April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month and Liz Ferro is putting her footprint on child abuse. Ferro’s organization, Girls with Sole! in Rocky River, serves girls from 9-18 years old and aims to empower girls who are at-risk or have experienced abuse of any kind.
Ferro was adopted at the age of two and was later sexually abused as a young child. Through her organization, Girls with Sole!she shares with girls how athletics and fitness helped her through challenging times and how they too can overcome. I met Ferro at an event in February where she talked about her journey. Her story was so riveting that I recently interviewed her for Child Abuse Prevention Month.
I read where you were sexually abused by a male next door neighbor when your 8 and 9 years old. Did you ever tell anyone? I never verbally told anyone about it, however, in order to get it out, I wrote some things about what was going on with the neighbor in an assignment pad that I had in my room, but never used this pad for school. While at school, my mom was in my room and read it. When I got home that day, she was waiting for me with it in hand, and she was upset with me. She asked me if it was true, and I told her that it was. Then she asked me, “Was it so important to you that you wrote it down?” (As if I was happy about it or something.) After that she told me that we would never tell anyone about it. She said that if my father found out about it, he would kill our neighbor and then go to jail. I didn’t want it to be my fault that my dad was in jail so both of us never told anyone, and went on about our lives.
Why do you think it’s hard for kids to tell someone about abuse? I think kids struggle for many reasons and being dismissed, or not believed, is one of the big ones. For me, there was also a lot of shame and embarrassment. I also felt as if I had done something wrong and feared that it was my fault. My mother’s reaction to it further reinforced those fears.
To this day, have you ever spoken to the abuser? I have never spoken to him about it and actually never had to see him again after I went away to college in Ohio. He lived in Rochester, NY, where I grew up. When he was abusing me he was already retired. Recently, when I got my book published, I searched the internet for him and his wife to see if they were still alive. They are both deceased.
You started Girls with Sole! in July of 2009. What were some of the challenges you faced when starting the non-profit? I started in during the height of a recession and many people told me that it would fail. Some people even told me that I should take out the word “abuse” from the mission.
Why did you persevere? I persevered because I knew in my heart that I could not divert from our mission and that Girls With Sole! was extremely needed for a population of girls that was not being served. These girls needed someone to give them hope, strength and healing, and I couldn’t turn my back on them. I figured if it didn’t work out, and Girls With Sole! fizzled away unsuccessfully, at least I would have tried, and maybe helped a few girls along the way. But that isn’t what happened and I am so glad I listened to my heart.
How do you think Girls with Sole! will empower girls who have experienced sexual abuse? My hope is that they survive by gaining emotional and physical strength and high self-esteem through fitness; that they realize abuse is never their fault, and that no matter what, they can always move forward. They are encouraged to be themselves and to believe that they can do great things and achieve. It gives them the ability to cross a finish line and release painful emotions in a very healthy way.
In June, Ferro along with several girls and supporters will cross the finish line in the Team LULA 5K run in Rocky River. The race is open to anyone who wants to run and is part fundraiser, which goes toward training the girls and registering them for free. The race also coincides with the promotion of her new book, Finish Line Feeling, an uplifting memoir about her journey from foster child, to sexual abuse survivor to founder of Girls with Sole.
The first federal child protection legislation, Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) was passed in 1974.