April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and in Alabama, the numbers are startling.
Every hour of every day, there is an allegation of child abuse in the state, according to the Alabama Network of Child Advocacy Centers.
WAAY 31 spoke with a Huntsville woman who travels the country to spread awareness about child abuse and help others.
Margaret Hoelzer is a champion. She's an Olympic medalist and former world record-holder in competitive swimming.
"I went pro right after college. My first Olympics was in 2004 in Athens, Greece. My second one was in Beijing in 2008, and I was 25," said Hoelzer.
After the 2008 Olympic games, Hoelzer says she was ready to go public with a painful secret she kept for years.
She was sexually abused as a child. The abuse began when she was five years old.
"Most child abuse, unfortunately, is perpetrated by someone the child knows and trusts. This one was no different. This was a good friend of my family. A friend of mine, their father. This was a house I was going to on a regular basis for play dates. This child was coming over to my house. This was their dad," said Hoelzer.
At age 11, Hoelzer told her parents what happened and they called police.
While officers opened an investigation, they recommend she get help at the National Children's Advocacy Center in Huntsville. Chris Newlin is the executive director of the facility.
"It's really two buckets of services we provide in the intervention side. One is investigation, doing forensic interviews and medical exams. Where the forensic interviewer tries to find out what happened with the child and what did not happen, the medical examiner looks for evidence and completes a general check for any other medical issues. At that point, the child makes his or her statement and the investigation proceeds," said Newlin.
Newlin said, every year in Madison County, the center conducts about 650 forensic interviews from children regarding allegations of abuse. At any one time, there are more than 100 children in therapy receiving mental health services.
In Hoelzer's case, the offender was never convicted.
"My case was thrown out of court, so I never did have to testify and that would be where you would have to tell your story again. Unfortunately, a lot of cases are thrown out of court. And legal repercussions don't happen. Me knowing my parents did everything they could do, they tried. That was enough," said Hoelzer.
Hoelzer says the program helped her, but healing is an ongoing process.
"So, I've learned that it's never something you get over. It's a journey, not a destination," she said.
Now, she travels the country sharing her story to help others.
For information on how to report child abuse, click here. It is against the law to have knowledge of child abuse and not report it to police.
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