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Published: Monday, 4/18/2005

Rape victim turns healing into helping

BY RACHEL ZINN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Pamela Crabtree kept her rape as a child secret until she began therapy after her husband's 1991 kidnapping. Pamela Crabtree kept her rape as a child secret until she began therapy after her husband's 1991 kidnapping.
KING / BLADE Enlarge

Painful memories of sexual abuse were locked inside Pamela Crabtree for four decades until her husband, Fred, was kidnapped and locked inside a car trunk for 19 hours.

Though her husband survived, the trauma of the 1991 kidnapping changed Mrs. Crabtree's life. The aftermath released the secret of her rape, leading her down a path through hurt and healing and finally inspiring her to become a vocal advocate for child-abuse victims.

Mrs. Crabtree, a Springfield Township resident who works with several local groups to prevent child abuse, is organizing a rally to raise awareness about the issue on Sunday at Wildwood Preserve Metropark in West Toledo.

The rally, called "Yell and Tell: Stop Child Abuse Now," will run from noon to 2 p.m. and is scheduled to include speeches by U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), state Sen. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo), and Toledo police Sgt. George Kral, who will talk about the Internet and its role in child abuse.

"I want the rally to be a vehicle to educate parents and families," Mrs. Crabtree said. "There just isn't enough noise about child abuse."

Lucas County commissioners issued a proclamation earlier this month recognizing April as Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Month and praising efforts like Yell and Tell. Mrs. Crabtree accepted the proclamation on behalf of local advocates and child abuse victims.

In Lucas County alone, 7,500 children were allegedly victims of child abuse and neglect last year, county officials report.

"Thousands of Lucas County children are safer thanks to the efforts of Pamela and all our children's advocates," Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak said. "It is her work for those among us who are least able to help themselves that I am so grateful."

Mrs. Crabtree, 59, grew up in Toledo. When she was 9 years old, she was raped by a stranger in Ottawa Park.

"I remember it was a beautiful, sunny summer day," she said. "I felt like I had done something bad, so I never told anybody."

She kept the incident a secret for years, even from her husband, but she felt the effects of the rape every day.

"I suffered what a lot of child abuse victims suffer. I had low self-esteem," she said. "The abuse was always with me."

Things changed after her husband was kidnapped by a customer while working as a car salesman. During a test drive, the customer forced Mr. Crabtree into the car's trunk, where he remained for 19 hours before being discovered by police.

Mrs. Crabtree was traumatized by the incident and sought counseling. In the course of her therapy, she poured out the story of her sexual assault. She spent the next several years dealing with the memories and the impact of the assault on her life.

"After exposing it and talking about it, I learned to experience the joy of loving and connecting with people. That had been difficult before," Mrs. Crabtree said.

She turned her story into a book, The Gift of Hurt, which was published in 2001.

Around the same time, she started getting involved in child abuse prevention efforts. She works with the Lucas County Child Abuse Task Force, which gave her its Citizen of the Year award last year. She also serves on the board of the Cullen Center for Children and Families, which is run by Toledo Children's Hospital and offers counseling for youngsters suffering from traumatic experiences.

"She's such a fabulous voice for abuse victims in the community. She has been a great asset to us in rallying to raise awareness about child abuse," said Sarah Corpening, chief executive officer of the Family and Child Abuse Prevention Center, which serves Lucas, Ottawa, and Wood counties.

Mrs. Crabtree last year organized a Yell and Tell rally in Washington. The event attracted people from several states, but many of the scheduled high-profile speakers canceled and the rally ended up being very costly.

"I decided to bring the rally here where I have a chance of getting more publicity and where my advocacy will show a little more," she said.

The rally, which will have musical entertainment and refreshments, will provide information about the signs of child abuse and local resources available to protect children.

Mrs. Crabtree also will circulate a petition urging area judges to impose harsher sentences on people convicted of crimes against children.

"I encourage everyone to bring their children. It's educational, and it's going to be a fun time," Mrs. Crabtree said. "This rally is for everyone. Abuse knows no social or economic bounds."

Contact Rachel Zinn at: rzinn@theblade.com or 419-410-5055.



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