Alexis Gonzalez, 18, displays some of her journals that she’s written in during her childhood. She was sexually abused as a child by her paternal grandfather who is serving time in prison for his crimes against her. It was in one of her early journals that her mother discovered she was sexually abused beginning at the age of 8. Alexis’ journal was read during her grandfather’s trial.
Three years have passed since her grandfather was convicted of molesting her and her cousin.
Now, as an 18-year-old college student, Alexis Gonzalez of Visalia said she feels empowered to speak out about the taboo subject — child sexual abuse.
“If someone had talked about it when I was younger, I would have opened up sooner,” she said. “Communication is the key.”
Her grandfather, Luis Aldana Gonzalez, was convicted of sexually molesting two of his granddaughters, who were 8 and 11 when the abuse began. He is serving 13 consecutive sentences — 195 years to life in prison.
Alexis and her cousin were not the only victims. At her grandfather’s trial, one of his own daughters testified that he molested her when she was a girl.
“It was a family cycle that nobody talked about,” Alexis said.
Some secrets should be told, said Billie Shawl, coordinator for the Tulare County Child Abuse Prevention Council. She helped bring the Lisa Project, a mobile exhibit about child abuse, to Visalia twice.
One in six boys and one in four girls will be sexually molested before they are 18, she said.
“It’s not their fault,” she said. “Sexual abuse is trauma, it changes kids.”
She said Alexis is courageous for speaking out.
“We need to give people opportunities to heal from that,” she said. “Sexual abuse is getting a lot of attention because it was kept under wraps for so long.”
Most victims know their molesters well. In about 90 percent of child sexual abuse cases, the predator is a cousin, a brother, a father, uncle or grandfather.
“It plays havoc on families,” Shawl said. “They tend to pick sides. It’s very divisive.”
Alexis’ mother, Nilsa Gonzalez, 36, advises other parents to be aware of signs and to not feel automatically secure because it’s a family gathering. Sexual predators groom the child from a young age and teach them its OK to act that way.
“As parents, we should not be so trusting,” she said.
After years of therapy and support from her immediate family, Alexis sat down with a Times-Delta/Advance-Register reporter in order to get the word out that even though sexual abuse is an uncomfortable topic, it should still be discussed.