WARSAW — At the age of 5, Tabitha Gabbard was sexually assaulted.
By the time she was 12, Gabbard had been assaulted about 13 times by acquaintances and family members.
And this afternoon, Gabbard shared her personal story with the community she grew up in.
The Beaman Home and the Kosciusko County Prosecutor’s Office hosted a luncheon today at the Center Lake Pavilion in Warsaw focused on the ‘Start By Believing’ campaign.
The “Start By Believing” campaign focuses on transforming the way people respond to sexual assault. It was created by End Violence Against Women International, an organization dedicated to improving responses to reports of sexual assault.
Now a volunteer coordinator for The Beaman Home, Gabbard has traveled around the United States, sharing her personal story of how she was sexually abused in her childhood.
When she was first sexually assaulted at 5 years of age, Gabbard’s mother walked in and witnessed the event. However, Gabbard’s mother blamed her for the event taking place.
“I got grounded and punished,” Gabbard said. “And I really had no idea what was happening. The person who assaulted me was an adult. It made me think, ‘What did I do wrong? What’s wrong with me?'”
Gabbard said that when she first learned about the “Start By Believing” campaign, she was in tears.
“It just really made me wonder, ‘What would that have been like if somebody had believed me’?” Gabbard said.
At the age of 13, Gabbard began to use cocaine on a daily basis to escape what she was experiencing. At 18, she had her first daughter. But three months later, Gabbard got pregnant again and had an abortion because of her drug addiction.
“If I’m being real honest, I didn’t want to quit using drugs,” Gabbard said. “I was in an abusive relationship and I had no idea how to cope.”
Gabbard then had another daughter, who is now 14 years old.
“My life then spiraled out of control,” she said. “I became like my mother.”
Gabbard’s mother was sexually assaulted. And at the ages of 2 and 4, Gabbard’s two daughters were sexually abused.
“I was in the back getting high, while my kids were getting assaulted,” Gabbard said.
When she was arrested for using drugs, a lot of people reached out to Gabbard while she was in jail to help her.
“A pastor I met there was my first experience with a man who didn’t want to take advantage of me,” Gabbard said.
Gabbard also stated that her youngest daughter was recently sexually assaulted.
“The first step in this campaign is starting by believing, and we don’t even have step one down yet,” she said.
Beaman Home Executive Director Tracie Hodson was also at the event and shared statistics related to sexual assault.
“We have children and adults who are suffering,” Hodson said. “Most victims first seek help from their friends and family.”
To end the presentation, Gabbard and Hodson discussed the importance of listening to the victims.
“Just ask: ‘I am so sorry that happened to you’,” Gabbard said. “What can I do to help?”