Editor’s note: Some content may be too graphic for some readers, especially younger ones.
Cheyenne was only 4 years old when the sexual abuse began.
Her mom had begun dating a man, who abused the little girl. The abuse grew progressively worse and he moved into their home when Cheyenne was 6.
“From there, it became more of a daily occurrence,” she said.
The abuse continued until she was almost 19 years old.
Today, Cheyenne is a young woman with a message and a mission. She wants people to know they can leave abusive situations and have the life they want.
She plans to go into law enforcement and conduct child abuse and sex crime investigations.
In the meantime, Cheyenne will share her story in brief Facebook videos set to be posted at about 9 a.m. Thursday, April 30, and Friday, May 1, on The Bridge formerly Crisis Center Facebook page.
Leaha Hammer, director of student counseling at Midland University, will tell how she connects with abuse victims and advocates for students.
Hammer’s videos are set to be posted at about 9 a.m. Tuesday, April 28, and Wednesday, April 29.
This month marks the 19th anniversary of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The videos are being presented in the hope of reaching someone who may be going through an experience similar to Cheyenne’s, said Kylie Kampschneider, The Bridge’s sexual assault services coordinator.
The 3-to-5-minute-long videos will remain on the locally based agency’s Facebook page so they can be viewed at any time.
Kampschneider stresses the importance of sexual assault awareness — especially during the coronavirus pandemic.
“During this time of uncertainty with COVID-19, we need to continue talking about what victims and survivors are going through,” Kampschneider said. “They are trapped in their homes more than ever, most likely with their abuser who has even more control of who the victim is communicating with.”
Kampschneider points out other concerns.
“Being cooped up in your home without being able to go to work, the gym or the park, stresses of the pandemic, finance troubles from job loss can all contribute to escalating abusive behavior,” Kampschneider said.
Linda Schlapfer, outreach communications coordinator for The Bridge, points out recent statistics.
“The Bridge has continued to see an increase in the number of sexual assault victims served and have already seen a 30% increase so far this year,” Schlapfer said.
Kampschneider has advice for those in an abusive relationship.
“Create code words with someone you trust, gather all your important documents (driver license, birth certificates, social security cards) and belongings so you have them ready if you plan to leave,” she said.
The Bridge building is closed to the public, but the nonprofit organization is open and ready to take calls whenever they come in, Kampschneider said.
Traditionally, The Bridge has conducted a Candlelight Vigil to celebrate survivors of sexual assault. In light of the pandemic, the agency is offering the videos.
“We invite all to join us on Facebook with this celebration of survivorship and hope,” Schlapfer said.
Cheyenne is a survivor.
Originally from another city, Cheyenne said she was raped or sexually assaulted in some manner two to four times a day by her stepfather.
“If I ever said, ‘no,’ or fought him in any manner, I’d be beaten,” she said. “Sometimes, he would just beat me, because he could.”
Her abusive stepfather, a computer expert also involved in law enforcement, monitored all her electronic devices.
“There was no way to technologically seek help,” she said.
She tried getting help once in high school in another city, but he found searches for help she’d made via her computer.
He beat her.
“My mom, my friends, my family, my teachers — nobody knew anything, because if anybody ever found out — he was going to kill them,” she said. “I wanted to ensure that my family was safe and I was willing to take the beatings and being hit and do anything I could to protect them. I took the abuse for them to ensure they weren’t ever harmed, touched or killed.”
Cheyenne said her mother worked long shifts at her job and the abuser was extremely careful to conceal what he did.
“If she was home, we’d go out to the shed,” she said.
The abuse continued until her sophomore year of college. She and her boyfriend had dated almost a year. The relationship was making her stepfather angry and jealous.
“He was becoming more violent and aggressive and wasn’t letting me grow up and live my life,” she said.
And he was becoming more aggressive with her mother.
Her stepfather also contended that once Cheyenne became an adult at 19 that everything he was doing would be all right.
“He never directly said he was going to take me away from my family, but it was always implied and so I wanted to get out before I became a real adult,” Cheyenne said.
Two weeks before she turned 19, Cheyenne sought help from a coach at college. She went to a school counselor who put her in touch with The Bridge.
“The Bridge and Kylie worked tirelessly with getting my mom and I out and we went to law enforcement and I had a medical exam,” she said.
Cheyenne said she gave a 3-hour-long statement at a child abuse services agency in Omaha and was told it was one of the more detailed and graphic ones heard there in a long time.
“That was hard, but at the same time I was grateful they acknowledged that,” she said.
The young woman said law enforcement served a warrant for the abuser’s arrest and to search the home for videos and photos he’d taken.
He went to another state and took his own life.
Meanwhile, Cheyenne and her mother hid out-of-state.
Mother and daughter returned home after law enforcement had searched for evidence. Couches were on end. Pictures off the wall. Every drawer was empty. Bedding was taken for DNA testing. Computers taken so videos and photos could be obtained.
Cheyenne said she learned three cyber FBI agents were called to unencrypt the materials, because of her stepfather’s technological knowledge. She said law enforcement would confirm what she knew: he’d made 70 videos and taken between 200 and 300 pictures.
The evidence corroborated her story and had the abuser been convicted he would have spent the rest of his life in prison, she said.
Cheyenne hopes to encourage others in situations like hers.
“You can get out,” she said. “You have to believe in yourself and trust that everything will be OK and that The Bridge will know what to do or any place you go. I hope to help those who are already out or have just gotten out of it.”
She has some advice.
“It’s going to be hard for a little while, but you can better yourself and push through,” she said.
Cheyenne will graduate from college. She’s finishing a book about her story, which she plans to self-publish.
“I finally found me outside of the abuse,” she said, adding that her mom is finding herself as well. “She’s my best friend. We’re closer than we’ve ever been.”
Cheyenne noted something else:
“I still continue to this day — even though there’s no abusive situation — to strive to protect my family and stand in between anybody that wants to harm them or harm me. So I will always put myself between my friends and my family and anybody that tries to hurt them.”