This is Ariel "Arrie" Wilson's story of how she has found hope and strength despite living a nightmare in her youth.
After experiencing four years of sexual abuse, watching her family rip apart and be rejected by both sides of a divided church, a Carthage woman now serves as an advocate for abuse victims and anticipates law school this fall. This is Ariel "Arrie" Wilson's story of how she has found hope and strength despite living a nightmare in her youth.
Living in Abuse
Arrie was eight-years-old when her sister, who is about seven years older, was married.
“I was excited,” Arrie said, “everyone told me that I was getting a new big brother. My sister’s house was cool, she had cable, her freezer always had ice cream in it and I could play outside with her dogs. The cool part was that her new husband seemed just as eager to spend time with me too. At first, it was innocent playfulness.”
A year after they were married was when he first abused Arrie; she was nine.
“I remember I knew it was wrong, but I didn’t want to say anything because I felt like it was my fault, I felt guilty,” she said. “That abuse continued until I was 13, every time I was at their house, which was often. It happened hundreds of times. He never outwardly threatened me, but he made me feel like we were both guilty; that if I said anything I would be just as bad as him, and my family would disown me or fall apart. He told me that he was in love with me, and that they wouldn’t understand. So I never said anything. While I knew what was happening was wrong, I believed that he loved me and I felt that if I always gave him what he wanted he would never do the same things to someone else. I thought I was protecting others.”
Four years passed, and Arrie noticed his focus shift to other girls, one of which was her best friend. Arrie said she found the courage to tell her everything.
“She was the first person I had even considered telling,” Arrie said. “She cried with me, and agreed that together, as two 13-year-old girls, we could watch him and prevent him from doing the same thing to anyone else. We tried for about a month, but it was out of our control.”
Reporting the Abuse
It was in August 2003 when Arrie, with her best friend by her side, told her mother everything that had happened. By the next day, the police were involved and Arrie was interviewed at the Children’s Center. As Arrie was fully supported, charges were filed and the lengthy court process began. To this day, Arrie expresses her gratitude and respect for Betsy, the victims’ advocate at the prosecutor's office, and her counselor, Jeanette Eldred, who was with the Ozark Center.
“During this time everything (he) said would happen, did,” Arrie said. “My family fell apart. My family were all members of the congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and it split apart the church as well. It was my worst nightmare. He was disfellowshipped from the church, but not for child molestation, rather, adultery. There were members in the church that said I should have been disfellowshipped as well; they said that I seduced him. We switched the congregation that we attended, but I was still looked at as a whore, someone that was not a victim but rather a perpetrator. I remember there was an elder that felt so strongly on the matter that he actually gave a sermon on 'It is not rape if you do not scream.'”
Efforts to contact the Jehovah Witness Kingdom Hall, Carthage, for comment were unsuccessful.
Arrie's abuser was sentenced to 10 years of incarceration, with a requirement to serve 80 percent of his time and his name will always be listed as a registered sex offender. At his sentencing hearing, Arrie gave her victim impact statement.
“It was scary, but something that I felt I needed to do,” she said. “I wanted my voice and feelings to be heard. I had Betsy there with me as I read it to the judge. I remember I told the judge that I felt the 10 years would give me the time I needed to heal.”
Living after Abuse
Arrie tried to just be a 14-year-old girl.
“I was never like everyone else my age,” Arrie said. “I was focused, I knew what I wanted to do from that point forward. I was determined to heal and turn my childhood into something positive.”
Arrie graduated high school at the age of 16 from her home-school program in 2006. She has a class ring in which she chose to inscribe a gavel as a symbol of her dedication to become an attorney. A year later, she started to steer away from the church, and moved out of her mother's house and in with the man who would later become her husband. She was disfellowshipped; which means “subsequent shunning of an unrepentant wrongdoer,” according to Watchtower, 1981.
Arrie and William Wilson were soon engaged, and she found happiness.
Facing the Abuser
Periodic news involving Arrie's abuser set her back into a state of helplessness and shame. But, she chose to rise above her emotions and face various challenges head-on.
A few years passed, and Arrie and William had a baby girl, Phoebe. Arrie was enrolled in criminal justice classes, and loved it. She knew her abuser would be released soon and return to the area. When he was released June 24, 2011, Arrie didn't leave her home for two days. Finally, rather than suffer the emotions of a victim, with the consent of her counselor and the probation officer, Arrie set up an appointment to see him.
“I just wanted the first time I saw him to be on my terms,” Arrie said. “I wanted to take the fear away, get the questions I had answered and empower myself … I prepared myself for the fact that he could not be helpful at all. I was OK with that. I knew that the meeting was about giving myself the forgiveness I needed and empowering myself, regardless of the outcome of the meeting.”
To her amazement, he answered her questions in the two-hour conversation.
“When it was over, I felt like a weight was lifted from my shoulders,” Arrie said. “Questions that I had for years were answered, but most importantly, I was not afraid of him anymore.”
A Future Past the Abuse
Arrie graduated from Crowder College with an associate degree in December 2012, and she graduated from Missouri Southern State University with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice administration in July this year. After taking the LSAT, she was accepted into different law schools and has chosen to attend Washburn Law School in Topeka, Kan., this fall.
Phoebe, now four-years-old, and William are with Arrie currently in their new home.
In accordance to the faith, Arrie can no longer communicate with her best friend (and some family members). According to www.jw.org, “disfellowshipping takes place only if a member of the congregation unrepentantly engages in gross sin … What is accomplished by disfellowshipping? It keeps Jehovah’s holy name clear of reproach and protects the fine reputation of his people. (1 Peter 1:14-16) Removing an unrepentant wrongdoer from the congregation upholds God’s standards and preserves the congregation’s spiritual cleanness. It may also bring the unrepentant one to his senses.”
“I don't hate the people, I still have family that are Witnesses,” Arrie said. “I do hate that the leaders are incredibly closed minded. I hate the shunning … It has in a big way turned me off of religion. I have visited a few different churches now and have yet to find one that I like. I feel that for now I have spirituality and try to live a moral life. I have always felt that the biggest thing we should do is love and respect others regardless of their faith.”
Arrie served as a volunteer for rape victims in the ER with the Lafayette House, and hopes to continue advocacy in law school.
“I want to take my experience and use it to help others in similar situations,” she said. “While someone may be victimized, and it can feel overwhelming at times, it does not have to negatively define your life. I do not see myself as a victim, but rather as someone who survived and made the best of a bad situation. I learned that the hardest part of healing for me was forgiving myself, for something that I was not guilty of. Perpetrators like to push their guilt onto their victims so they can justify their actions. Take that guilt and shame and give it back to them, take the bad and turn it into good.
“My hope for the future is that I will be able to help bring change to the criminal justice system. I feel that in our area cases that are not a sure win for the prosecutor are often given a significant reduction in charges with a plea agreement or charges are never filed. I want that to change. I am all about restorative justice as well. I think we need to do what we can to heal everyone involved and to help them move on after something so traumatic happens. I want to also help bring awareness that it is never the victim's fault, and they should never be ashamed.”