JAMESTOWN, NC — Outside of a restaurant on a cold afternoon in December 2005, Patti Patti Marlowe learned a secret her daughter had kept from her, from everyone, for 10 years.
The family — Marlowe’s new husband, stepchildren and her 16-year-old daughter — was at a restaurant after church.
Marlowe’s daughter was urgent. “Mom, I have to tell you something.”
They went to the bathroom to be alone.
It wasn’t private enough.
They went outside.
What Marlowe’s daughter told her changed her forever.
“My knees just buckled. My heart felt like it had been ripped out of my body. I wanted to take justice in my own hands.”
The teen told her mother she’d been sexually abused by Marlowe’s ex-husband.
Marlowe’s daughter, whom Marlowe asked not to be named, decided to tell her mother her secret that day because of a lesson during Sunday school. The lesson mirrored the abuse Marlowe’s daughter had endured, and she knew it was time to trust in herself, her mother and the Lord.
Marlowe said her ex-husband began abusing her daughter when they got married. Her daughter was 6 years old. He adopted Marlowe’s daughter when she was 8 and continued to abuse her for another four years.
“He controlled her with the fear that if she told me, I would kill him and then she’d be alone or in foster care,” Marlowe said. “Looking back, once you know, you see things differently. She used to ask me what I thought were random questions like, ‘Mom, what would you do if someone hurt me?,’ and I’m sure I’d answer her like, ‘I’d hurt them,’ which then confirmed her fear.”
Marlowe said her daughter would ask her questions like that often to gauge her reaction.
“Kids want to tell somebody,” she said. “The last thing they want to do is suffer in silence. But perpetrators instill that guilt and that fear in them, and for a lot of victims, it controls them for the rest of their lives.”
‘I NEED TO TALK TO YOU ABOUT ALL THE STUFF YOU DID TO ME’
From 2005 to 2008, Marlowe and her daughter were fighting for legal justice. Marlowe’s ex-husband was charged with eight felonies which included rape and sexual offenses, in Davidson and Surry counties, and two counts of indecent liberties in Forsyth County.
The turnaround point in the case was when Marlowe’s ex-husband’s stepfather died. Marlowe’s daughter was close to her stepfather’s stepfather, and his death gave her a reason to call her stepfather for the first time in two years, with help from the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office.
“She called from the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office Narcotics Division, and they made it look like she was calling him from her cell phone,” Marlowe said. She told him about his stepfather and then said, ‘I need to talk to you about all the stuff you did to me.’ The district attorney got several minutes of damaging audio.”
Marlowe was able to get the three counties into one venue so her daughter wouldn’t have to relive her horror over and over in different courthouses. Marlowe’s ex-husband was put behind bars for 13 years.
“My daughter’s carrying this load that most adults couldn’t handle, but she’s also gone through having night terrors, panic attacks … she was cutting, and at an elementary-school age, she was contemplating suicide before I knew anything, before I had any idea she was suffering,” Marlowe said, looking at her hands in her lap. “I had no clue.”
Raising a child in the 1990s, Marlowe thought she had to worry about strangers in the park or people lurking in vans offering her daughter candy. She never thought the person who was a danger to her daughter was the man she was sharing her life with.
“He adopted her when she was 8 because her father wasn’t in her life, at least I thought that was the reason,” Marlowe said. “Our marriage was just a way to get to my daughter. He was a pedophile.”
A MONSTER INSIDE HIM
From Jan. 1 to Sept. 16, 71 sex offenses have been reported in Guilford County, according to the sheriff’s office. According to the N.C. Department of Justice, Guilford County has the second-highest number of registered sex offenders with 710, behind Mecklenburg County with 803.
“They don’t look like monsters,” she said. “They look like everyday people, but there was a monster inside of him. With the statistics we have, it sort of invites perpetrators into Guilford County. I want to reverse that message. Our sheriff B.J. Barnes does a fantastic job of getting them behind bars and making that a priority. I want perpetrators to know that Guilford County is not a safe place for them to live. ”
While Marlowe’s daughter is thriving in college, Marlowe is handling it her way by becoming a facilitator of the Darkness to Light program and the program’s coordinator with the YMCA of Greater High Point.
Darkness to Light is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to the prevention of child sexual abuse. The organization has trained more than 3,000 facilitators, including Marlowe and David Ozmore, CEO of The Y.
“Our goal is to equip our adults in the High Point area with the tools needed to prevent this from happening to our kids,” Ozmore said. “It is an adult’s responsibility to protect kids. We think that when our schools, churches, youth sports organizations and community organizations are educated and aware of this cause, we will make High Point a stronger community for our kids.”
The Y will host a Community Kickoff event on Sept. 26 at noon at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church. The public is invited to attend by RSVP. The event is free.
“It’s all about being a survivor, about giving my daughter as normal of a life as she can have,” Marlowe said. “We went through a tragedy. But what’s even more tragic is when we don’t reach out to help others that may be going through what my daughter went through or what I went through. While we can’t change our story, we can change someone else’s.”
At a glance:
What: Kickoff event for Darkness to Light program to end child sexual abuse
When: Sept. 26 at noon
Where: Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church, 1225 Chestnut Drive. The public is invited to attend by RSVP and the event is free.