Hugh Carey, Deseret News
Sexual assault survivor Preston Jensen speaks during the annual Night of Healing event at the Urban Art Gallery at Gateway Mall Monday, April 14, 2014 in Salt Lake City. On Tuesday, Jensen shared his story as a victim of sexual abuse Tuesday with 700 people gathered at the Utah Attorney General's Children's Justice Symposium/Utah Prosecution Council Domestic Violence Conference.
My whole life I had gone on and wanted somebody else to stick up for me," he said. "I finally realized that the only person that was going to stick up for me was me. —Preston Jensen

MIDWAY — Preston Jensen has a hard time looking at old photos of himself, like the one of him as a 10-year-old wearing a plaid, button-down shirt and a toothy grin with a dab of gel spiking up his blonde bangs.

Any image of himself from 8 to 13 brings back painful memories of a horrific time over which he had no control, no one to stick up for him. He was powerless in the hands of a man thought to be a good family friend.

"My heart ached for that kid," Jensen said. "Sometimes l look at those pictures and wonder how that kid made it through."

Jensen, 32, shared his story as a victim of sexual abuse Tuesday with 700 people gathered at the Utah Attorney General’s Children’s Justice Symposium/Utah Prosecution Council Domestic Violence Conference. The annual event draws police officers, prosecutors, medical professionals and victim advocates from around the state.

The state's 20 Children's Justices centers — a new one will open soon in Kane County — serve about 5,000 child abuse victims a year, said Tracy Tabet, program administrator.

"That's just the tip of the iceberg," she said, noting there are many abused children whose stories never reach child protective services or law enforcement.

Jensen suffered in silence for years.

At first, he didn't know what was going on was wrong. The hugs and touches from his best friend's stepfather at sleepovers seemed innocent. But it turned into sex acts and rape. Sometimes the man hurt him with a knife and threatened to use it on his family.

"I think that fear he instilled in me outweighed me ever talking to my parents," he said.

The abuse ended when he was 13 after his friend and his sister told their mother that their stepfather had abused them and she threw him out of the house.

But the nightmare — the one he kept bottled inside — continuted for Jensen.

Finding peace

One of the things soothed him during those five awful years and still helps him today is an LDS Church Primary song, "A Child's Prayer." Jensen said he would often zone out during the abuse and sing the words in his head:

"Heavenly Father, are you really there? And do you hear and answer ev'ry child's prayer? … Pray, he is there; Speak, he is list'ning. You are his child."

Even now after a flashback or nightmare, the song comes into his mind.

"It's gotten me through the hard times in my life," he said.

Jensen went through middle school, high school and a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints without telling a soul about what happened to him. But his life came to a "screeching halt" when he started having seizures in 2002.

The inexplicable spasms took over his life for the next eight or nine years. He couldn't drive and couldn't work. His parents took care of him.

A specialist eventually ruled out epilepsy and told him the seizures might be due to childhood trauma and suggested he see a counselor. Jensen resisted at first but made an appointment. He said it turned out to be the best decision of his life.

Seeking help

Jensen began sharing with his counselor — not verbally but by email — the sexual abuse he had suffered.

"As I disclosed these things to him, I was scared," he said. "I felt like a scared kid."

The counselor later suggested Jensen visit the house where the abuse took place, most of it in the basement. They went to the neighborhood together. He had no intention of knocking on the door until he caught a glimpse of the basement window.

"As a kid, my whole life, all I wanted to do was to be able to get out that window, if could just break through it and be free from the abuse. On this day, 20 years later, I was on the outside looking in," he said.

Jensen went into the house a week later. As he descended the basement steps, feelings of guilt and shame overcame him. He felt a seizure coming on. He went into the bathroom. His counselor opened the frosted glass door to the narrow shower. Jensen hesitantly stepped inside and slid down the wall to the floor sobbing.

"I just kept thinking to myself that night how could this have happened, how could all these things happen to me when he knew I was crying, when he knew I was scared," he said.

Taking action

Jensen, a medical assistant at The Orthopedic Specialty Hospital, decided that he didn't want that man to hurt anyone else. He told South Jordan police that Kenneth Burr sexually abused him.

Prosecutors charged Burr, 65, with seven felonies. He agreed to a plea deal and is now serving 10 years in prison. He had previously pleaded guilty to attempted sex abuse of a child in a separate case and was sentenced to three years probation and 10 years on the sex offender registry.

Jensen expressed appreciation for police and prosecutors allowing him to have a say in the plea deal. He said it made him feel trusted and that he had the ability to make his own decisions.

"My whole life I had gone on and wanted somebody else to stick up for me," he said. "I finally realized that the only person that was going to stick up for me was me."

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