One former student’s story raises awareness to community

When former Biddeford High School student Matt Lauzon spoke out about his story, the topic of sexual abuse was brought to the community.

One former student's story raises awareness to community

Megan Friel, Feature Editor

In Biddeford, speculation surrounding recent events in the past few months has caused a whirlwind of discussion, even sparking conversation about how to protect students from sexual abuse.

With so much speculation regarding these events, it’s hard to ignore. Sexual abuse is a subject well-known to Biddeford High School graduate Matt Lauzon, an alleged victim of sexual abuse. As a Biddeford High School Alumni, Lauzon says that in high school he was one of the more “popular kids.”

“I think I was the type of person who probably didn’t sit at the same table in the cafeteria every day,” said Lauzon. “Maybe part of it was what I had been through. I think I had a bit of empathy, so you know, I had friends.”

Being the all-around guy he was, as well as a governor of Boy State, a leadership conference, and, for a short time, a member of National Honors Society, it was unexpected that Lauzon had been a victim of sexual abuse. Like many victims, Lauzon masked his pain by putting on a front that he says was “rebellious.”

“I probably over compensated to make up for the fact that I felt so hurt, and so alone, and unable to love or accept love,” said Lauzon. “I think the flip side of the fact that I was friends with so many people was I developed very few, very close relationships because I found it hard to trust people.”

This trust plays a big role for many teenage victims of sexual abuse. This loss of trust can make it hard for victims to speak out about their abuse, despite the importance of speaking about their abuse.

“I do think it’s important for students to know that a lot of experts and a lot of statistics say that often the first person you try to disclose abuse to will be dismissive, it might even make you feel like you were the one who did something wrong,” said Lauzon. “I would encourage students that, if that happened, to try to seek out multiple people to talk to, because it’s very common that the first person is dismissive for a variety of reasons.”

While in high school, Lauzon used this “front” to hide the pain he felt. This pain continued for several years after graduating, eventually leading Lauzon to only recently come out about his alleged abuse. Between Facebook posts and town meetings, Lauzon has been anything but relentless on the subject of sexual abuse.

“I’ll be the first to admit I’ve definitely gotten emotional at times and probably gone overboard, but I’d rather…look back and say I’ve tried too hard than look back and say I didn’t try enough,” Lauzon said.

Although speaking out isn’t easy. Even after speaking out, the effect afterwards can still be painful. School guidance counselor Jennifer Rowland suggests therapy for victims of abuse, as possible group therapy.

“I think it just needs to be known that there are so many support systems out there to help them,” said Rowland. “There are counselors, and social workers, and teachers in every school that are willing to listen and willing to get the kids the extra help that they need.”

Speaking out isn’t only about the backlash of afterwards, but the fear most victims face.

“I think that for a lot of them, the perpetrator is a very powerful person, and they’re afraid,” said Donna McGuire, high school social worker. “And they’re not only afraid but they also blame themselves because, somehow, ‘If I didn’t do this,’ or ‘If I dressed like that,’ that they’re afraid of the backswing and they’re afraid they won’t be believed.”

Lauzon was inspired by a fellow entrepreneur who had also been abused to speak out for his first time.

“I just felt the sense of, ‘I’m going to get to a place in my life where I can speak openly about this and help people not experience what I’ve gone through,’” Lauzon said. “And then it was recently that I was inspired by that entrepreneur to speak openly about it and that was also alongside a great deal of therapy that was helpful. Painful, but helpful.”

Lauzon’s advice for victims on speaking out is one that comes from the heart.

“First and foremost, I would tell them that it is really important, and it will be really difficult for them to accept that, but it’s really important for them to know that what has happened to them is not their fault, they have nothing to be ashamed of, they have nothing to feel guilty about,” Lauzon said. “As much as that rebellious teenager I was here at the high school, feeling like I was an adult, the reality is that the men on the other side of things were the adults, and I was a kid.”

Therapy is a suggested option for victims who do speak out. Although therapy is one that can be a helpful outlet for victims of abuse, finding a therapist that fits your needs is important in the process of healing.

“I highly recommend therapy and it’s been wonderful and another thing I would encourage people is if you are seeking therapy, that often times the first therapist that you try to talk to might not be the right fit,” Lauzon said. “So it’s important to find somebody that you really trust so don’t be discouraged if a first attempt at therapy doesn’t work, because most people I’ve talked to that are survivors of abuse and, at this point, I’ve talked to over a hundred, the ones that are living the healthiest lives have found a therapist that has really worked wonders for them.”

Not only is there help offered at the school from counselors, teachers and social workers, but there are also websites and hotlines outside of school offered to victims of abuse.

“I think it’s important for them to speak out because if anything they’re probably going to see that it’s not something that you can not address,” said McGuire. “Whether it be years down the road, and they shouldn’t feel guilty that they’re feeling the way that they are, especially that this is probably pushing buttons for them, because a lot of times a victim thinks that this only happens to them, you know, ‘nobody can understand how I feel,’ but that’s not true.”

Speaking out immediately is the most important factor to recovery for victims. Time is crucial, and the sooner you speak out, the sooner the healing process can begin.

So where does this process start? According to sarsonline.org, Southern Maine’s Sexual Abuse Response service website, approximately 44% of rape occurs to teens under the age of 18. This means that teenagers, middle schoolers, and children alike are experiencing rape in America with each passing day.

Many programs, such as the “safe touch” program, have been installed in schools in order to teach students about sexual abuse safety. This is just another step to preventing victimization in students, McGuire believes.

“I think that we can have it worked in all the schools, I mean the earlier that the kids get this information out the better. I think we should offer more programs, “safe touch,” and what have you, especially for our really vulnerable population like special ed, because they might be in a 15 or 16 year old body but they might have a mind of a 7 or 8 year old,” said McGuire. “But I think in the elementary level, I think that we need to have programs because it’s not going away and the trauma is so bad, that it’s a difficult subject for parents to talk about, safe touch, but it really is something that I think that we need to look at and what more can we do for our kids in the younger grades. With something age appropriate kind of education, much like we have education about, you know, health education.”

Lauzon agrees, hoping that more programs will be installed in younger grades as well as more speakers invited in order to share their stories.

“I think the biggest thing is, and I don’t know the appropriate age, but it might actually need to start at middle school level, but I think that we need to find ways to speak more openly about sexual abuse, and that it’s real, and that it happens, and that it happens to men, and it happens to women, and in this case boys and girls, and that it happens to girls by women, and girls by men, and men by women…like it happens. It happens within families,” said Lauzon. “For instance, I think having someone like myself or other people who have spoken out talk to all the students could go a long way, or having some of the local groups that specialize in this come in and talk to all the students could go a long way.”

In hopes of starting in Biddeford and raising awareness throughout all of Maine and even the country, Lauzon refuses to stay silent.

“I will say at this point like, and it goes to the point of how I hid it, I would say very comfortable that I think it’s actually statistically impossible that anybody doesn’t have at least one person that they know who’s been sexully abused, whether they know it or not, male or female. And we need to change that, we need to make sure that A) that’s not the case and B) that people feel comfortable talking,” said Lauzon. “And it’s just critically important to me that we do that and it starts in Biddeford, but then I think it will be an effort across Maine and then I think it will be an effort nationally. And that’s just really important to me.”

For more advice and information on sexual abuse, visit: https://www.rainn.org/get-information/types-of-sexual-assault.