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The Silent Spirit in Me

As I spend hours in a day developing this new project “Silent Spirits”, my thoughts have been consumed with reflection on my personal experience with child sexual abuse. All of the frustration and daily exposure to the fact that this is happening as I write this leaves me with a passion in my gut that burns to fight for those who now have no voice. Seeing the daily news and how many arrests are happening in our public education, youth clubs and religous organizations leaves me with a hope that  breaking this silence will somehow impact our communities in a positive way. My story is  a bit more intimate and has been “taboo” in my family, community and profession (sexual assault prevention). The reactions from those who hear my story has been a response of typical “Wow, that is terrible” or a quick acknowledgement with a rapid change the subject mission. I personally feel that what has been the most impactful from people in my circle.. is “that look”. Being a survivor and working with many survivor’s of sex abuse and grooming, I am fully aware of our keen sense of reading other people (verbal or body language). My hope in sharing this is to awaken non-offending family, friends and co-worker’s to the impact of non-verbal reactions to survivors of CSA.

My story starts at about age 5 because that is when my memories start. I was born in Portland Oregon in 1972 and my sister was born in Vancouver Washington in 1973 to two very loving parents born and raised in the same area. Our parents were young and both came from families with history of substance and emotional abuse. They separated in about 1975. When I was 5 years old and my sister was 4 years old, our parents decided that I would live with my father and she would live with mom. The separation between my sister and I would have long lasting impacts on both of us.

Throughout my entire childhood, our grandparents (fathers side) took care of us alot on weekends, holidays and summer break. My grandmother was a very silly happy grandmotherly type of woman and loved playing the organ and singing. Grandpa was always working in his shop and drank beer until early afternoon and moved to vodka and orange juice into the evening. He set up the backyard with swingsets, kids activities and let us try his beer and drinks as the day got later. Grandpa was always welcoming to his grandchildren and all of our friends. Weekends always involved myself and a friend staying over at Grandpa and Grandma’s house. We loved playing and every Saturday morning we would get a couple of dollars to walk up to the local convenience store to pick out the candy for the weekend visit.

Over the years, grandpa would plan camping trips and travels to local resorts. We would always get to bring a friend so there would be three to four girls that would get to go swimming, eat out at restaurants and play games while being a new place. These are very fond memories and we all enjoyed being together and playing. Grandma would sometimes get tired from all of our energy and activity but she always took care of us by feeding us meals and treats. Grandpa seemed to not talk to her very much and spent the majority of his time with us girls.

Whether we were travelling or at Grandpa’s house, bedtime was when the anxiety and negotiation would start. When we were all very young, we fought to sleep in grandpa’s bed (Grandma slept in her own bed). He would tell us stories and we loved hearing the stories. As we grew to be a little older, we fought to sleep in grandma’s bed. Being the oldest and his granddaughter, I wouldn’t fight too much because that meant that what he was going to do wouldn’t happen to my sister or friends. As even more time went by, we would all fight to sleep on a mattress in front of the downstairs television. That worked most of the time because all of us girls would sleep in the same bed and if Grandpa drank alot that day, he would struggle with getting up and down the stairs. There was always a chance that he would come downstairs in the middle of the night and carry me to the other room. At the time, I thought it was only me. Later in life, I discovered that he had molested my sister, my friends and hundreds of girls throughout Oregon and Washington.

As we grew older about 9 or 10 years old, my sister started to get upset with “special” treatment that I was getting from grandpa. When I was 11 years old, she told our mother that “Grandpa was a pervert”. My mother listened to her talk about what happens at Grandpas and specifically at night. She called my father (who I lived with) and told him what my sister had disclosed. I was confronted by my stepmother and father. After an hour of denying anything had happened, I told. The look on my fathers face burns in my memory even after 30 years. This was the day that changed my life as I knew it forever.

The house was filled with crying, yelling and confusion. My father was extremely overwhelmed and guilt ridden and in denial. The police arrived and I was terrified. They interviewed me and collected evidence. I do remember a very kind female officer who showed compassion and went at a slow pace with me. My feeling was numbed, scared, confused, guilty, full of shame and sad. When they collected my underwear and clothes, I felt dirty. My father was devastated and seemed to shut down. My stepmother took charge and continued conversations with law enforcement and started searching for counseling for me.

Over the next two years my life was consumed with being labeled as “abused” and the various people that came in and out of our families life seemed to all have that “I am so sorry” expression on their face. My father’s siblings and their families became hostile towards my father and us because we “distroyed the family” or “destroyed the later life of grandma and grandpa”. That whole side of the family was torn and from my memory turned on my father. Eventually grandpa was sentenced to about 5 years in prison and required to register as a sex offender. Fortunately the kids in the case,  did not have to testify or go to any of the court hearings. I assume now that grandpa and his attorney must have made a plea bargain. I do remember having to call grandpa with a wire tap on the phone and tell him that I was going to tell. He begged me not to tell and offered many bribes that included visiting one of my favorite cousins in California. I never knew what became of the recorded confession…

