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Healing circles in NYC help victims of sex abuse heal

NEW YORK — The voices of dozens of gymnasts inside a Michigan courtroom left a searing mark on those who watched.

“We are here. We have our voices. We are not going anywhere,” Aly Raisman, former USA Olympic gymnast spoke with a steady voice, laced with controlled anger and pain.

Those same tones could be heard in a TriBeCa conference room, hundreds of miles away, as women sat in a circle exposing their own pain and trying to come to grip with unthinkable abuse.

All across the U.S. and beyond, the #MeToo movement is inspiring women to speak their truth, expose their pain and name their abusers. Whether it be countless gymnasts abused by one doctor; endless women accusing producers, network stars, bosses; or mothers, daughters and friends.

One mother shared her pain in the circle on a Monday morning: “I don't know if this is all going to be fine, but I have to keep going."

PIX11 cameras were granted a rare look inside a sacred space, where victims of abuse, or those who could not prevent it are coming to terms with it.

Called a healing circle, it's a safe place to learn from others, face shame and emerge.

Another mother shares: "I didn’t feel as anxious. I was in a stage of forgiving myself.”

These women are participating in a 12-week healing circle at Hidden Water, a local NYC charity.

Anyone touched by sex abuse can find help here.

Victims of sex abuse, friends or family of the abused, parents who were unable to protect a child, and even perpetrators of abuse can come together in their own community circle, even through a virtual meet up, to be led through their own healing from the horrific act of abuse.

Elizabeth Clemants, one of the founding members, explains:  “In the healing circle, we sit and face the impact of that event on everyone. It’s restorative justice. We sit in a circle. It’s both justice and accountability for actions, not to the state, but the people you’ve actually harmed."

Clemants, a social worker and master mediator, started hosting the healing circles two years ago. Thirty-five groups have since met at Hidden Water to face often debilitating emotions.

“The shame is so big many of them never speak of it, and they don’t get the help they need.”

L’Tomay Douglas went through the healing circle, and now gives back as a circle keeper, helping others to face down their pain, like she did. She says this ancient indigenous practice has a modern place.

“I’ve been to therapy, I have a psychiatrist and psychologist. I felt like there was something that was still missing it was the community. That’s what I found with the circle.”

Clemants elaborates: “When you sit in a collective, it changes you. Even though they are strangers to you it heals you though the connection that you are not alone in this. You are not alone in being a non-offending parent. You are not alone in being a perpetrator. You are not alone in being married to a victim or best friends with a victim.”

Douglas walked an all too common path — she was abused as a child, raped as a teen, assaulted by a clergy member as an adult. And then, her own daughter was victimized and she was not able to stop the harm.

“In that moment, as a parent, I felt like I failed. I was supposed to be there to protect her the one who saves her. I felt like a failure. The shame set in.”

And Clemants sees that families often harm the victim repeatedly by trying to minimize the abuse, or tell her or him to move past the painful incident.

“The family system is really harming itself. People will say, ‘Oh that happened so long ago. Just get over it.' It didn't happen so long ago because it was just yesterday that you denied it happened to me or told me that i should get over it or it’s time to forgive and these are really painful words for a victim.”

But, Douglas says, the gentle guiding of a circle can show a way to face shame, and find solace.

“We can breathe out loud and say, ‘I’ve been hurting for so long and not have people say you need to be quiet because you’re making me uncomfortable.’”