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Little by Little, There Can Be Healing

Lisa Montgomery. Many of you will know her as the first woman to get the federal death penalty since the Fifties. Some of you will have heard the details of the terrible crime that put Lisa on Death Row. Some of you will have heard of her history of horrific childhood physical and sexual abuse. Sadly, Lisa’s own mother trafficked her for sex when she was a child. I want to focus on Lisa’s half-sister, Diane Mattingly, who was taken from her abusive mother’s care and raised in a foster home. Unlike Lisa, Diane suffers no major mental illness and has been able to live a completely normal adult life. Diane credits this to the love and care she received from the foster family that took her into their home when she, but unfortunately not Lisa, was removed from their sexually, physically, and emotionally abusive home. In over 35 years as a public defender, I have met women who were subjected to such horrific childhood abuse. I have known women who were sold for sex as children by their own mothers. All of these women bore tremendous scars from their childhood trauma. Some scars were significant mental illnesses. Some were seemingly intractable drug or alcohol addictions. Some were both. In the past, there were times when I secretly despaired of obtaining help for a woman who was suffering the effects of such almost unspeakable abuse and trauma. But I don’t despair anymore; because, over the years, I have seen amazing healing. I have seen women rise Phoenix-like from the ashes of their former lives. Their secret? Sexual Trauma Recovery Therapy with a skilled and caring therapist. Little by little, women who were broken as children, can rebuild their psyches. Although, unlike Diane Mattingly, they may not have received the love and caring they needed as children to prevent the scars, when they do receive love and skilled care as adults, they too can, and do, heal. When I see the brokenness and harm caused to and by Lisa Montgomery, it makes me very sad. But it also makes me so grateful for the healing and for those who make it possible. I will never stop feeling grateful to the dedicated staff, caring volunteers and donors of Dawn’s Place. Day by day, in their quiet way, they save lives. -Mary DeFusco, Esquire Dawn's Place Board President Director of Training, Defender Association of Philadelphia

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