Sexual abuse survivor speaks in Oklahoma, encourages others to seek help

Victims of sexual abuse often don't report the crime because of fear or stigmas, Oklahoma officials say.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT mmcnutt@opubco.com Published: April 9, 2013
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Tonia Byers no longer is a statistic.

At one time, she was among the 15 percent of the approximately 207,000 females who are sexually assaulted each year in this country who are younger than 12 years old.

Byers said she was sexually abused for four years, from the time she was 9 to 13 years old, in a small town in Iowa. She said she escaped by running away to Oklahoma.

“From the outside, everything seemed normal,” Byers, 36, said during a news conference Monday presented by the state attorney general's office to recognize April as sexual assault awareness month in Oklahoma.

Byers said she acted opposite from the typical victims of sexual abuse.

“I was on the honor roll, I made A's and B's, I was in gymnastics, I was a cheerleader, I was outgoing, never argued with my parents, had lots of friends,” she said. “But on the inside I was struggling.”

Byers said she turned to writing poetry to handle the abuse.

“Without my writing, I would have never survived,” she said.

At 17, while she was a high school senior living on her own in Oklahoma, she received a letter stating that her offender had died and left her $500 in his will.

“Talk about a roller coaster of emotions, I think I felt everything,” Byers said. “I just couldn't understand how my offender thought $500 was worth four years of abuse, four years of taking away my innocence.”

Byers said she wasn't his only victim; he also left money of differing amounts to others.



I was on the honor roll, I made As and Bs, I was in gymnastics, I was a cheerleader, I was outgoing, never argued with my parents, had lots of friends,” she said. “But on the inside I was struggling.”

Tonia Byers,
She said she was sexually abused from the

time she was 9 to 13 years old in Iowa before escaping by running away to Oklahoma.

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