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Kayla Garriott was 10 years old when her father began sexually assaulting her during the weekends she spent with him following her parents’ divorce.

“My dad started grooming me, involving me in drugs, giving me what I later found out was valium,” the Robbinston native said recently. “I’m not a large person, so the amount he was giving me would pretty much knock me out. Then I’d wake up and know something had happened, but I wouldn’t know what.”

From the time she was 10 until she was 17, Garriott lived in Connecticut but visited her father in Maine. She dreaded those visits. Her father’s assaults began with inappropriate touching, and by the time she was a sophomore in high school, he tried to rape her, she said.

“It was always about, if I told anyone, I feared what was going to happen, and, ‘This is our little secret and you can’t tell anyone,’” she said. “It wasn’t until I started getting a little older that I realized it was wrong, but I was scared to tell anyone.”

Her father attempted to bribe her with money gifts and, at one point, a car, she said.

“But he wasn’t able to drug me on that one because I put up a pretty big fight and got mad,” she said. “So he stormed off and left me in a hotel room.”

But the night of her junior prom, her mother was out of town and when her boyfriend dropped her at the hotel where her dad was staying in Calais, her father told her to take a shower, and then forced her to take the drugs.

“At some point I sent a text to my boyfriend that said, ‘Dad + hotel = bad,’” she said. “That was the first and last time he actually raped me,” Garriott said.

Shortly after that, “when things started to spiral,” Garriott’s mother found the journal her daughter had kept. They went to the police. After working with the police on recorded phone calls, her father, Kevin J. Cobb, was arrested and, in 2009, sentenced to 12 years in prison. Garriott learned recently that he will be released in December.

Now 29, Garriott is an occupational therapist in Colorado. She’s spoken about her experiences before and drew upon them to advocate for victims of child sexual abuse. For eight years she’s organized a motorcycle run, Riding for a Voice, that raises money for organizations that advocate for victims of child sexual abuse.

In 2015, the Maine Legislature passed a law that requires all public school districts in the state to adopt written policies instituting education on sexual abuse prevention for elementary school students. Sen. Joyce Maker, R-Calais, sponsor of the bill, has credited Garriott with contacting her with the hope of helping other young girls who might face the same abuse.

“Joyce came to me and said, ‘What do you think about this idea?’” Garriott said of the legislation. “I said, ‘I think that’s fantastic. I would love to do anything to support them and help them find a voice.”

Now that schools are required to educate staff on recognizing signs of child sexual abuse and to teach children age-appropriate lessons on the topic, Garriott hopes other children won’t endure the abuse she did for so long.

“We’ve learned that education is power,” she said. “I never once remember in school, especially at such a young age, anyone saying anything regarding our bodies and what was right and what was inappropriate touch and appropriate touch. I would like to think that if that information [had been] brought to me, I would have felt comfortable getting out of that grooming pattern and known who to go to.”

Today, Garriott says she’s “come full circle,” and moved on from the “dark place” she was in as a child.

“It’s like, ‘No, I don’t want him to dictate my life anymore,’” she said. “I’m happy, doing a career that I absolutely love, and helping other people through a variety of things going on with them. I’m not going to live in the past. You only live once, and I’d rather focus on doing the things that are exciting and adventurous.”

To reach a sexual assault advocate, call the Statewide Sexual Assault Crisis and Support Line at 800-871-7741, TTY 888-458-5599. This free and confidential 24-hour service is accessible from anywhere in Maine. Calls are automatically routed to the closest sexual violence service provider.

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