When I was 7 years old my parents divorced and my mother married Steven (Leo) Crouch in 1980. Both were active duty Air Force and we moved from Albrook AFB, Panama to New Baden, Illinois when I was about 8 years old. My biological dad, also active duty Air Force, was given a new assignment to California and had to move around the same time. The last comment dad told mom was," take care of my babies." I still have a picture of daddy holding my brother and me the day he left.

At the time my mother was enlisted, but completed her bachelors in the Air Force through Florida State University and was sent for officer training at Sheppard AFB the moment we moved to Illinois. Officer Training School was about three months long. That's how long I was left alone with Steven as a child and I barely knew him. Mom was over 200 miles away.

When mom was at Sheppard AFB my stepdad would put me in their bed at night and sexually abuse me. I can’t remember how I felt the next day, how I walked to school, or how I interacted with my classmates. I don’t remember having any friends to play with or what toys I had. It was third grade and I attended a catholic school, St. George’s. It was just me and my younger brother in the house with this man and no adult to protect me or us. I don't have any pictures of us in this house, but was able to pull the MLS listing up online, saw my room, and started to remember memories I buried deep in the dark depths of my mind. I thought if I suppressed the memories they would go away, but something came over me in December 2022 that made me look for the New Baden house online. Once I found it, more memories came back. I remembered walking up the stairs, drawings on my bedroom wall, and where my bed was in relation to my bedroom door. I remembered sitting at the dining table and being afraid of Steven.

The first night Steven came into my bedroom I was sleeping. He picked me up, placed me on mom’s side of the bed, and sexually abused me. I was a little girl. A little girl without her mom and dad. A little girl who didn’t know how to make sense of what happened. Why at such a young age did I have to learn what a penis felt like, an erection, and ejaculation, or masturbation? Why?

I quickly learned at a young age to not fall asleep, but listen for Steven’s footsteps on the wooden floor and watch for his shadow under the door. Every time mom deployed for training Steven would sexually abuse me. I never told mom when she returned because I didn’t know how to tell her. Mom never taught me stranger danger or how to protect my private parts. It was never a discussion in our house, but I remember every act. I remember Steven getting on top of me attempting to have sex with me all the while so afraid if I showed any signs of being awake, I would be in trouble. There was never a “secret” conversation between us because Steven always thought I was asleep. I was eight years old.

In fourth grade we moved to Dover, Delaware for a new assignment. I was barely hitting puberty. One day while changing clothes to go to dinner Steven walked into my room and looked at my chest. I didn’t wear a bra at the time. Steven made me walk to the kitchen without a shirt on to ask mom why one breast was bigger than the other. Mom got irritated with Steven, told me to put a shirt on, but never questioned him as to why he did that. The interaction made me remember all the ugly feelings from the Illinois house that I fought so hard to push down and out of my memory.

In 1984 we moved into the house on Deer Park in San Antonio, Tx. Both were stationed at Wilford Hall, Lackland AFB. Mom had been an officer for some time now and Steven was enlisted. I was now 14 years old and again mom left for training. This time was different. When mom returned, still having no idea what happened to me the six, seven years prior, she was about to find out for the first time what happened to me.

Steven and I had a fight when mom returned and he grounded me. I was so distraught by everything I thought ending my life would end my pain. I was cutting my wrists when mom walked into my bedroom. I was sitting on the floor crying and mom knelt down to ask me what was wrong. I was afraid to tell mom, but told her.

Mom made Steven leave the house and I started outpatient counseling with a female psychologist. We were in counseling for less than a year. About six months into counseling, with mom in the psychologist’s office, she asked me to not tell dad what happened with the counselor sitting there. Mom said she didn’t want dad to take custody of us and I remember her crying. Because I had two adults in the room and I was a teen, I obliged and kept the family secret.

As we continued counseling shortly after I was asked if I could forgive and live with Steven again. Again because there were two adults in the room, the psychologist and mom, I said yes. As a child you were taught to obey adults and I had no agency since I was 100% dependent on mom.

No sooner than I said yes I can forgive Steven, the psychologist went to the waiting room to get Steven. Mom and I had driven in one car. I had no idea Steven was sitting in the waiting room in hopes I would agree to what the adults were asking of me. During this counseling session Steven apologized to me and told me he would never “touch” me again.

But that was a lie because Steven sexually abused me again in this house. At 16 when mom returned home and I told her Steven abused me again, he told her I was lying. Mom and I had a huge fight, she threw fist punches at me, and pushed me down the stairs. Mom then quickly kicked me out and I had to stay with her best friends, Eddie and Awilda, for a while.

I don’t know how it came to be, but at some point Steven admitted to mom he lied and I was telling the truth. Again, we go back to counseling only for Steven to say the same things… “I’m sorry” and “I won’t touch you again.” But this would be another lie. And again, I lived with them.

