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October 12, 2017 10:00 PM

Courageous Women Of The Prairie

Watertown, SD

It's never too late for victims of child sexual abuse to come forward. 

That's why 14 women have put their stories down on paper in a book called "Courageous Women of the Prairie." 

Chapter by chapter, are stories of victims of sexual abuse and how they are healing. 

It's one chapter. 

"I always wanted to tell my life story," Shay Wounded Knee said. 

In these survivors' book. 

"After they wrote their stories, I edited for punctuation, and helped with the wording...so my role, in my opinion, was actually quite small," Sherraye Hurlbert said. 

"It gave me some strength and some insight to find my faith in God again,"  Wounded Knee said.

Strength found, in the darkest of places, for the only male survivor in the group, that's in a song. 

"I didn't let him destroy me. Despite the blame and hurt that came from people that didn't believe me. I'm a survivor of sexual assault. I'm ready to share my story, and hope it encourages others to break their silence," Wounded Knee said.
 
When survivor Susan Buhler spoke up, she was silenced. 

"That hurts. When you aren't protected, and don't feel like anybody is there for you," Buhler said. 

Too embarrassed or scared to talk about their abuse, survivors cope in different ways. 
 
"I plunged myself into drugs, alcohol, whatever I could do to forget what a horrible person I felt like I was," Diane Merchant said. 

They got the courage to speak up from a survivor who broke her silence. 

"How brave this amazing woman is to share her story on Facebook of all places," Carol Ford. 

That woman is Jo Vitek, former Watertown Police Chief. 

"I knew that it was time for me to share my story publicly of child sexual abuse," Jo Vitek said. 

After 36 years in law enforcement, Vitek is sharing what happened when she was a little girl. 

"Between the ages of four and five...until I was nine. I was raped by my uncle I can't tell you how many times," Vitek said. 

When Jo told her dad, he didn't believe her. 

"The abuse was so bad..it was like getting kicked in the face twice," Vitek said.

Now she's starting what she says is God's work. 

"That he led us 1,900 miles... to South Dakota from Florida to do what I'm doing today. Here at Joy Ranch," Vitek said. 

Joy Ranch. The place where the broken come to heal. 

"It dawned on me, that there needed to be a place where people could come to enhance their quality of life," Joy Ranch Benefactor Joy Nelson said. 

Hope In God, a group of women survivors, finds healing...in horses. 

"Horses are magical," Nelson said. 

"As they work with people who have physical or emotional problems, there's a bonding process that goes on," Nelson said. 

That bond helped heal these women, so they could share their most difficult chapter. 

"This stuff is generational," Vitek said. 

There are two generations in Courageous Women of the Prairie. 

"I didn't know about my mom's abuse, until later. Until I was an adult," survivor Jennifer Brudwick said.  

These women say talking about their abuse is the way to overcome it. 

"My abuse will not define who I am." survivor Jennifer Brudwick said.  

Every one of these survivors were abused by someone they knew. 

4,000 kids are victims of child sexual abuse in South Dakota, according the Jolene's Law Legislative Task Force.

"One in four girls. One in six boys. That's a lot of kids," Vitek said. 

The 14 women in Courageous Women of the Prairies hope their stories will start the conversation. 

"What we're trying to do is help the wounded heal. But we're also trying to stop it from happening over and over and over again," Vitek said. 

By sharing their darkest moments, they want to help make sure fewer children have a chapter in their life's story the includes abuse. 

All the artwork in the Courageous Women of the Prairie book was done by Sister Barbra of Hope in God Monistary. 

500 books are available for sale at Watertown area churches. They're $20 and all that money is pure profit, because Joy Nelson bought all the copies as a donation. Online, copies are available on Amazon for $30. Proceeds go to help pay for the retreat for victims at Joy Ranch. 


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