Liliana Dingman was 8 years old when her 24-year-old cousin began sexually abusing her.
Dingman’s cousin would tell her grandmother and aunt he was taking her to McDonald’s. Although he did take her to McDonald’s, he would take her to the liquor store afterward and then to a hotel across the street.
“He often put a gun to my head threatening to kill me if I did not do what he wanted,” Dingman said in a press conference Monday.
The abuse went on for one year before she gained the courage to speak up and seek help. Dingman is now coming forward to help other victims like her to feel safe. Time to Rescue held a live webcast press conference on its Facebook page Monday.
“Child sex trafficking is a real problem,” Dingman said. “I am a survivor. Because it happened to me I am not going to let it define me.”
Angela Kelly organized the event, works with Operation Underground Railroad and has been involved with nonprofits for many years. Kelly said they are working hard to raise awareness and to pass a new law targeting sex offenders, because Dingman’s cousin served less than one year in jail.
Kelly met Dingman when Dingman’s family moved into the home next door. When Dingman was playing with Kelly’s daughter, Kelly asked about Dingman’s family. Kelly said she saw a red flag when Dingman was reluctant to discuss her family and told Dingman she could talk with her about anything at anytime.
Three hours later, Dingman came back to Kelly’s house and told Kelly everything she had gone through. Kelly, with the support of Liliana’s mother and therapist, is helping Liliana tell her story in press conferences and events.
“This little girl is beyond brave and wants desperately to help other kids be able to come forward and for victims like her to feel safe,” Kelly said.
The press conference began with a musical number by singer Nadia Khristean, who works with different organizations to further their causes.
Former Mrs. Utah, Rachelle Rutherford, and Miss Utah, Kindra Kauer, then joined Kelly and Dingman onstage to commend Dingman for her bravery and talk about abuse issues. Both Rutherford and Kauer were victims of abuse and have championed platforms targeting various types of abuse while serving as Mrs. Utah and Miss Utah, respectively.
Rutherford was a victim of child sexual abuse and didn’t come forward until she was 42 years old. Research conducted by the national Centers for Disease Control estimates that approximately 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before age 18.
Kim Lowe, a member of the Utah School Nurse Association, joined Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, onstage to talk about Utah laws concerning the sexual abuse of children. Ivory, a member of the Utah House of Representatives from the District 47, spoke about two recent bills in the Utah legislature.
HB277, which passed in 2015, eliminated the statute of limitations for the sexual abuse of children. Ivory said sexually abused children are shamed into silence and often, it takes decades for them to come forward. However, the bill only applies to those who were younger than 22 years old when the bill passed.
“I would get calls on a weekly basis, sometimes multiple times a week, after they found out we passed this bill,” Ivory said. “People would call and tell me their horrific stories and then they would ask, ‘Will this bill help me?’ and I’d have to tell (those older than 22 when the bill passed,) ‘Sorry this bill doesn’t help you.'”
Ivory set out to help victims who weren’t covered by the bill passed in 2015 with help from his wife and other activists. In 2016, the Utah legislature passed HB279, which revives the statute of limitations to 53 years, and if a victim was already 53 years old when the bill passed, they have been given three years from that time to file a claim. Ivory said this opens the door for everyone who has been abused as a child.
Ivory said he is proud of Dingman for coming forward and sharing her story.
“One voice — even one 10-year-old voice — can change the world,” Ivory said. “We can change the laws, and we can change policy, and we can protect people … so this never happens to anyone else ever again.”
Time to Rescue will hold another live web stream on its Facebook page page with Dingman on Monday, May 8. Lowe’s daughter, Anastasia Pollock, is the clinical director for Lifestone Therapy and will be speaking next week about her personal experiences. She will also speak on the importance of parental awareness to recognize the symptoms of abuse.