DALTON, Ga. — Olga Trujillo will never forget what her neighbor told her when she was 5 years old and the older woman saw the bruises on her body and dark circles under her eyes.
"She knows about the violence, that God would hate that; God loves me, and it wasn't my fault," Trujillo recalls.
Those words stuck with Trujillo throughout her abusive childhood when her father beat and sexually abused her, screaming that it was her fault.
Trujillo, an attorney who worked several years for the U.S. Department of Justice, tells her story across the country. On Friday she spoke to a large crowd of law officers, prosecutors, advocates and medical workers at the annual domestic violence conference at Dalton State College.
Officials said the conference, sponsored by the Conasauga Family Violence Alliance, grows each year and that Friday's event attracted 180 professionals from Georgia and Tennessee. The committee that plans the conference has noticed an increased interest in training to understand and help abused people, said Marcy Muller, a committee member.
Trujillo's message was: When you work with abused children, you must find something in the kids' lives that is positive, remind them of it and always make them feel as if they can overcome the abuse.
Another mentor in Trujillo's life was her second-grade teacher, who worked with the girl when she was jittery, nervous and couldn't stop talking. In schools today, Trujillo said, she likely would be diagnosed with an attention deficit disorder, but her anxiety was caused by the abuse.
Those who work with abused children should remember that making a meaningful connection may be the only thing they can do for victims, but it makes a difference, she said.
"The ways in which people made a difference in my life, you make a difference," Trujillo said. "You can help them feel better about themselves and feel special, capable and creative."
Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...