road of abuse?
Kaylee: I was 13, a freshman and he was a junior; we started dating, that’s when abuse entered my life. So my abuse stemmed from teen dating violence. I was attending a private Christian school and he was attending another, we had mutual friends and that’s how we connected. We had been dating for about a month when the abuse started, this was my first relationship; I was sheltered, innocent, and naive. It started with him forcing me to do things I didn’t want to do; sexual acts. I had a belief system that you don’t have sex until marriage. He forced me on the ground and started fingering me, I would tell him, “NO,” but he proceeded to be forceful. He tried to force me to give him blowjobs and he would put foreign objects inside of my vagina; hairbrush handles. I was constantly verbal, telling him I didn’t want to do those things but there is a side of abuse, which can get tricky and become a downward spiral in the shame cycle. So I felt like I couldn’t leave because he threatened to tell everyone and because my belief system and reputation was important, I stayed. The biggest concern was my parents finding out and what they would think of me. I was confused and vulnerable, I felt trapped. Although he didn’t take my virginity, he did take my innocence. In my mind him taking my virginity wouldn’t have been any different as he continued to shove other objects up my vagina.
Me: How long did this go on for and was he always forceful?
Kaylee: This happened about once per week and he forced me to the ground every time and I proceeded to say, “NO” it went on for about 3 months. So there was sexual and verbal abuse that took place. The mental game was very narcissistic. The majority of the acts took place at his house in the basement. I would say, “No I don’t want to do this, I want out, if you don’t stop I’ll scream.” He would say, “I’m almost finished, and if you scream nobody will hear you.” I felt so helpless at age 13 to have a voice yet nobody could hear me.
Me: So 3 months went by and then what? How did you try to get out of the relationship?
Kaylee: The reason I stayed so long is it was my first relationship and I thought, “If I can’t handle this my parents won’t let me date anyone else. Or what if this is just what relationships are like?” There were so many crazy thoughts that went through my mind. I stopped and thought about how the relationship wasn’t mirror imaging the loving relationship I saw my parents have. So I said, “Tell whom ever you want, I can’t do this anymore!” I surrendered and left.
Me: What happened after you got out of the relationship? Did he taunt you or try to come after you? How did this affect your future relationships?
Kaylee: He would say things like, “Oh I see you are dating xyz now, I have his number.” I chose to not let his taunting control me and I didn’t speak out for 7 years. I dated other people about 5- 6 during those 7 years and I didn’t realize what an affect it had on me. I didn’t want to do anything sexually and my mind tried to compartmentalize and say, “OK this was one person and not everyone is going to be that way.” So when I continued to date other people my fight or flight response would kick in like when they would try to pin me down and tickle me just horsing around I would go into full on panic mode. I would scream for them to get off from me and I didn’t realize I would have that extreme of a reaction to something so playful. The great news is I never attracted a reflection of that abusive guy, I was more cautious in my choices. I was determined I was not going to live my life like what happened. Although my abuse cycle came to a close the pain cycle had begun.
Me: Can you dig deep into your shame cycle and tell me exactly what happened and how you felt?
Kaylee: The shame started immediately the first time after he violated my innocence. I think we get into a shame cycle when society puts all of these “norms” on us and we can’t meet them. Like if we can’t be the perfect woman; innocent, beautiful, and sexy then we are worthless and I think that’s where my shame crept in. So the pain I felt then grew over time because I was not sharing my story. I kept quiet until I was 20 years old. The only person I told was my best friend and it wasn’t until she shared her like story that I realized that I wasn’t the only one, that there was a whole community of people. When you are 13 you don’t think, “Let me go Google a health group,” that’s not where your emotions take you. You feel isolated and alone so having my friend pull me through; we leaned on each other immensely for our healing process. My Dad was the second person I told but because 7 years had passed I knew there was nothing he could do about it but there was something I could do.
Me: I understand that your Dad was close to you and he passed away; take us to that moment and how you internalized everything that happened.
Kaylee: I wanted to help people so when I told my Dad in detail he cried and apologized to me, so did my Mom. They said, “I’m sorry we couldn’t protect you from that.” They felt my pain and would have done anything to take away that pain but they couldn’t. I told them it wasn’t their fault and they reinstated my dignity and confirmed they didn’t love me any less. That was a big turning point for me in my healing.
My Dad passed away in February 2017, it was really hard on me, he was in a private plane accident. I remember when my Mom called me, “Hey where are you?” I thought my Grandmother whom had been sick passed but she said, “It’s your Dad, there was a plane accident and he didn’t make it.” I dropped my phone while I was driving and I turned into a parking lot, I couldn’t breath, I was having a panic attack, I was crying uncontrollably, I was over heated and called my friend. I drove home and it took me 2 hours to go inside once I drove in the driveway because I knew my life was about to change forever and I wasn’t ready for that. I walked into a crowded house with supporters, and that was overwhelming.
