We sat down with Patrice Griffin, founder of Patrice’s Kids, a nonprofit that seeks to protect children and educate adults on the prevention of child abuse, to learn about her journey from abuse victim to activist.
When did you decide to create Patrice’s Kids? Was there one specific moment that made you realize this is what you wanted to do?
I first had the idea back in 2018. When I went through my abuse and the years of struggle that came after, I knew I wanted to do something to help children like me. I just wasn’t sure how I would do it, but when I started thinking about a nonprofit, it felt right to me. I never want another child to go through what I went through. My goal is to help in any way I can to prevent child abuse and support children in our community.
You not only overcame child sexual abuse, you also overcame drug addiction, homelessness, and suicidal ideation. Can you tell us about that journey?
After my abuse, I was accepted into a rehab program in upstate New York that helped adolescents and young adults like myself. That program helped me get clean, and I was able to beat my addiction. Unfortunately, I still didn’t have anywhere else to go. After I left the rehab program, I was homeless in NYC for about two years. I lived in the train station. These were all dark times for me, feeling like absolutely no one in the world cared about me. There were times when I wanted to die, but to be honest, most of us don’t want to die. All you really want is an end to the pain. Our brain can’t hold all the stress, anxiety, and racing thoughts, and you just want an out, any out.
Through the grace of a higher power, one day a police officer woke me up from where I was sleeping in the station. I was worried he was going to arrest me, but he was standing there with a social worker. They asked me if I was homeless and if I needed help, and I said yes. They took me to breakfast, and I told them about my situation. They were able to get me into programs that got me housing and mental health counseling.
It’s not uncommon for victims of child sexual abuse to struggle with drugs, suicide, and housing. Why do you think that is?
Victims of sexual abuse feel alone, and like no one can help them. The world becomes so overwhelming when you’re trying to deal with such a huge issue as an adolescent. Drugs provide a release, and for a moment you forget your problems. But the slide happens so fast. You start needing more and more moments to cope, and before you know it you lose your job, your housing, your support system. You fall, and it feels like there’s no one to catch you.
Your first book was just released, The Unconscious Community. Tell us about your book and why you were inspired to share your story.
As a victim I felt like I was suffering by myself. I truly thought that there was no one in the world who could understand what I was going through. As an adult who has now gone through that journey of healing, I want other victims just like me to know that they aren’t alone. I know exactly what they’re going through. And I want them to know that just because you’re going through the worst time of your life right now it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a light at the end of the tunnel. The road to healing is a lifelong process, and it won’t be easy, but it is possible. I want everyone to know that there’s hope and there are people out there who care about them.
You publicly campaigned for New York to pass the Child Victims Act, which allows adult victims who were abused as children to bring charges against their abusers, even if the events occurred many years ago. Tell us about that.
Gary Greenberg is a politician that spearheaded the Act, and when I heard about the campaign, I knew I wanted to be involved. I ran a lot of online campaigns, and I spoke with survivors about their stories, and I was asked by survivors Dave Ohlmuller and Joe Capozzi to be in their documentary, “A Peloton of One.” Adult survivors of child abuse not only have to deal with the trauma of what they go through, but also knowing that the statute of limitations prevents them from ever seeking justice for those crimes. The CVA changes all of this and gives us a voice. This isn’t the end, but it’s a start. Just having this avenue is a glimmer of hope for all survivors.
I think that for most of us who worked on getting the CVA passed, the next step is removing the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse. You’ll never forget what happened to you. Your mind may block it out in order to cope, but you’ll never truly forget that fear and horror. A victim should never be prevented from seeking justice.
Many victims of child sexual abuse do not come forward for many years. Tell us why you think that happens.
For myself, and for many of the survivors that I’ve spoken with over the years, the embarrassment and shame is overwhelming. What happened to us shouldn’t happen to anyone, but often when we come forward, we’re faced with “are you sure? Do you just want to get money out of them? Are you lying? Why didn’t you tell us sooner?” All of these questions help no one, and they just revictimize us. We go through that trauma all over again because no one believes us. Families often brush the abuse under the rug, or they blame us. In some ways it’s worse for boys, because if it was a male offender they suffer through questions about their sexuality, and if it was a female offender, then they get told that’s every boy’s dream and they should be happy about it. I have personally been called a liar and have been accused of just wanting to get a check. These memories are physically painful for all survivors and bringing up that pain to tell someone what happened is traumatic, and you can imagine why no one would want to bring up those memories again.
Patrice’s Kids collects duffel bags filled with necessary items like shoes, clothing, and school supplies and distributes them to children in need. Tell us about how it feels to give these items directly to kids in need and how it impacts the community.
It really brings me full circle, because I remember the times when I couldn’t afford to buy a pair of shoes for myself, and now I’m distributing shoes and other supplies to children in need. It’s an amazing feeling. Back when I was living in the train station, I didn’t have a coat and a woman passing by was worried about me. She told me to stay there, and she came back in a few minutes holding a coat for me. I promised myself that one day I would be the person giving back to people in need. Doing this service alleviates some stress for the community and for nonprofits who are providing other services. It takes that burden off them so they can focus on other needs.
Perhaps your greatest impact is the courses you offer which train adults to recognize the warning signs of grooming and sexual abuse. Tell us how you developed the course and its importance.
One of the only avenues for preventing child abuse is empowering adults to know what signs to look for and alerting authorities, without second guessing themselves about whether it’s their place to do so. When I spoke to people in the community, I started to hear a lot of the same barriers. They would tell me they don’t know what age to start talking to their kids about inappropriate touching, they don’t have the money to take a training, they didn’t know where to start. So I decided I could solve this problem by providing these courses myself. I provide a certified trainer who offers online training courses, all free of cost to anyone who wants to take them. These courses teach what signs to look for, what grooming is, what the effects of child sex abuse are, and more. The goal is always to bring awareness to this issue and stop pretending that abuse doesn’t happen. Ignoring the issues won’t solve anything. Never second guess yourself – if you think something is wrong, trust your instincts.
I understand you’re running a toy drive collection for the holidays. Can you tell us more about the toy drive and where people can donate?
This is my third year hosting a toy drive, and it’s a little different because of Covid of course. So this year I decided to work with CASA Hope, which is a foster care agency out of Houston. Any proceeds I get from the sale of my book will go to buying toys and supplies for these children in foster care. Every child deserves to have a special day on Christmas and wake up to presents. If anyone is interested in participating, they can make a donation on my website.