Talking about child sexual abuse with an abuse survivor is a difficult and emotional conversation.
Matt Morgan knows the distress of these conversations all too well. It was difficult for him to tell his friends and family about the abuse he suffered at the hands of his uncle. He was particularly uncomfortable going public with the story after filing a lawsuit four years ago.
But perhaps the most painful conversation was the one he had with himself.
Morgan said he repressed what happened for more than 30 years. After the lawsuit, he wanted to help other victims find justice. He also wanted to help law enforcement and prosecutors do a better job of identifying and bringing abusers to justice.
Building Hope Today is the result of those desires. The nonprofit organization aims to raise awareness of the warning signs of sexual abuse against children. In the three years since its founding, the organization has worked with law enforcement and companies nationwide, receiving requests from the likes of Microsoft and the FBI.
The Post Register interviewed Morgan, his wife Lynne Morgan, and Building Hope Today board members Daniel Clark, the Bonneville County prosecutor, and Thomas Tueller, a local psychologist.
Morgan shares his story in the hope other victims will learn they do not have to tolerate the kind of abuse he suffered.
Building Hope Today is the Morgans’ brainchild. They got the nonprofit off the ground with the savings they had built through their company, Morgan Construction, and donations.
The organization has sent speakers across the country, and even internationally, to teach about how to better identify and prosecute child sexual abuse.
“I think what we do right here at home can help a lot of adults who are out there like me, who are suffering,” Morgan said.
Last year, Morgan went with Clark to Florida for a conference sponsored by tech giant Microsoft to help the tech company identify how to spot potential sexual predators who may use technology to target children.
One in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before they reach adulthood, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. Lynne Morgan estimates that adds up to nearly 40 million Americans who have been abused.
Tueller joined the organization while working with Morgan as his counselor.
“I told him he’s probably one of the only victims I’ve ever treated who has the resources to go forward (with a nonprofit),” Tueller said. “We started talking about, ‘If we do this, why are we doing this?’
“We decided if we could just help one child it will be worth all the money.”
During trips, Building for Hope raises awareness about grooming techniques used by abusers that may be subtle and easy to dismiss. Its team members also help law enforcement and prosecutors understand what may be going through a victim’s mind.
“(What) these entities are requesting is to bring this training to them,” Lynne Morgan said.
For Lynne Morgan, one of her major goals was to teach victims to be their own voice. She encourages families not to pressure children to hug relatives, which can make some children uncomfortable. Most abuse victims are known to the family, she said, and “stranger danger” cases make up a fraction of the abuse.
During the Microsoft-hosted education trip, other attendees, including FBI agents, asked for a repeat of Building for Hope’s presentation. Lynne Morgan said the agents were not all aware of the signs of grooming and wanted further training.
Morgan said he felt ashamed for being a victim. Like several survivors, he saw the sexual abuse as his own fault, a belief often reinforced by the abuser during the grooming process.
“There’s a shame, a confusion, a very deep, dark shame, different than any shame I think a person can go through,” Morgan said.
After the Post Register published a 2015 article about the lawsuit Morgan filed against his uncle, he received a call from his former middle school teacher. The teacher told him she now understood his behavior in her classroom.
Morgan looks back at that conversation with a mixture of frustration and understanding. He said he appreciates that when he was a student in the 1970s, child sexual abuse was talked about far less, and teachers were far less likely to be educated on the warning signs among students.
However, he also wondered what a difference the teacher may have made in his life if she had spoken up.
“No one ever asked what was wrong,” Morgan said. He now looks back at some of his former classmates and wonders if they also were victims of sexual abuse.
Two of the largest systemic sex abuse scandals of the last 20 years have involved the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts of America. Both involved leaders in the organizations moving alleged abusers to different areas rather than removing them from positions of power.
Morgan said he does not want either organization to be defined by the abuse a few members inflicted, but Building Hope Today has worked with religious and educational institutions on how to respond to abuse.
One of the goals Morgan and Clark mentioned for Building Hope Today is training adults to talk to children so they feel comfortable reporting abuse sooner rather than later. Clark said only one in 64 acts of sexual abuse against a child ends with the abuser being convicted of a crime. Most victims, 73 percent, don’t report the abuse until a year or more after it happened.
Both Clark and Tueller said they’ve seen more victims coming forward as discussions of child sex abuse become commonplace.
Though the conversations often leave Morgan drained and upset, he said he felt a responsibility to share his story so other children know they do not have to endure and tolerate abuse.
“If I could have one wish, it would be for no child to ever have to go through something like this again,” Morgan said.