Now we get to when the spirit in me really became silent. At age 13, I started feeling the impacts of my childhood grooming and abuse. The overwhelming feelings of guilt, shame, depression, hopelessness and worthlessness became a daily existence for me. All of my childhood friends were no longer allowed to be in my life and my new friends had simular childhood experiences and feelings. We smoked pot and drank beer daily. I went to school only to leave the campus and go downtown. When my parents attempted to discipline me for skipping school or bad behaviors, I would climb out my window and not return for weeks. There were many times that I would walk through a park or “scary” part of town by myself with thoughts of wishing that someone would “take me out”. Living on the streets was the choice that I had made and the kids I survived with knew what I knew and they never looked at me with that “I am so sorry” expression. Drugs and risk taking on the streets of Portland became a part of me and my lifestyle until I was 15 years old. Fighting was a constant expectation and I welcomed it. I truly didn’t care if I lived or died and being so young had no concept of what that lifestyle could truly bring. Being young, careless and vulnerable on the streets provided predators with opportunities to prey and re-victimize and they did.

My silence began when I was about 14 years old and lasted for over a year. I wasn’t able to talk to people other than my family and my bestfriend. All of the other people that came in and out of my life thought I was weird and constantly asked my bestfriend what was wrong with me. She would tell them that I was just shy. Through my silence, I observed people at their worst. My observations included; guys getting girls drunk to have sex with them, drug addicts scoring and shooting up, teenagers pimping themselves out for money, drugs and/or a place to stay and adult street life preying on kids/teens. My observations also included adults attempting to intervene with the “street kids” and most of them using manipulation tactics with us. There seemed to be only a few that knew what they tried to talk about and had serious investment and concern. They tried numerous times to intervene with me but I wasn’t talking.

After over two years of extremely self-destructive behaviors, my friend and I ran away to Denver Colorado. We went to a local truckstop and jump on with a truck heading to Georgia. We spent days travelling across country with a very scary and shady truck driver. While stopped in a small town outside of Denver, the community started questioning why he had two young girls with him and he made us leave. We went to the nearest truckstop and hitched a ride into Denver. We met up with some other street kids and ended up staying in a “flop house”. We sold LSD to pay the bills and we took LSD to pass the time. My stay in Denver was about 1 month and in that short month, I had consumed a massive amount of Acid and didn’t eat. The day I called my Dad was the day I made the choice to live. If I didn’t go home, I would have died. I weighed 95 lbs and was dwindling down more. My brain was fried and I had been in a relationship with a 24 year old male that even I knew was not healthy. Me being almost 15 and him being 24 just felt weird at the time.

My journey home was sureal. I only remember bits and pieces. My parents told me to turn myself into the police as a runaway and that the police would give me a bus ticket home. I did that and stayed one night in the Juvenile Detention Center in Colorado. A officer took me to the bus station and I boarded the bus for home. When I arrived in Portland, my father picked me up at the bus station. When he pulled up to the curb, he drove past me and stopped about 25 feet away. He reversed the truck and stopped in front of me. He told me that I looked like shit and that he didn’t even recognize me. I got in and we headed home.

Christmas was a couple days away and my family was extremely concerned and frustrated with me and my behavior. I don’t remember what Christmas was like and actually I don’t remember much of the following year. What I do remember though was a conversation that my dad had with me. We had been talking about the bad decisions that I had been making and my attitude was “so what”. I broke down and told him that I didn’t care if I lived or died. He looked me straight in the face and said “Kiddo at the rate you are going.. dying is the least thing that could happen to you”. I remember thinking “what are you talking about”. He continued to say “When the guy is standing on the bridge and ready to jump. He is thinking that ending his life will solve all of his shit. But the real question is ‘What if he makes it’? Savenia have you thought about what that could look like”. That was my epiphany. For whatever reason, that was what I needed to hear and when I needed to hear it.

At 16, I decided to get my GED and start college classes. I worked at a fast food restaurant for 2 years and that was an invaluable experience. I definately did not want to do that for a living. My focus became studying business in school and getting an office job. The career focus bacame all consuming and stopped me from focusing on the family destruction that came from the abuse by my grandfather.

Married at 21 years of age and worked my way up in the retail industry. Moved into social service work at age 25. Divorced at age 28. I have dedicated the past 15 years of my professional life to advocating for and preventing child sex abuse. My story is being told now because I have decided to dedicated the next 10 years to working on the cultural shift that is needed in our families and communities. My trauma was initiated by the abuse from my grandfather but the reaction or lack of reaction from family, friends and community has been the lifelong struggle that I still endure. It is time to stop, recognize and get real about the fact that child sexual abuse is real and that it is our (non-offending adults) responsibility to identify and prevent sex offender access.

Peace Out,

Savenia Falquist – Silent Spirits Founder

  1. Wow, Savenia. Thank you for sharing your story. Very powerful.

    I appreciate your honesty and the fact you looked to be at your ‘end’ when you had your epiphany.

    I look forward to more information with your initiative.

    • Matt,

      Thank you for posting in response to “The Silent Spirit in Me”. Even though I don’t know you personally, I feel connected in that you have advocated for your own! Please keep in touch and look for additional writings that will be more focused on prevention.

