By BROOKE WANSER
Emily Tester remembers the day she told her mother her father was sexually abusing her.
They were in their Spring Hill home, packing for a trip to Arkansas. She was eight years old.
Tester, now 24, doesn’t remember when the abuse began. “I just remember it always happening,” she said.
When she told her mother, Tester said her response was one of complete support. “The fact that she believed me and she took action the second I told her,” Tester said, spoke volumes.
Tester, whose maiden name is Pollard, was taken to the Davis House Child Advocacy Center in Franklin, where she underwent an interview process and medical evaluation.
The legal aid Tester later received from the center was invaluable; Tester’s father was imprisoned for eight years after the family pressed charges.
“If I hadn’t have gone there, and it hadn’t been prosecuted, I can’t imagine who I would be,” she said.
Tester will share her story on March 3 at the 12th annual Button Ball, previously known as the Legacy Ball, to raise funds for the Davis House.
The Davis House was formed from a county child advocacy task force in 1999 for the 21st judicial district, which includes Williamson, Hickman, Perry and Lewis counties.
The center provides preventative training, legal, medical, and counseling services, as well as a source of support for the families of abused children, all at no cost.
“The child advocacy center provides a child-friendly environment in which all the members of the multidisciplinary team can come and work together for the benefit of the child,” said Marcus Stamps, the executive director of the Davis House.
Unlike at a police station, he said the Davis House is well-equipped to deal with the trauma that accompanies child abuse. “Our focus is on the child, where law enforcement is focused on the alleged perpetrator,” Stamps said.
Stamps knows firsthand the effects of child abuse; he became involved with the house after he discovered his own daughter had been sexually abused.
“The services were so significant in our life that I felt I wanted to do whatever I could to help them,” Stamps said of the Davis House, where he began volunteering.
With a background in financial planning and fundraising, “I just felt it was something I was called to do,” he said of his current position.
The name of the event is tied to a powerful reminder inside the Davis House: When children come into the center, they take a button out of a box, placing it into a jar with other buttons.
“It’s a great visual for the child to put that button in there, because most of the children that we serve think they are the only ones,” Stamps said.
In high school, Tester says she realized not everyone had the support she received, support for which she is “forever thankful.”
But she began to notice, “Not everyone is supported the way I was supported.”
Now, Tester is newly married to her childhood friend. “He is so supportive, and so gentle and understanding, and knowing that I have challenges because of this,” she said. “He never thought differently of me.”
The couple attends the University of Tennessee in Knoxville; he, for a master’s in engineering, and she, for a master’s in clinical mental health counseling.
“Empowering individuals who experience sexual assault is key to recovery,” she said. “Being that person who has a stable person in their life to help them process through their experience is what felt so meaningful to me.”
Where: Liberty Hall at The Factory at Franklin, 230 Franklin Road.
When: Saturday, March 3, 2018, beginning with a wine reception at 6 p.m.
Click here to purchase tickets and learn more about the event.