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WomanOf the Month 01-10: Diana Joy

Diana Joy’s childhood is the stuff of your worst nightmares. From infancy she and her siblings were victim to every kind of abuse imaginable—and some that is unimaginable. Worse, the suffering came at the hands of those who should have loved and protected the children more than anyone in the world: their parents. When the horrors of Diana’s and her siblings’ lives finally became known to the world, the torture they suffered was publicized in the media in graphic detail. The story that the public largely does not know, however, is the awe-inspiring way that Diana faced down the demons of her past and put them to work for a greater good.

The first eight years of Diana’s life were spent with her father after her mother largely abandoned Diana and her twin sister at infancy along with three other siblings. All five children were within six years of age. Wanted by the law, her father kept on the move, dragging the children everywhere from Mexico to Canada. When the children weren’t being beaten into fearful submission to avoid people, making noise and otherwise attracting attention to themselves, they were left to scavenge for food, clothing, and warm bedding. They quickly learned to evade their father as much as possible because his attention often proved violent. One of Diana’s earliest memories is, at the age of three, seeking out her father in his bedroom for something to eat. Instead of feeding her, he pulled her into his bed and raped her.

Although the sexual abuse by her father, continued, it was just the tip of the iceberg. Within a year he was prostituting his children from a motel in a child sex ring. He used the older children to handle the money and customer phone calls while his younger children were violated, sometimes multiple times a day.

When she was eight Diana’s mother reappeared with an older sister Diana barely remembered. Before long, the mother made off with her three daughters, offering them up to a sexual predator that she had married. He devised a jailroom where he carried out unspeakable atrocities on the girls. Eventually, Diana’s mother began seeing a different man who didn’t want children and kicked them out of the house. Diana was 12-years old at the time.

The callous act of Diana’s mother ultimately saved her. Thereafter, the state provided Diana with an education, an apartment of her own and a stipend to live on. Although she refused to live with any one family, she developed close ties with several families, including a local pastor who lent her unwavering, continuous emotional and financial support throughout the rest of her childhood.

Today, Diana is a public speaker, a successful business woman, a loving mother of eight children (three natural and five adopted), and a grandmother of five with three more on the way. She has dedicated her life to abused children. From the age of 19, when Diana met her husband, she has thrown herself into social work, helping teen moms, gang members and other troubled children turn their lives around any way they could, be it by teaching youth ministry, providing child care, or offering foster care and adoption to children who had nowhere else to go. “I helped mothers as young as 12-years old for years by babysitting. My husband and I have given our lives to the poor to stop the cycle of abuse any way we could,apostrophe said Diana.

That Diana has rebounded from the travails of her childhood instead of falling into desperation, prostitution, substance abuse, or a cycle of perpetuating abuse seems truly miraculous. Diana doesn’t really see it that way, though. She credits her ability in overcoming her horrific childhood—indeed, her very survival—to a natural defense mechanism: multiple personality disorder (MPD). As a child, when Diana suffered something that was more than her young brain could deal with, invisible friends materialized to assume the suffering for her, or to offer her solace, companionship and love. “The doctors say my multiple personalities are what kept me alive. I have over 100 of them,apostrophe Diana said.

Diana has worked hard to fight the stigma and dispel the misconceptions associated with her disorder. It was an act of self-preservation because when the world discovered in 2003 that she suffered from MPD, no one was more surprised than she was. It all unfolded one day when social workers arrived at her house to take away the children she was planning to adopt. The social workers had recently learned of her history of mental illness and three years spent in a mental institution as a young woman. They declared her an unfit mother. The event caused an emotional earthquake in Diana who didn’t believe the accusations and was devastated to have her personal medical files becoming public information for everyone from neighbors to business associates. Determined to defend herself, she did what she had never done before: she read the childhood journals that she had written since the age of three. Although she found that the accusations of MPD were true, she determined to show that, far from making her an unfit mother, the disorder had made her a stable, capable and loving mother.

This catalytic moment in her life motivated Diana to write a book, Looking Through the Eyes of an Unseen Child, published in August 2009, in which she describes some of the terrible events of her life as seen by a young child. Readers come to understand that the multiple personalities parading in and out of scenes were this child’s clever way of coping with unfathomable abuse. Readers also come to understand some of the subtle ways that abused children call for help when they are too afraid to seek it openly. A second book, due out this summer, picks up at age 8 where the first book leaves off.

Diana also launched last year the Unseen Child Foundation, a non-profit organization that funnels money to shelters, safe houses and other programs in Denver that help abused children. “There are 1,500 kids between 9 and 15 years old who are homeless in Denver. That is out of control! I’m seeing awesome programs closing because of lack of funds,apostrophe Diana said. She donates $5 from the sale of each book to the foundation and is trying to garner more attention for it by teaming up with celebrities like Susie McEntire (sister to Reba McEntire), and many country music singers and songwriters. The foundation may soon get its biggest boost when a documentary based on Diana’s work with teens comes out in the fall and when a motion picture, now in the hands of Hollywood screenwriters, is released.

It’s hard to imagine that someone with Diana’s tragic history could turn her life around so inspiringly. It is not just that she was able to become a normal person despite her terrible background, it’s that she is a better person at heart and by her actions than many of us with normal backgrounds ever become. There is something very special about Diana. Her pastor friend knew it, which is why, when Diana finally agreed to be adopted by him, he chose the most fitting surname he could think of for her: “Joy."

To learn more about Diana Joy and the Unseen Child Foundation visit http://www.unseenchild.com/.