Olympic swimmer shares personal story to prevent child sex abuse
Angela Cain/Eyewitness News
Indianapolis - One in four American families suffers from abuse, whether it's physical, mental, verbal or sexual. For the eighth year, WTHR is shattering the silence on abuse.
Margaret Hoelzer has made a splash across the globe as a spectacular swimmer. She has won three medals - two silvers and a bronze - in the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
Today, she practices persistently with dreams of winning more. But an even bigger dream is using her Olympics platform to take a stand against abuse.
"Every achievement that I achieved in swimming was hopefully building up this platform that people would then want to listen to me and/or look at me as a success story," she said.
Hoelzer is a success story in swimming and in overcoming abuse. She swims against the tide speaking out specifically against child sexual abuse.
"People are afraid to talk to their kids, because it's a taboo subject. Well, the reality is sexual abuse happens," she said.
Hoelzer shares that stark message at speaking engagements across the country. Recently, she spoke in Carmel at a fundraiser for Chaucie's Place, a Hamilton County child advocacy center.
Margaret Hoelzer's story is one of shattered innocence that occurred when she was just a child.
"In my head, I was thinking, this is my friend's father," she said.
From age five to seven, Hoelzer tells audiences her friend's father sexually abused her. She was too young to understand.
"He was someone I trusted, so I didn't connect the dots with my heart and my head immediately," she said.
It took nearly four years - around age 11 - before Margaret talked to a friend about the abuse.
"She was the one that actually put the words - molested, sexual abuse - with what had happened to me and I was like, wow. You're right. I didn't even know what sexual abuse was," she said.
Hoelzer then shared the shocking news with her heartbroken mother.
"She kept it together, apparently bawled her eyes out later, but I never saw that," she said.
Margaret Hoezler says her parents believed her immediately and went to police. But with the late reporting of the abuse and a lack of evidence, her case was thrown out.
"I cried my eyes out, first of all. I was angry," she said.
Her alleged abuser went unpunished.
The Olympic athlete leaned on her parents and counseling to overcome the setback.
"I have an amazing support system," she said.
Hoelzer urges parents to support their children if they ever utter shocking words about being abused "and not try to just shove it under the carpet."
She tells children who don't get support to make waves and to keep shattering the silence.
"Someone will believe you. If you tell a parent and they don't believe you, tell a teacher, tell a school counselor, tell a coach, tell another friend's parents," she said.
Hoelzer keeps telling her story even in the face of her own fears.
"One of the biggest things I worried about is, 'Is anyone going to care? Is anyone going to want to hear my story?'" she said.
During her Carmel visit and in front of audiences nationwide, the answer is a resounding yes.
"It's healing for me. It's healing for me to continue talking about it," said Hoelzer. "You can still be successful and you can still move on. If I help one person go public or get help that makes me feel like I succeeded."
Experts say one in four girls and one in six boys is sexually abused. Warning signs include withdrawal, depression, unexplained anger, rebellion, sexual behavior and language that is not age appropriate. But some children show no signs of abuse.
Learn the seven steps to protecting your children from sexual abuse, including teaching them what it is.