A Survivor's Story: Joanna Tietz

*Due to the sensitive nature of the content in this blog, it may not be suitable for children under the age of 18.*

As The Child Advocacy Center of Lapeer County, we are always so humbled when we have a survivor of childhood abuse contact us asking how they can have an impact and how they can help out.  Joanna Tietz is one of those people who reached out to us after her brother, Joshua Tietz, was sentenced to seven years in prison for sexually assaulting Joanna and her sister throughout their childhood.  It all began when Joanna was five years old and walked in on Joshua laying naked on top of her sister, Sarah, who was seven at the time.  Joshua immediately told her it was a “game” and invited her to play along.  This “game” and this moment were just the beginning of the many years that would follow of Joanna having to learn how to survive the constant trauma and abuse from her older brother. 

Joanna’s story has been shared before when it was openly publicized after her brother’s initial conviction in May 2017, and again in January 2018 when there was a motion for re-trial that was denied, but what many don’t realize is how many kids are just like Joanna, going through the same or similar abuse and it’s continuing to go unseen and unheard.  Joanna wants to make a difference and become a voice for kids who aren’t being heard or are too scared to speak out because she was one of those kids throughout many years of her life.

Joanna admits that even at age five, she knew what was happening didn’t feel right.  Her brother would play this “game” with her and her sister and began touching her over her clothes.  She didn’t know what was happening or why it was happening, but she knew it was wrong.  She would later learn about the grooming processing and how gradual it can be.  She said it began with him touching her over her clothes, but then turned into him touching her under her clothes and he’d always use a deck of cards and tell her and her parents they were playing a game.  By the age of nine, she realized it wasn’t normal when he began to penetrate her, and when she would try and fight him off, he would threaten her, telling her she would get in “big trouble” if she ever told.  At age 11, her sister, Sarah, found the courage to tell her parents what had been happening and they talked to each of the girls separately, but decided to handle it within the family.  Joanna remembers being terrified to tell them because of all of her brother’s threats, but also not having the words to explain what was happening because they had never been taught about sex. After that day, she remembers everything just going back to normal and her believing it was something she had to accept and didn’t have the power to change.

Over the next several years, Joanna began to isolate herself from others and experienced significant health problems that the doctors had no explanation for.  She would play the piano as a means of escape and would often babysit her nieces and nephews to feel and experience unconditional love.  As Joanna got older, and turned 16, she looked it up on the internet and realized she wasn’t the only one it was happening to and learned that it was actually a crime but was still too scared to say anything in fear of experiencing the same feelings of rejection and helplessness she had experienced before.  It wasn’t until she was 18 and visiting her older sister and brother-in-law in North Carolina that she opened up again. She remembers not planning to share anything with them but says “I just blurted it out. It shocked me because I never thought I’d say it openly again.”

The response of her sister and brother-in-law made all the difference to Joanna because they believed her and determined to stand by her in her decision to turn it into the police. Through all the years Joanna and her sister were being abused by their brother, they did not talk about it because of the shame and embarrassment they felt.  In July 2015, Joanna contacted her sister, Sarah, who had since moved away, to talk about everything they had been through, and they went to the police to make an official report. She says it was difficult because she didn’t have the support of her parents, but she feels a significant amount of relief and no longer feels ashamed or alone.  It still hurts and is still painful at times, but Joanna says her biggest motivation was and is her desire to save other kids and give them the strength and courage to speak out.  When asked what one piece of advice she would want to share with kids who are going through something similar, Joanna says:

"Never give up on speaking the truth, no matter how many people tell you you’re doing the wrong thing. It’s not your fault."

For those who are interested in reading Joanna’s Victim Impact Statement that she read to the court at Joshua’s sentencing, you can read it by clicking the following link: Joanna Tietz Victim Impact Statement

In sharing Joanna’s story, it’s so important for the parents and community members reading this to understand the importance of educating our kids about sex and being willing to listen when they speak.  Joanna didn’t know that the abuse she was experiencing was wrong until she was 16 years old and looked it up herself, and she had to tell multiple people before someone took action, after many years of feeling alone and helpless.  At The Child Advocacy Center, we have our Prevention Program that goes into schools to teach kids about safe and unsafe touches, and helps them to identify safe people in their lives who they can talk to if they ever feel uncomfortable or unsafe.  We also provide Darkness to Light training to teach adults in the community what to look for and how to appropriately respond to suspected abuse or neglect.  As we become more educated and aware, we can help unheard children find their voice and provide them the reassurance that we are willing to listen.

Like I said before, as The Child Advocacy Center we are always so humbled when we have the opportunity to meet with adults like Joanna who have found the courage to come forward and share their story publicly to make a difference.  Joanna has such a strong desire to advocate for kids and use her story to help even one child find the strength to speak out. If you have any questions or would like to speak with Joanna about her story, she provided her e-mail, godsgirlforever.jt@gmail.com.  She is not affiliated with The Child Advocacy Center of Lapeer County, but rather wanted to meet with us to share her story and offer hope to any person or child who has been abused or comes through our doors.