  2. Amina Elzarif-Trujillo permalink

    I to am an incest survivor. I hate that word. Your life touched my heart with a reflective mirror. I have suppressed memories, unfortunetly, my 2 little sisters fill in the blanks. Dad did them also.

  3. Savenia, thank you for your courage. I appreciate your telling your experience and can relate to wanting to prevent this trauma from hurting others. Yours in solidarity, Debra

    • Debra,

      Now that you are starting a new chapter in your journey.. I can’t wait to see what evolves! Your commitment to ending violence has been outstanding and now without confinements of non-profit politics.. Very exciting and I can’t wait to assist in some way.

  4. Sarah J. Frank permalink

    Thank you Savenia for sharing and for the work you do! You have been a great inspiration to me and others on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation!! Please let me know how I can help. Let the healing begin!

    • Sarah,

      Knowing you for the past 10 years and our shared work with Tribal communities throughout Oregon has been my pleasure. I consider you to be a warrior in the fight for equality and justice for Native Americans throughout Oregon and beyond. We have laughed, cried and sat in silence through many advocacy situations. Thank you for your support along the way.

  5. Penney L Wilson permalink

    As a fellow survivor of childhood abuse I can only say that it takes a great deal of courage to share your story and that of your family. Thank you. You are strong, determined, impactful,courageous and I know that the next 10 years will see amazing changes.

    • Penney,

      You my friend are one of the most dedicated advocates that I have encountered. When I am feeling tired and defeated.. you inspire me with your dedication! Thank you.

  6. Duke & Diane permalink

    A lot of people become extraordinary individuals because of what has happened to them and the fact they have been able to move on without “jumping off a bridge.” A few people become more than extraordinary because they have taken that experience and not only moved on but decided with all their heart and soul that they would do whatever it takes to protect others and especially children. That’s the stuff heroes are made of. Thankfully there’s a few heroes like you out there.

    • Duke & Diane,

      Thank you for your dedication and committment to addressing and ending violence against children in our communities and others around the US. Your voluntary investment in producing the film “Silent Message” continues to fill my heart with appreciation for you both just being you and doing what you believe to be right! Be safe on your travels and keep posting the beautiful pics Diane.

  7. Laurie permalink

    Thank you, Savenia, for the gift of your story. You are an amazing combination of strength and vulnerability. The Silent Spirits Project already is making a powerful impact. I can’t wait to see how far reaching it will be.

    • Laurie,

      Thank you for your dedicated passion to working with victim/survivors of sexual assault!! You are appreciated by me and many others.

  8. Amina Elzarif-Trujillo permalink

    Thank you. Part of my recovery has been acceptance of the scars, some imprinting occures with our tramas and cannot be undone. Learning to be as compassionete with myself , as I am with others has helped me imminsly.

    • Amina,

      Thank you for responding! I agree that the some of the impacts of our abuse (grooming for me) can be lifelong. My daily work includes “checking in” and sometimes having to process things a bit longer the make sure that I am not reacting based on my childhood experiences. Family incest has dynamics that are different and most of the time require us to work through a greiving process that includes immediate family that are still living… You are very courageus for speaking out and please keep in touch. My inspiration and drive comes from my fellow survivors!

  9. Thankyou, Savenia. Your story is powerful.

  10. Suzzi Snydar permalink

    Thank you for sharing your story and experience. What a powerful story of redemption, your story will help countless victims to see that they are not alone, its not only them. They can reach for healing and understand that it can happen for them as well. Thank you again for sharing.

  11. R. Vautrin permalink

    Stumbled on your story through Facebook and read it with tears in my eyes. My brother, sister, and I (and some of our friends) were victims of my dad. He was victimized by his own father….such a sad destructive legacy! I hope your work brings this issue out into the light. I am glad society is more aware but it is still such a difficult subject for most to talk about. I admire your bravery and wish you great success.

  12. Thank you to all have taken the time to read my story. I hope that this year is a year of change around sex abuse in this country. The silence and adults diverting attention away from this crime is unintentionally creating long lasting impact for victims. Adult, system and community support are essential in healing for people who have been abused. Thank you again!

  13. How do you handle peoples reactions? I feel as if I’m being victimized twice when I tell anybody, and (I tell them in a general way) that I’m a survivor. I’m interested, maybe it’s the way I tell them.?

    • Ann,

      I am so sorry about the delay in response. For many years, I was really impacted by the verbal and non-verbal response of people in my field (sexual assault advocacy), family and friends. I have learned and moved to a place of acceptance that this is still a very taboo and silenced type of victimization. I carry strength and awareness that people are just stuck in the silence. My empowerment comes from continuing to break that silence and find it a welcome challenge to speak out. There is no shame in my story for me. I speak out not for myself… but for all of those vulnerable victims that I have shared time and space with through their journeys. Our current societal “silence” culture paired with a re-victimizing system keeps me strong. If I was to sit in front of you and hear your disclosure, I can honestly say that my reaction would be of connectedness not pitty or avoiding tactics. Hope this gives some comfort.


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