At 17 mom deliberately took an assignment to Korea for a year. Mom needed to get away from me and Steven because once she forced us all to live with the secret, it became hard for mom to be around me. I was a constant reminder of what happened the years prior. It’s extremely painful to look at pictures of mom having fun in Korea while I was in hell living in the same house with my sexual abuser.

One school night Steven came into my bedroom to sexually abuse me. This time was different. I was older and knew what he was doing was wrong on many levels. I remember yelling, “if you ever touch me again I’m calling the police.” I rode my bike in the middle of the night to my best friend’s house. It felt chaotic and I felt emotionally lost and exhausted. My best friend drove to my house to get my backpack and clothes for the next day of school. I waited for mom to get home and kept myself safe by staying with my best friend. Even after mom returned she let Steven stay in the house.

But while all this was going on I didn’t notice mom’s love for me change. Mom was never affectionate with me the same way she was before she knew everything. I didn’t see it because of my trauma bond, attachment, and enmeshment with her.

At 18, right after graduation, I moved out of the house and got my own apartment. It was my safe space and I didn’t bring males to my apartment.

I don’t know how, but I managed to keep myself together all these years or so I thought. Even after nursing school I was unaware of the psychological and emotional impact of what I experienced and how it affected our family system. These theories are not heavily taught in nursing school or even in medical school.

What I see now, at 52, is an extremely dysfunctional family system. A family system where I was controlled, forced into silence, and I was angry with the world.

I have kept this family secret for over 40 years. I thought I would take the secret to my grave. It’s what we all tell ourselves, but sometimes life has a different plan for us with a purpose.

Mom died in April, 2022 from early onset Alzheimer's and my husband called dad to tell him what I experienced growing up. Dad was on his way from Fort Worth to San Antonio to attend mom’s funeral. This is the week I started to have flashback nightmares. There was no way I could stand next to Steven to say any positive or loving words about mom. Moms death was my first trigger that I quickly shoved back down and ignored. Mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2004. I stayed by her side for over 20 years ensuring she was taken care of appropriately and in good nursing homes. This was a constant battle with Steven who allowed mom to be moved over four hours away from us to a terrible nursing home.

This prompted me to request a meeting with the entire leadership team of the VA hospital in San Antonio requesting mom be moved closer to San Antonio. Steven, for his part, stated he did not approve this move yet in the copy of the mom's medical records I have, it's clearly documented by a social worker Steven approved the move. Steven and I didn't talk for some months until he finally allowed me to have some advocacy for mom and her medical needs. During this time, Steven also had mom's will changed and signed by her in 2010. 2010 was the year she couldn't drive, didn't know how to use a knife any longer, and the Alzheimer's medications weren't working. A will that was signed by a mentally incompetent individual. This is the amount of dysfunction I had to continue with as an adult, but I learned who Steven was and how to read, react to his personality. Steven is a sick man in many ways.

Back to December, 2022, after looking up each house online we lived in, I also called the three, retired, Air Force adults that knew about my abuse. I thought what the hell, let me give this a try and see what they will admit they knew. Each one admitted to knowing because mom told them what happened to me. The first one I called, Elaine, said she didn't say anything because she was enlisted and worked for mom. The irony is Elaine is the executor of Steven's will in the event his daughter cannot be. The second adult I called, MaryAnne, was an officer like mom. She admitted she knew, but was afraid to say anything. I even have an email from her stating mom told her what happened to me.

The third retired Air Force adult I called, Eddie, was the one I had to live with when I was kicked out at 16. I slept on the trundle bed in his daughter's room. It was as if he was waiting for me to disclose because he said, "Laurie, you're out of time. Your SOL expired," but again, another active duty adult at the time who did not report my case to the military police or JAG office. Three active duty Air Force members that knew and yet didn't say a word. Three state lines crossed as a military family while being abused. It's known the military families are a subpopulation for childhood sexual abuse because a parent typically deploys leaving the children home with only one adult. It is a problem in the military communities that is hidden and under-reported.

In the beginning of 2023 dad sold his house in Fort Worth to be closer to me and my sibling. Sometime in July of 2023, we all had dinner as a family in San Marcos, Tx. and I felt uneasy at dinner. Not being able to understand what I was feeling I couldn’t drive home fast enough. The new BMW hit 120 mph and it didn’t register in my brain that I was driving so fast. My husband was out of state and as I walked into our house I had my first panic attack that lasted 48 hours. My self protected world was unraveling and even as a nurse I couldn't understand what was happening to me. I spent four hours on the phone with my best friend crying because it became overwhelming. Admitting what I had experienced and allowing myself to cry for the first time as an adult was exhausting, but a step forward in the right direction.

