What started as an innocent sleepover at a friend's house, ended up being a frightening and life-altering experience.
Lisa Hicks was just seven when she was sexually abused by a friend's stepfather. In a drunken rage, the man beat his wife, then he made his way to the bedroom where the girls were laying down and molested Hicks.
After a failed attempt at escape through a too-small bathroom window, Hicks went back to the room with her friend and lay awake shaking for the rest of the night.
Hicks said she never went back to her friend's house and said she was angry and blamed herself for the abuse happening because she felt she should have known better.
This is because. at just four years old, a neighbour who was babysitting Hicks attempted to molest her, but she managed to get away unharmed.
"I taught myself to get away. Don't let that happen because it will happen if you don't get away," Hicks said. "But I didn't get away (when she was seven); I was trapped in the basement."
She never told her mom what happened, mainly because she thought her mother wouldn't have cared and instead used that experience as her barometer as to who and what was safe.
"I learned to recognize that sexual urge and once that (is) turned on, you need to get away because they (molesters) don't care about anything other than their own sexual urges," she said.
Sexual abuse can shatter a child's innocence and self-esteem, and it happens more often than we think.
One in four girls and one in eight boys by the age of 18 have experienced some form of sexual abuse, a statistic that includes any kind of inappropriate touching or abuse, said Mary Ann Di Paolo, program coordinator of the West End Sexual Abuse Treatment Program.
While sexual abuse is still a topic that shrouds its victims in shame and secrecy, Di Paolo said that is changing.
"There's a lot less shame and awareness than there was 20 years ago because it's more in the media, and I think people are able to talk about it and more able to come forward," she said.
Di Paolo said sexual abuse can be anything from being made to watch an inappropriate video to intercourse. And whether it happens once or several times, the potential trauma is the same.
What is also still the same is the fact the majority of children who are sexually abused know their abuser. Di Paolo said the closer the child is to their abuser, the greater the emotional trauma because they knew and trusted the adult and were betrayed.
"It's harder for the child to understand and it would confuse them more because, 'Why would this person who loves me or should love, do this.' When it's a stranger, it's easier to understand," she said.
Di Paolo said many abused children lose their sense of safety and trust in adults.
Hicks said that's exactly what happened to her.
"I thought they (adults) were bad. They just wanted to hurt you and they just wanted whatever they wanted. They don't care about how you feel," Hicks said.
Hicks also said she thinks her mother should've protected her from assault and therefore her mother didn't care about her.
"My well-being was not a priority, whatsoever. I was constantly thrown into unsafe environments. I would've been safer being alone," Hicks said.
Di Paolo said most parents are horrified to learn their kids have been sexually abused and do blame themselves. However, she said, when her group works with parents they explain to them the lengths the abuser went through in terms of planning a relationship with their child, be their closest friend and then to eventually get them alone and abuse them.
Parents are also horrified their child didn't tell them, but Di Paolo said there are reasons children keep abuse a secret.
Shame and guilt play a big part in that partly because, although they are being molested, children's bodies often respond to the sexual abuse.
"They blame themselves. They feel different than other kids. They feel dirty or bad and they don't have a voice because they take responsibility even though it's not their fault," Di Paolo said, adding many kids never say anything so parents should focus on the fact their child eventually did tell someone.
The secrecy is also a part of the manipulation and seduction the abuser has encircled around the child, she said.
Di Paolo said abusers thrive on secrecy and they will use any method, including threats of something bad happening to the child, if the child tells.
Hicks said she never told anyone of her experiences until she was 14, but by that time much of the pain was already internalized. She said because of those past traumas, her teenage years were filled with dangerous and inappropriate behaviour.
Drinking and a plethora of drugs wasn't even the worst of it: Hicks said she hung out with her friend's neighbour, a convicted sex offender who provided her with free drugs.
"He told me after a few months that I couldn't come over anymore because he was in love with me," she said.
But instead of heeding that warning, she used it to her advantage, feeling power and control over the fact he had to do whatever she said or she would call the police on him. She turned the abuse into her own power trip.
"I was addicted to drugs and that was a major factor and they were there and they were free," she said.
Unfortunately, along with this new-found power came four more years of what she describes as hundreds of inappropriate incidences with this man including waking up from a drunken stupor half naked.
After one final assault at the age of 18, Hicks said she charged the man and never saw him again.
Every person's trauma manifests in different ways, but Di Paolo said many women turn their helplessness around by doing what Hick's did - using men to feel powerful to mask their feelings of being powerless.
Di Paolo said treatment is extremely helpful in overcoming the trauma and changing the thinking around what happened. Di Paolo said a therapist will focus on changing cognitive distortions such as self-blame, thinking victims are bad or that all men are abusers.
"You don't know what a child's mistaken beliefs are and if they get internalized, and how that is going to affect future relationships," Di Paolo said.
Di Paolo said victims of sexually abuse may not trust enough to be in a loving relationship, engage in risky sexual behaviour or some may never want to have sex again and have difficulty getting enjoyment out of sex because it reminds them of the abuse.
She also said the self-blame could lead to depression and anxiety that could lead to drug and alcohol dependences and suicidal thoughts.
"There is a lot of cognitive distortions that need to be addressed and processed so that they come out after treatment with a good sense of self and not blaming themselves in any way," Di Paolo said.
Now 26, with two children of her own, Hicks said her sexual abuse has left some residual feelings that have affected her adult relationships. However, she said she still holds out hope she will one day be in a happy and good relationship with a loving partner.
Di Paolo said while sexually abuse is an experience no child should endure, it's possible with support and time that a child can overcome their past sexual abuse and lead productive, happy and successful lives.