CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A survivor of child sexual abuse who has worked to ensure others are not victims of the same kinds of crimes tells his story as part of a new national awareness campaign called SHINE that has its roots in West Virginia.
For those abused, “When we tell the truth, a lot of the darkness of that really dissipates and loses its power,” said Robert Peters.
The Fairmont man works as general counsel and senior cyber and economic crime attorney at the National White Collar Crime Center in Marion County.
On Wednesday afternoon, Peters joined seven others from West Virginia in Huntington for the initial SHINE launch with the West Virginia Child Advocacy Network and representatives from the Mountain State’s 21 Child Advocacy Centers.
In the coming weeks, the three-year campaign will be rolled out nationally with a goal of changing the conversation around child sexual abuse.
Often, Peters said, such conversation can be “incredibly stigmatizing.”
“It’s difficult to talk about, particularly with male survivors. There are additional layers of stigma there that really need to be addressed,” he said.
“That’s what I love about the West Virginia SHINE Campaign. It’s not exploitative. It’s not highlighting the darkness. It’s highlighting the light. It’s highlighting the strength of survivors — their courage, their bravery — and that’s why I’m a part of it.”
84 Agency partnered with WV CAN for the campaign.
Joining Peters were Dan Davis from Charleston, Cara Knechtly from Charleston, Amber Higgins from Morgantown, Amy Landers from East Bank, Mark Bowe from Lewisburg, Brittany Anderson from Bluefield and Jim Sizemore from Ansted.
An estimated 145,000 adult survivors of child sexual abuse are living in West Virginia today, according to statistics from WV CAN.
Peters is a past assistant prosecuting attorney in Marion County and Hampshire County.
In his current role with the National White Collar Crime Center, he provides training to prosecutors and others on child abuse, human trafficking and online child exploitation.
“I know what we are doing to survivors when we don’t listen to their voice,” Peters said of how his personal experience has influenced his career and his involvement in SHINE.
“I know what a survivor goes through. I know the shame. I know the stigma and I know the importance of really rallying around them, supporting them and empowering them to thrive.”