OKEECHOBEE — Very few things are more important to Dawn Lynette Martin than the safety and wellbeing of children. The Save the Children movement has a special place in Martin’s heart, because abuse is something she experienced first hand as a child. When she was about 8 years old, her adoptive parents got divorced, and her adoptive mother married four different men in rapid succession. Her fourth husband began sexually abusing Martin before she even turned 10. “I told her about it,” said Martin, “and she told me not to tell anybody. She told me to keep it a secret until she could get some money from him first. Basically, she sold me. For another year, I continued to be molested and sexually assaulted by him.”
In 1993, Martin told a neighbor girl, who told her own mother. The friend’s mother immediately reported it to authorities, and they came looking for Martin. Martin’s adoptive mother hid her for three days, before authorities were able to locate her and take her out of the situation. To this day, she believes the police officers who tracked her down saved her life, and said they can help you too if you need help. You just need to tell them what is happening, or tell someone who will go to them for you.
She was returned to Okeechobee where she was able to live with her grandparents. She grew up a fairly well adjusted child, a straight A student, and no one ever knew about her past. From a therapist and through her own research, she found out about a resiliency gene. Those with this gene seem to be more capable of bouncing back after a trauma. This does not mean they don’t have any struggles over the trauma, but they just seem to be more able to cope with it.
Around the age of 37, Martin obtained legal documents involving her abuse and discovered that her mother had truly accepted money in exchange for allowing the abuse to continue and keeping quiet about it. “What saved me,” said Martin, "was the fact that I kept telling. I kept telling until someone listened and helped me.”
Martin’s abuser went to prison for one year and then died of a heart attack after his release. Her mother was charged with neglect and child endangerment and was sent to detox.
Martin’s main goal now is to share her story and hopefully by doing so, encourage kids to come forward and tell someone if they are being abused in any way. “If you tell once, and nothing happens, tell someone else,” she said. “ A lot of times, this happens in families. Statistics say one in four kids is abused or goes missing or is trafficked or some other horrible thing. The median age for these abused children is 9 years old. If they keep telling until they tell the right person, they can get help.”
Martin joined a support group called “Tell Somebody,” and when she told her story, it went viral on the Internet. Although telling her own personal story was difficult at first, she said, “We need to work together to save these babies. Even if we only save one child, it is worth it.”
Martin is well aware that many abused children grow up to become abusers, but in spite of her history, she is very family-oriented and has broken that generational curse by raising happy, healthy children. She and her husband, Christopher, have five children between them, India, Alexander, Kymber, Daegan and Starla.
The Save our Children movement inspired Martin to hold a rally to raise awareness of the abuse happening all around us. Sometimes people think abuse only happens in certain areas or households or to certain types of people, but in reality, abuse happens in families of every shape and form. In 2018, abuse happened to 9.2 of every 1,000 children. In Okeechobee, there are just over 6,000 kids in the public school system. Using those estimates, there are most likely almost 60 children in local public schools, suffering some type of abuse.
A few years ago, Martin and her husband walked out of Walgreens and found a teenage girl sitting on the bench outside the store. She seemed completely out of it, and had two older men hovering around her trying to talk her into going with them. The Martins decided they could not let that happen and took her into their own home. They found out she had just been released from the hospital and had nowhere to go. They were able to find her family in another state and get her safely home. “We need to pay attention to what is happening around us, and help the children if we see that they need help,” she said.” If you are aware a child is being abused, and you turn a blind eye, you are just as guilty as the abuser.”
On Saturday, August 22, from 10 a.m.-1 p.m., Martin will hold a peaceful, non-political rally on the street corners of the main intersection in town. Everyone is encouraged to wear blue. Participants will hold signs in hopes of raising awareness of the problem. “I want our town to be a part of the Save the Children movement, because if one child sitting in the back seat of a car on Saturday drives by and sees what we are doing, maybe they will say, ‘Hey! That happened to me!’ Maybe it will give them the courage to tell someone. If it saves one person, it makes me happy,” said Martin. “I want to show people that our community supports the children of our town.”
If you or someone you know is being abused, call the sheriff’s office at 863-763-3117, the police department at 863-763-2626 or Martha’s House for abused women at 863-763-0202. For emergencies, call 911.