By Derek Walter
When Alexis Gonzalez tells her story about overcoming child abuse, she’s surprised by how many people it resonates with. At one event after another in the Central Valley, she’s approached by audience members who can relate.
“People would disclose their own abuse and that they had never told anybody,” said Gonzalez, now 21. “People are actually taking something away from these public speaking experiences, and it’s started to become a natural part of my healing process. At first it was something that was part of the process to help myself, but it’s also been inspiring to do this for other people.”
Gonzalez, who speaks on behalf of the Fresno County Council on Child Abuse Prevention, was molested by her paternal grandfather when she was a girl. For years she suffered in silence, but is now sharing her story in the hopes that it can prevent other Central Valley children from experiencing abuse.
Children in Fresno and Tulare counties, which make up a large portion of the valley, are more likely to experience abuse than most of those that live elsewhere in the state.
Child abuse can take many forms — including neglect through malnutrition, emotional trauma or sexual abuse. While they don’t inherently cause abuse, poverty, drug addiction and family dysfunction can create environments where problems are more likely to erupt, experts say. Thousands of Central Valley families struggle with this toxic mix, punishing the most vulnerable.