As a nurse it’s hard to accept the things I’ve experienced, but I quickly realized I needed therapy. I sought out one of the best trauma informed psychologists in Texas for counseling and started therapy the next week. I also read, “Healing From the Incest Wound,” by Christine Courtois to fully understand what I experienced from a mental health perspective. I also studied Bowen’s Theory to understand intergenerational family systems and why mom ignored, denied my sexual abuse and neglected to nurture me. The reality is I was a threat to her, a reason to be insecure and judgemental of me. It's common knowledge when mother's deny their child's abuse it's typically because they have been abused as well, but I don't excuse her inability to be there for me. I'm mad at both of my parents even though one is dead. I vacillate between who I'm more upset with....Steven or mom. The sexual abuse is one aspect, the impact on me and my family system is another aspect of anger. Both were horrible parents.

I’m not done with my healing journey and don’t know if I ever will be. Finishing the journey is not as important as learning from it is. I am no longer silenced and have publicly disclosed Steven through social media. My goal is to continue to work on healing while helping others.

I'm fortunate that I didn't end up with any addictions or other diagnoses other than PTSD/Trauma. That diagnosis is more than enough to handle. While most believe we cannot be healed, we seek out the help of psychiatrists and psychologists. It's important to seek out a therapist that is formally trained in PTSD/Trauma. It's also important to note that while many of our symptoms are similar to Bipolar Disorder or Borderline Personality Disorder, the age of disclosure is important. Children and teens are afraid to disclose because they're 100 percent dependent on the adult, so they won't speak up. Because they're afraid to speak up, they're misdiagnosed and put on medications. As healthcare providers we need to be cognizant of this and give children more time to feel comfortable to open up, but this requires working with the parent as well because if the child remains in the house with a parent that denies, the emotional and psychological burden continues.

To heal from sexual, emotional, and psychological abusive trauma requires interoception, recognition of triggers, and engaging the parasympathetic nervous system. We're so used to reacting with our sympathetic nervous system because of the manner in which we grew up. Once we become self aware of our dysfunctions, we can start to slowly untangle each one and work to respond differently to situations. We no longer have to respond from a fight, flight, fawn aspect. We can learn to respond with our own agency and we can start to heal. The trauma and experience will never be forgotten, but the way we grew up is not the life we have to live. We get a beautiful opportunity to live a new life, one that is not a lie. A life that is full of love, laughter, purpose, and compassion. We can let go of our anger towards the world.

It’s no coincidence to me that I’m a survivor and a Registered Nurse. I’m meant to tell my story even if it helps one person.

Larua Velarde

Editor's Notes:

Laura alleges that her stepfather, Steven (Leo) Crouch, raped her. What makes this story even more ghastly is that Crouch is the senior most enlisted member of the Air Force, which I find even more patently offensive because veterans enjoy a certain amount of respect in the community, as well as certain benefits and base privileges. Retired Navy Captain, Gene Gomulka, now a survivor Advocate, said this about Laura's story:

"I was moved by Laura’s story. It reminds me of a similar case I had with an enlisted sailor/stepfather in Sicily. Both cases are very sad. I’m just glad Laura did not take her life like so many abuse victims." He went on to say "Unfortunately, not only the American Military Services, but many military leaders have covered up reported abuse because they feared it might harm their careers. Hence, abuse reporting in the military is very problematic."

A recent university study concluded that they estimate that there are almost four million survivors of child sex abuse in the home setting that are still alive in the United States. Kathryn Robb, an Attorney and the Executive Director for Child USAdvocacy, who was instrumental in getting the Statute of Limitations for child sex crimes completely eliminated in Louisiana told me “Given that 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 13 boys are sexually assaulted before their 18th birthday, that number, given the population in the United States, is likely quite low. The unspeakable pain, fear and shame suffocates the voice of so many victims of child sexual abuse - many for an entire lifetime.”

Others in the mental health field consider that number to be very conservative. Annette Kerr, a Licensed Professional Counselor Supervisor (LPC-S) who has a private practice in Arlington, Texas, who specializes in Childhood Trauma offers “Any kind of sexual assault is so immensely under reported for a plethora of reasons. I shall only attempt to list a few. First is based upon the old saying of "the devil you know is safer than the devil you don't know." If a child is abused by a family member, a child often greatly fears the loss of their known life-of-hell because the fear of the unknown is more overwhelming for the child. Perhaps intimidation was used by the perpetrator to keep the child silent. Grooming behaviors and mental manipulations are used by perpetrators to convince the child they will be in trouble, they are at fault for the abuse, or they somehow wanted the abuse.”

I am happy to report that Laura is now married, and is living her best life. Laura today is a victim and survivor Advocate here at SCSA, and operates our Womens Support Programs for us, and we are fortunate and proud to have her at SCSA.

Richard Windmann
President, SCSA