Spreading the Word about Child Sex Abuse, a Step at a Time

By Stacey Barchenger
Medford Mail Tribune

September 1, 2008

[with link to the full itinerary]

For a complete itinerary of the month-long trip, along with other information about the effort, see

Virginia Jones will lace up her New Balance tennis shoes, clip on her fanny pack and walk out of Ashland this morning, headed for Portland.

She and a friend are walking the almost 300 miles along Highway 99 to raise awareness of the problem of child sexual abuse."It's all about stopping the abuse of children," Jones said. "We support anyone who was traumatized by abuse."

Jones, 49, is a full-time volunteer advocate for abuse survivors she doesn't use the term victims because it is "wounding" in Portland. She and her walking partner, a woman in her 60s from Eastern Oregon who wants to remain anonymous, will be pounding an average of 10 miles of pavement a day in neon-yellow T-shirts printed with the words "Walk Across Oregon," the name of their effort.

Their trek begins at 8 a.m. at Albertsons, 2301 Ashland St., and the women will rest in Triangle Park at 9:30 a.m. They will end their first day in Phoenix at about 4 p.m.

Sexual-abuse survivors and other advocates for awareness are welcome to join in the walk at any time.

Tuesday, they will walk through Medford to Gold Hill. They will stop at 9 a.m. at Mellelo Coffee Roasters, 200 S. Central Ave., Medford.

A tentative itinerary puts them in Drain on Sept. 10, Salem on Sept. 21 and ending in Portland on Sept. 28.

Jones' walking partner must remain anonymous to protect her, Jones said. The woman's two daughters were abused as minors, but the statute of limitations ran out before they came to terms with what happened, so criminal charges were never filed. They considered civil action, but were too afraid to contact the abuser, so they had to let the case drop.

"They don't want their mother's name in the paper," Jones said. "They're terrified the abuser will come back and hurt her."

Despite perceived risks, Jones and the woman are walking to inspire Oregonians to work to prevent child sex abuse and to care for survivors. They will hand out pamphlets along the way and will be accompanied by an escort who will drive alongside for support and security. The women are funding the effort themselves.

Jones said the goal is to walk the whole way, but talking with and listening to survivors is the priority.

"It may be that we encounter people who need to talk, and that is more important than walking," Jones said. "Our priority is giving care to people."

The route was picked because it passes through many population centers where Jones and company can speak with survivors and supporters and get the word out, she said. They spent nine hours on Google Earth, a satellite imaging application, to find the best route.

Jones' interest in the topic comes from her own experience with sexual abuse, which also was her motivation to become active in the Portland area as a sexual abuse advocate.

Jones was abused by two teenage boys when she was only 4 years old. She turned to her mother for help, but her mother dismissed her, saying, "That's where babies come from."

By age 9 she was depressed and seeing a pediatric specialist.

"When I was little, if my older brother would bring home more than one friend, I would hide in the closet," Jones said. "My family would have to haul me out."

In high school she developed anorexia and was suicidal. At 22, Jones was raped on a date.

Jones' experiences have left her with issues related to touch, trust and self-esteem.

"I can't get a massage," she said. "Intimate touch feels like an invasion."

Jones said she faces many of the same problems abuse survivors commonly develop, and now she devotes 30 or more hours per week to organize support groups and events for survivors. She founded the Compassionate Gathering, a Portland support group for survivors of abuse by the clergy, which soon expanded to help anyone who was abused.

Anyone who would like to donate money to the two women to help alleviate the expense of the 28-day trip may meet them today at Triangle Park in Ashland or Tuesday at Mellelo's Coffee in downtown Medford.

Reach intern Stacey Barchenger at 776-4464 or e-mail her at


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