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ABUSE CHILD

By ALLISON SHIRK

Staff Writer

Editor’s note: This is the first of a twopart series.

Rebecca L. Edwards said she was 6 when her stepfather began to sexually abuse her — a crime Edwards said went unpunished even after her grandmother reported it. The ordeal led Edwards to be confused and lost well into her adult life.

“He was not ordered to serve jail time,” said Edwards, 44, a mother of two girls, ages 11 and 13. “That set up a life for me of feeling second, worthless, not loved — and a lot of children who experience abuse have those feelings of shame and blame and guilt. I felt many times that I was just being left for dead.”

Edwards, now a motivational speaker and author who lives in North Port, is one of the few child abuse victims who openly speaks of her trauma. By sharing her story, Edwards said she hopes to inspire more victims to come forward and seek help.

“Nameless and faceless — I’m the opposite of that,” Edwards said. “I know other (victims) aren’t there yet, but if I don’t stand strong as a light, then nobody else has the opportunity to say, ‘Hey, I can live a really happy, healthy life.’” Numbers provided by the Florida Department of Children and Families show the Suncoast region, which stretches from Pasco County down to Collier County, is one of two regions in the state — the other being the Northeast — that has the highest rates of child abuse, as of 2014. Experts and

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Sarasota and Charlotte County experts say the region has higher child abuse rates than the rest of Florida because of community awareness and stronger collaborative ties between organizations.

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