I’ve spoken out on behalf of the National Crittenton Foundation before and every time I do I feel so empowered. Being able to speak about my experiences, my struggles, my successes, and the support that shaped me allows me to continue to heal and continues to help me realize that all those experiences no longer have any power over me. I’m finally free.

Recently I spoke at a Congressional Briefing. This particular meeting was a little different. The goal was to share the findings of the ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) Assessment. The assessment’s summary can be found here. In a nutshell, it explains how negative experiences and trauma in the areas of sexual, psychological, and physical abuse play an integral part in the decisions girls make; it really isn’t just about us being “bad” having “anger issues” or simply “being difficult.” It’s so easy to just say that girls get pregnant or run away or get on drugs because we’re bad. This assessment explains that there are factors that affect us and drive us to the situations we find ourselves in.

I voiced my anxiety before speaking. After having seen the results for myself, and for the kids I was definitely feeling a sense of guilt and certain responsibility. But I soon had an “AHA!” moment in which I realized that while my kids’ scores were higher than I would like (scale of 1 to 10 they scored a 7 and 5) it could’ve been a lot worse. I removed them from an environment that could’ve resulted in possibly a 9 or 10 for each. I was an 8.

Finally being able to speak about my reality, about my past, about the cruelty of my childhood and adolescence was empowering. Coming to terms and accepting that what happened to me doesn’t make me less of person liberated me. Knowing that my knowledge and understanding of trauma guarantees that I will get my children the intervention needed makes me a better parent. Knowing that Crittenton and other agencies are advocating for this assessment to be adopted everywhere to address the needs of girls makes me feel better about the services that are delivered by girl-serving organizations. I know we have a ways to go, I’m sure there will be many meetings, other briefings, and much more research. I’m willing to be there every step of the way. I have the opportunity to be able to speak on behalf of so many others. I have the opportunity to help out, and I want to know that each girls’ needs are met and that others finally understand that there is always a trauma that causes us to be derailed – but with help and support we can once again be on the right path.

This meeting was without a doubt where I have felt the most comfortable. I was able to share something about me that I’ve never EVER shared before. People need to know and not turn our cheeks the other way because it’s just easier. The outpouring support I’ve received, the connections I made, and the interview (which you will soon read about in the Huffington Post) is proof of two things: I’m helping make an impact and create change, and two, my voice is finally being heard.

— Lisette Orellana