The front photo on the book I Do Matter shows a little girl smiling but looking down at the ground.
That little girl is Melanie Duhan, now all grown up, and she says she was always looking down because she had learned that she didn’t matter.
Even though police, aunts and uncles came in her house growing up, Melanie Duhan, who lived in Terrace, was abused and continued to be abused until she left home as a teen.
No one said or did anything to help, so she started to believe that she didn’t matter.
“Children think everything is their fault and there is something wrong with them when their friends’ parents are nice and theirs are not,” she said.
And children and women can’t defend themselves, she said.
“People don’t seem to understand that.”
With this book, Duhan wants to bring awareness to the effects of child abuse because society doesn’t seem to understand the profound effect that it has on a child, affecting every aspect of that child’s life into adulthood.
Children are just big sponges, absorbing what they hear and see and feel.
A child has no sense of self when life involves constantly making sure everything is okay, said Duhan.
Duhan didn’t tell anyone about her abuse because she didn’t want to leave her mother who was also abused.
She had suffered abuse from her dad and then her stepdad from the day she was born until age 16, when she decided in the middle of the night that she had had enough.
She got a knife and wanted to kill him and her mom.
The thought of killing her mom made her stop and think because she loved her mom so much and knew she didn’t want to kill her.
“It scared me so I went to my girlfriend’s house and never came back,” she said.
She pushed her past out of her mind and tried to live her life.
There was no help for teens at that time so she couch surfed for a while.
Later she had a child out of wedlock, drank for six years, went through a bad 13-year marriage, but she started to have flashbacks of her past.
People often think it’s a weakness to ask for help, but it’s actually a strength, she said.
“When I reached out for help, it was the best thing I ever did,” she said.
“It takes a lot of strength and courage to heal.”
She had to deal with her past and says the book is not a blame game, it’s just the facts.
While in therapy, Duhan found memories of her childhood coming back and she began to journal.
She encourages others to journal too.
She decided to write this book, against her therapist’s advice, and found it very cathartic, helping her to feel better and to heal from her past.
Duhan joined a 12-step program, raised three girls, kept them safe and taught them not to put up with abuse. But she doesn’t pretend it was easy to get here.
People need to change their minds so child abuse is seen and dealt with in the same way as racism; people should be outraged when it happens and it should be unacceptable.
Abusers will often use the excuse that they were abused themselves, but they have a choice to not abuse others, she said. They need to get help and then work to stop child abuse, she said.
Her long-term goal is to change the laws so abusers receive tougher sentences and aren’t segregated from the general population in prison.
Put them in with the rest of the inmates and let their karma go to work on them, she said.
She added that both her dad and stepfather are dead, their karma dealt with them, and she feels safe.
“People have to change things,” she said, adding that talking about things can help get rid of the stigma.
“We should be able to say ‘I was abused and I survived it,’” she said.
Duhan has reconciled with her mom, who has 30 years of sobriety, and both have healed from the past, and she is “more than grateful” for that, she said.
“There’s joy now where there wasn’t before, joy instead of sadness, it’s a good feeling,” she said.
On the back of Duhan’s book is a photo of her now with a big smile on her face.
And under the title I Do Matter, are the words I Am.
“‘I Am’ is ‘I can be who I am. I’m free now and have a choice to do what I want to do with my life,’” she explained.
I Do Matter is available at the library and at Misty River Books.