MIAMI – As a children’s advocate in the community, Nelson Hincapie has spoken publicly about what it is like to live with addiction and childhood trauma. Until now, he has only shared his experience as a child sex abuse survivor privately with human trafficking victims to help gain their trust.
The Voices For Children Foundation president is having his own #MeToo moment. It hasn't been easy. The 46-year-old father of four is facing legal impediments that are preventing him from bringing an abuser to justice.
"Sometimes I feel angry. I know (the abuser) should have been stopped decades ago. I want to stop him now. I know he is in Mexico and I have seen pictures of him on Facebook with children there, yet there is nothing I can do," Hincapie said. "This man is a pedophile. He preyed on me. He groomed me. ... It's just a difficult path to justice."
The foundation Hincapie, of South Miami, represents raises funds for a state program that trains volunteers to represent children in court after they are removed from their homes and placed in the foster care system due to abandonment, abuse or neglect. He said his experience with abuse is what drives his mission.
Florida law requires children to be represented by a guardian ad litem or a court-appointed special advocate, who could be an attorney or a trained volunteer. Voices for Children was founded in 1984 to support the 11th Judicial Circuit GAL program. Hincapie has been leading the effort since 2009.
Hincapie said children in foster care are disproportionately victimized by human trafficking and some are sexually abused. About 60 % of child sex trafficking victims have a history in the child welfare system, according to the National Foster Youth Institute.
"The shame from sexual abuse can be very damaging, so saying, '#MeToo' shows a different level of understanding," Hincapie said.
With prominent cases involving accused perpetrators such as movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly, the women's movement against sexual harassment and sexual assault ignited a massive cultural change that has also helped to prompt male victims to speak up.
"There is a bigger stigma for men when the abuser is a man," Hincapie said.
Mario G., a Brickell attorney, who asked not to have his last name on the record, said his football coach sexually harassed him and abused him when he was 14 years old. The secret didn't come up until he decided to get help for alcoholism and depression at 37.
"I hated myself. My dad was abusive to me and my mom. (It was) the best or nothing. This coach was there for me, took me to games and then turned all of that around and confused the heck out of me," the attorney said. "The #MeToo movement brought up a lot of this to the surface."
Mario, who said he identifies as a straight man, said he was also the victim of sexual harassment by a prominent attorney at a prestigious law firm. He said the experience was so distressing that he was afraid to go to the bathroom alone and he used alcohol to cope with the pressure.
"The ability to distinguish between degrees of bad behavior isn't easy when you didn't learn that growing up. It started with jokes here and there, and it just escalated from there," Mario said. "It was a nightmare. The guy was a bully. I left the firm as soon as I could and just never told anyone."
Mario said reading about the #MeToo movement gave him the courage to contact a psychologist and a psychiatrist. He said he didn't have the impetus to go after the abusers, but for the first time in his life, he was able to see himself as a victim who needed help.
Marcel San Pedro, a licensed mental health counselor who specializes in addiction, said there appears to be a correlation between negative childhood experiences and addiction. He said the feelings of shame, isolation and fear tend to contribute to the increased use of substances.
"A majority of the individuals I've worked with have very difficult struggles with depression and anxiety, which co-occur with the substance use disorder," San Pedro said, later adding that "victims should know there is help available, and they do not need to hide with shame about the situations which caused such harm. It's possible to recover and heal."
Hincapie said he grew up in a dysfunctional home with a mother who was forced to flee from his abusive father. He has experienced suicidal ideation.
"I was 9 when my mom left me with my dad. She came back when I was 12 and took me to Houston. My father was in Colombia, and I needed a paternal figure. I was vulnerable," Hincapie said. "I think he (the abuser) knew that."
Hincapie said his English teacher sexually abused him in Texas when he was 13 years old. By the time he was 15 years old, he said, he was coping by doing drugs. He was treated for alcoholism at 23 years old after a police officer found an open can of Miller Lite in his car.
Three decades after the abuse, Hincapie said that today, he is ready to confront his abuser. However, mental health experts, like San Pedro, stress that should be undertaken with the assistance of a professional therapist.
"Seeking the help of a professional, a trained therapist, when seeking justice or disclosing information about the abuse is very important," San Pedro said. "Victims can unintentionally retraumatize themselves without careful consideration."
For years, Hincapie said the only people who knew were his wife of 15 years and his therapist. He recently disclosed the abuse to former classmates, the Houston Independent School District and the Houston ISD Police Department.
Child advocates said about one-third of child sexual abuse victims report the abuse later in life. Hincapie said he and others are frustrated with the statute of limitations, a law passed by the state's legislative body to set the maximum time after an event within which legal action is possible.
"I appreciate you reaching out and not only being a voice for yourself but others as well. It is admirable and shows tremendous strength," Houston ISD Detective Kelly Farris wrote in an email to Hincapie, adding that the statute of limitations in Texas is 10 years from a person's 18th birthday.
In Florida, there is an effort to pass House Bill 53, which would extend the civil statute of limitations to age 55. Child advocates around the country are pushing for legal reform to end the short statutes of limitations that prevent victims from pressing charges and filing lawsuits.
Hincapie is dealing with his own guilt for not speaking up before. A child molester on average will abuse at least 150 children, according to a Philadelphia-based child protection think tank. Hincapie also believes school administrators need to do more to protect students from pedophiles.
"#MeToo is calling on everyone to do more to prevent sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexual abuse and human trafficking," Hincapie said. "My silence about what I went through probably put other students in danger. I won't be quiet about this anymore."