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Tara Lyons – woman of courage

Tara Lyons hands out cards containing critical information for children and adults about sexual abuse and including the Abuse Hotline number. Jean Schurman photo.

Tara Lyons hands out cards containing critical information for children and adults about sexual abuse and including the Abuse Hotline number. Jean Schurman photo.

By Jean Schurman

Courage is defined as having the power or quality of dealing with or facing danger, fear, and pain. Tara Lyons has found her courage and now she wants to use it to prevent what happened to her from happening to someone else. It’s not easy for her to talk about, but she does.

Her horror began when she was 6 years old. After living in Stevensville until she was six, her parents divorced and she moved to Augusta with her mother. It was there her life was changed forever. She was sexually abused for the next six years. At the time, she thought her mom would help but she her mom didn’t. She estimates she was abused more than 100 times. When she was about eight or nine, she did tell someone and Child Protective Services came to her home. However, her mother convinced her to lie about the abuse, telling her that her little sister would be taken away from the home. Lyons didn’t talk then but when she was 12, she and another girl were abused on their way home by this same individual. She ran away to the local law enforcement officer’s home and told her story.

Her father, Don Walker, who lives in Wisdom, came and got her and brought her back to live with him and his wife Rachel. She said when she arrived at her dad’s home, her stepmom just rocked her, “and I realized that he (the abuser) had defeated me.”

Although she would occasionally go back and visit her mom, the abuser was never in the home at the time. She was able to visit her little sister but never felt comfortable there.

The damage had been done. She graduated from Beaverhead County High School where she said she did alright in school. But as with anyone who has been traumatized, she wasn’t able to settle on one thing. She went on to college in Alaska where she studied air traffic control. She stayed in Alaska four years but still wasn’t able to settle down.

Courage – owning up to a mistake. In 2013, Lyons was picked up for driving under the influence. Judge Karen Orzech took the advice of a chemical dependency evaluator and sent her to the Montana Chemical Dependency Center in Butte. Lyons spent 26 days immersed in counseling. She began talking about her feelings for her mom and wondering why her mother didn’t protect her. When she finally told of the abuse, the counselor told her, ‘you need to get help!’

Lyons, who had a young daughter at home, recognized that she didn’t want her daughter to go through this. This made her even more troubled about why her mother didn’t protect her. She sought help at Riverfront Mental Health Clinic and has spent time at West House, “an awesome resource” for those times when she becomes overcome with everything. As with anyone with PTSD, she never knows what may trigger an attack.

Courage – making a change. Lyons has been married to Kevin Lyons for several years. She says she really lucked out when she married him. He’s an Iraq War veteran and has seen her at her worst. He encouraged her to work through these issues with her mom and the abuser. She said she had always been looking for someone else to do what needed to be done and he helped her realize that she could do what needed to be done.

In mid July, Lyons opened herself up to the world when she made an 11-minute video detailing her abuse and what it had done to her. She posted this on Facebook and received an immediate outpouring of support. Her message of spreading light where darkness has been has touched many lives.

Those who haven’t been through this have rallied around her along with those who have.

She feels that if people had paid more attention when she was young, the abuse may not have been as prolonged. And others who were allegedly abused by the same person may have spoken up sooner. Lyons also thinks that children need to know how to protect themselves and that would help prevent abuse from happening.

During her research, she came upon Erin Merryn’s story. Merryn was abused and is the author of “Stolen Innocence, Living for Today” and “An Unimaginable Act.” Through Merryn’s efforts, laws have been passed making it mandatory for schools to conduct age appropriate seminars for students to recognize child sexual abuse and tell an adult, educate school personnel about child abuse, and give parents and guardians the warning signs of sexual abuse and how to find resources to help.

“We teach our kids how to get out of a building when there is a fire,” said Lyons. “They are taught at least eight ways to say no to drugs. But we don’t know a single way to say no to this.”

After her video aired, Lyons then went and spoke at a Montana State Prison Victim Impact program in Great Falls. Then she spoke at the Montana Coalition on Domestic and Sexual Violence. She has spoken to prisoners in pre-release centers, hoping to not only connect with them as a parent but to make them think of how to protect their own children. She receives no compensation for these talks, only her expenses are paid.

Lyons has made handouts with information and a telephone number for those who want to reach the abuse hotline. She has set up another Facebook page – taradefendinginnocence – and hopes to reach even more people this way. She hopes to address the legislature next year and urge them to pass Erin’s Law here in Montana.

When she last saw Judge Orzech, the judge was struck by the change in Lyons’ demeanor. Orzech said there was a light shining that hadn’t been there before. Lyons knows it is there. She is working to clear out the darkness of child sexual abuse by empowering those who might be victims.

“I have a sheer desire to put an end to this,” said Lyons. “If anyone can do this, why not me.”

Lyons has found her courage.

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