Me: You are now the reigning Miss International, how old were you when you started beauty pageants and what made you decide to enter them?
Kaylee: I was at a college and career fair and a lady stopped and said, “You are so pretty have you ever decided to enter pageants? I have a local one coming up.” I thought, “Oh she’s just trying to recruit another girl.” Then several other people at later dates kept mentioning that same pageant so I entered it and I won! That’s when I got the pageant bug and went on from there. I was also volunteering with women crisis shelters. I did several local pageants and then I won Miss Georgia Collegiate 2015, and that was incredible, that was the year I told my parents about my sexual assault. I wanted to stand on stage and say, “I’m a sexual abuse survivor.” I wanted to share my story and empower others to choose bravery in those moments. The first time I got to share my story on stage was 2016, at Miss Preliminary Pathways, which is a preliminary for Miss Georgia America, that’s when I started my platform Brave.
Me: Take me to that moment of being on stage at the Miss Preliminary Pathways, what did it feel like finally releasing your story to the public and releasing yourself from shame?
Kaylee: I felt SO FREE! To stand on stage with confidence and deliver my message to be a voice for people that feel they don’t have a voice, I felt empowered. I could speak and feel heard. I had a lot of in person response of people stepping forward and sharing their stories; it was a monumental moment, to open the door for other people to share by being brave with my own story. Then I went on in 2017 to compete in the Miss University of Georgia pageant and I placed 3rd runner up, that was a tough year as my Dad had passed, I’m glad I didn’t win because I got to spend valuable time with my family and heal. I realized that my platform Brave was important to me it reminded me of the power of choice on how I handled my Father’s passing; I got counseling and had time to heal.
Me: Where are you at today and what message would you like to leave with your readers?
Kaylee: I am focused on Brave, rebranded in 2018, which empowers people to make right choices during life altering events. Our choices shape our future. We give Brave bears to foster agencies that remind kids as they move from bed to bed in foster care to be brave in times of their adversity. We also give the bears to children in women’s domestic abuse shelters to give them strength and hope. Brave boxes, which are also filled with luxury items; makeup and journals, etc, which restore dignity are distributed to women throughout shelters. We also do Brave bundles which are winter items; gloves, hats, scarves, blankets, socks, all wrapped in a bow and handed to women in an effort to help them restore their dignity. The other thing we do is Brave workshops, helping kids in adversity; I walk into organizations and empower them with choices despite their circumstances. I am like their big sister at a Boys and Girls club.
As for pageants, I held the title of Miss Georgia International 2018 and I traveled to West Virginia, July of that year and won the reigning title of Miss International 2018. My story has healed people around the world and there is no greater feeling than that.
The message I would like to leave my readers with is if I can do it, you can do it too! You may not have had a say in what happened but now you do. The longer you go without making a choice, you still made one by remaining silent. You have a choice so change your perspective, gain your voice and share your story because your life matters!
I am so super proud of Kaylee and her choice to speak out. There are so many of the youth today that have been wronged and are trying to find their voice. May the story of Miss International 2018 Kaylee Ewing bring healing to those that need it and model the image of what can be done when we make powerful choices to transform our pain into platform in an effort to brighten the world.
The #SHEROproject will include stories of SHEROS from around the world throughout the next 11 months. In an effort to support our thriving SHEROS, there is a panel that will be selecting the most inspirational story for the 2019 SHERO of the year award, which will be announced on 12/1/2019. The SHERO of the year award winner will receive a 4-day/3-night retreat at 1440 Multiversity. An opportunity to explore their potential in an environment like no other; get away for rejuvenating downtime and immersion learning on their state-of-the-art campus in the redwoods of Scotts Valley, CA and experience the perfect blend of learning, vacation, and space for reflection.
1440 Multiversity is a place to experience time differently—exploring what matters, while surrounding yourself with fresh air, delicious food, many ways to unwind, and opportunities to connect with yourself and others. SHERO, during your stay, you can look forward to daily 1440 specialty classes such as yoga, meditation, qi gong and Pilates. Or enjoy hiking in the 75 acres of redwood forest surrounding the campus and finish off your day with a soak in their signature infinity tub.
The creation of 1440 Multiversity stemmed from a desire to establish a beautiful and nurturing physical location where people of all walks of life could come together in community—to explore, learn, reflect, connect, and reenergize. (www.1440.org)
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