CARLSBAD — Like those victims who suffered sexual abuse at the hands of Jerry Sandusky, Lisa Monaco Gonzales was betrayed by an adult everyone knew and seemed to trust. It was a neighbor, her best friend’s father.
Gonzales didn’t deal with the molestation until later, after graduating from college.
“I didn’t remember, although I think the body remembers,” she said, adding there were signs such as crying following intimate relations. When the memories surfaced, she told her mother first.
“She called her old friends in the neighborhood,” Gonzales said. “There were four houses and everyone moved except one family with boys.”
Although the remaining families, each with girls, knew about the sexual abuse, they decided to deal with it privately and not press charges.
Finally, her mother made the difficult decision to warn the family of the perpetrator.
“Her main concern was that the children knew so they could protect the grandchildren,” Gonzales said. “They were aware that it happened but blamed it on drugs and alcoholism. After therapy, they said he was fine.”
Gonzales remembered the perpetrator’s daughters being present during incidents when she was violated, sometimes at the breakfast table, other times in the swimming pool.
“We all wore T-shirts in the pool,” she warned. “If parents see their daughters doing the same thing, they need to recognize the behavior.”
A successful businesswoman, with an active social life, Gonzales said her lifestyle turned serious as she committed herself to therapy and recovery.
Several years later, at 40, she got married. After giving birth to the first of her two children, the memories returned with a vengeance.
“I was in therapy for severe postpartum depression and it all came back,” she said. “I thought I was done with it, but I faced it again at a whole other level.”
In addressing the abuse for a second time, Gonzales learned that the most important thing was to learn forgiveness so she could set herself free and move on. The next step in her recovery was educating parents and teachers.
Today, she is a trained speaker for child sexual abuse prevention organizations including Darkness to Light and Talk About Abuse to Liberate Kids, or TAALK.
“Child sexual abuse is preventable when we surround ourselves with adults who are knowledgeable,” Gonzales said. “The first step is awareness. Parents need to know that 90 percent (of incidents) are within your family or friends. Eighty percent of sexual abuse occurs in a one adult, one child situation.
She adds, “A pedophile will create a pedophile will create a pedophile.”
Gonzales advises victims to seek therapy and support groups.
“Whatever someone is comfortable with, be it one-on-one, or in a group,” she said. “If you are really depressed, go to an outpatient program in a hospital. When you are in a group and they bring it up you have to listen and deal with it — and that’s where I really moved forward.”
She also recommends visiting taalk.org to find a local chapter.
Svava Brooks is program director and trainer for TAALK San Diego.
“Lisa’s a role model for other survivors, and the healing power of sharing your story and breaking the silence,” Brooks said. “She shares her story from a child’s perspective which gives parents insight into how a child interprets what is happening to them. That’s why it so important we talk to them.”
Brooks explained that in internalizing what has happened to them, children often misinterpret the events.
“Children tend to blame themselves because they are violated usually at the hands of what everyone thought was a good person. In Lisa’s case, it was a kind neighbor.”
Gonzales is also the author of “Unbreakable Spirit: Rising Above the Impossible” and “Jesse’s Dream,” a children’s book she penned in grade school.
She will be hosting book signings this summer at Pangaea Outpost in the Flower Hill Mall in Del Mar from 7 to 8:30 p.m. July 20 and Warwick’s, 7812 Girard Ave., in La Jolla, from noon to 2 p.m. Aug. 19.
For more information, visit lisamonacogonzales.com or email [email protected]