MUNSTER — Isha Haley is a consultant on North Township Trustee Frank J. Mrvan's “No More Secrets” campaign, created to address troubling reports of high rates of child sexual abuse in Indiana.
Haley, 34, told The Times this week the campaign was personal for her. Haley said she was sexually abused by two family members while growing up in Yonkers, New York.
She is an affable, intelligent businesswoman with two master's degrees in urban education and public administration. But Haley said she has struggled to overcome the feelings of shame and inadequacy caused by those early experiences.
"I really felt like it was my fault," she said. "That I was the problem."
Haley said she was first abused at 7 years old by a female relative only a few years older than herself. She said the relative would invite her to play “house” when they were together in the same bed. She said the relative would encourage Haley to scratch her head, but then the touching would continue lower on the body until it became inappropriate.
She said she did not know then the touching was wrong, but the abuse, which continued for several years, caused her to act out in school. She said she was branded as a promiscuous troublemaker by teachers and friends' parents. She lost her virginity at 12 years old.
“They didn't understand that I was just looking for love in all the wrong places,” she said. “That I associated love with sex, because it was introduced to me at a very young age.”
Haley said she was molested by her stepfather from ages 14 to 17. She said he would grope her in her bedroom, and she tried to make excuses to leave the house at night to avoid the abuse.
“I always feared that it would go further than him just touching me,” she said.
She said she didn't tell her mother about the abuse until after she left for college and her stepfather tried to touch one of her friends.
“I don't know what it is about seeing other people get hurt — I stand up for them more than I stand up for myself,” she said. “When she (her friend) told me, I finally told my mom what happened all those years.”
She never pressed charges against her stepfather who is now no longer with Haley's mother.
Haley got good grades in college, but she said she partied, abused drugs and had loveless sex. At 19, she had a nervous breakdown and spent two weeks sleeping on her mother's couch.
“My mom had a nervous breakdown when she was 19, when she had me,” Haley said. “And now here I am, 19 years old, and having the same ordeal.”
Haley said she turned to Christ during that period. She wrote a poem to God, which she still can recite line-by-line, about her depression and the mental scars left by the abuse.
“When I wrote that poem, it was like I was releasing all my pain,” she said. “It felt like I finally understood why I was doing all the things I was doing. Why I was having sex with guys that didn't love me. Why I was doing ecstasy and doing all those things.”
Haley said she likes projects, such as the “No More Secrets” campaign, because she feels like she herself is a project. Her favorite quote is: “Even with broken crayons, God can still make a masterpiece.”
“It's not easy,” she said. “And it's something you constantly deal with, but I know there is hope. I know there is light at the end of this dark tunnel. And I always say that I had to go through those things so I could be a voice for so many young women who feel ashamed, or feel like it was their fault.”