Why This Teen Stopped Hiding Her Dad's Abuse | KUOW News and Information

Why This Teen Stopped Hiding Her Dad's Abuse

Jan 2, 2015

As a senior at Lake Stevens High School, Ivy Jacobsen appeared confident. Blonde, popular, and a varsity athlete, her peers labeled her as the perfect girl next door. But Jacobsen said there was a time when she wasn't so confident. 

"I was very insecure. I had many friends but I was still really shy," Jacobsen said. "I wasn't really comfortable with who I was, body-wise."

During middle school, Jacobsen's classmates picked on her. One of her former teachers, Larry Palmer, remembers how different she was from other kids. "She was a little bit more naive. You got the impression that she'd had a very sheltered life," he said.

As a child, Jacobsen spent a lot of time with her father. He taught her how to cook, clean, ski, snowboard and play basketball, her favorite sport.

Their apparent bond masked a secret that haunted Jacobsen for years. She was only allowed to have certain numbers on her cell phone. She couldn't have an email account, and she couldn't use the Internet.

Her wardrobe was even dictated by her father. She wasn't allowed to wear tight jeans, or anything "girly." When she had to dress up for basketball events, Jacobsen said her dad would "have to be with" her at the store. "I'd have to try on every article of clothing and get his approval. It was horrid because I couldn't ever wear what I wanted to wear," she said.

But Jacobsen acted like everything was normal. "I was roleplaying," she said. "I was hiding behind a story, hiding behind what my dad was doing to me."

What Jacobsen's father was doing was sexually abusing her, from the time she was in the sixth grade. The abuse went on for five years, until Jacobsen told her best friend during her sophomore year.

Ivy Jacobsen.
Credit Courtesy of Ivy Jacobsen

The abuse affected every part of Jacobsen's life, including what she loved most -- the thing that bonded her and her father the most -- basketball.

"In order for me to get new basketball shoes, I'd have to do certain things for him, sexually," Jacobsen said.  

Jenifer Jacobsen, her mother, wrote by email that she didn't know her daughter was being sexually abused.

"For a long time, Ivy was controlled by her dad," she said in an email. " I did not know that this was happening, so I'm sure you could imagine how I felt.  She felt freedom for the first time. I allowed her to be who she wanted to be, to act like a kid and a teenager. She was able to dress in her style, wear makeup and style her hair.  I did not realize how much control he had."  

Her ex-husband kept mother and daughter apart. The two couldn't even do things like grocery shopping together.

The abuse went on until one day during sophomore year, when Jacobsen told her best friend.

A few days after that conversation with her friend, Jacobsen's dad was arrested. Jacobsen was terrified that coming forward would tear her family apart, but she knew she was doing the right thing.

Her story is uncommon: 86 percent of sexually abused children don't report their abuse.

Jacobsen went on to do something unimaginable, yet necessary for her freedom: testify against her father in court.

When Jacobsen saw her father on the stand, she "literally felt naked." And she would have to get used to that feeling of intense vulnerability. She went on to testify against her father two more times over 18 months during her sophomore and junior years of high school.

In July 2013, after three separate trials, Jacobsen's father was convicted of rape of a child and child molestation. He's currently serving 16 years in prison. 

After the last trial, Jacobsen's process of rebuilding her life began. "My main thing was to get my body back," she recalled. "I realized, wow, I can go shopping! I can wear what I want to wear. I can be me.'"

"Junior and senior year was totally about me becoming Ivy," she said.

Soon Jacobsen was getting ready to graduate from Lake Stevens High School. Of 500 students in her graduating class, she was selected as one of the speakers for graduation.

She started writing her graduation speech about pursuing and achieving dreams, but then realized it was too ordinary. She threw the speech away. She knew it wasn't what she was supposed to write.

She had already told her close friends about her past, but there were going to be 6,000 people at graduation. When the big day came Jacobsen was nervous, because she was about to tell all those people what happened to her. 

In Jacobsen's speech, she started talking about a girl she knew:

"There was this girl. She was manipulated at a young age. She could only wear certain things to school, and could only talk to particular people.

"She was socially and culturally inept. Also, behind the scenes, her father had started to rape her when she was in the sixth grade.

"She did not know that what he was doing was wrong. Last July 15, her father was finally put into prison.

"Where is this girl now? She is standing before all of you. I am that girl."

Today, Jacobsen is working three jobs and taking online classes through Everett Community College. She has moved into a place of her own. She's writing a book about her experience. She's making her own decisions based on what she wants.

Jacobsen's mother, Jenifer Jacobsen, said that if her daughter hadn't come forward, they'd still be in the same awful situation today. "She's an inspiration to many, but she is truly my hero."

Ed. note: As a reader pointed out, the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center provides a 24-Hour Resource Line:  888-99-VOICE.

KUOW's RadioActive's Noel Gasca won a 2016 Gracie Award for this story in the portrait category.

RadioActive is KUOW's program for high school students. This story was produced in RadioActive’s Fall Workshop in partnership with the Tukwila Community CenterListen to RadioActive stories, subscribe to the RadioActive podcast and stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter