Twenty years later, the memories still haunt Cheryl Burke. The memories of the father figure tasked with babysitting her, but who instead sexually abused her. Of the day she had to testify in court against him. And the physically and emotionally abusive relationships that followed.
Burke shared this story for a TLC Special called Breaking the Silence, which aired Sunday and featured five abuse survivors, Hollywood Life reported. Cheryl was one of them, who has spoken briefly about past abuse — specifically at the hands of past boyfriends — in a 2011 book Dancing Lessons, ABC News added.
But now, she’s revealed the childhood trauma that led her to those abusive relationships.
When she was a young child, Cheryl’s parents divorced and her father moved to Thailand. Soon after, her mother remarried. At one point, she asked a neighbor, a man in his 60s, to watch Burke, who at that point was in kindergarten. Then the abuse began, People added.
“He would have me come sit next to him and make him feel comfortable because sometimes he would feel lonely,” Burke said, she but didn’t name the man responsible for the abuse.
“He would cuddle me. He would make me watch pornographic videos. He was kind of like that fatherly figure – I think he knew my weakness, that I was very insecure. He knew that no one was ever around… I couldn’t speak up for myself. It was hard for me to say no. In a weird way, it was like I didn’t want to hurt him.”
It all ended when the man was caught when he tried to molest one of Cheryl’s friends. A trial followed, and when Cheryl was only 6, she had to testify. Her brave act sent the man to prison for 20 years.
“My mom was there holding my hand, I was shaking and there was my molester right in front of me,” she recalled. “It was so terrifying to see him face to face. I remember taking a lot of breaks because I would just break down.”
But her suffering wasn’t over. As a result of the abuse she experienced as a child, Cheryl found herself in abusive relationships as an adult. It wasn’t until dance entered her life that Burke said she finally began to heal. She called it “my escape from reality”; it rebuilt her confidence and helped her to find happiness without relying on someone else.
Still, 20 years later at age 31, the former Dancing with the Stars pro dancer has hard times.
“I still go through times when I’m down,” Burke said. “I don’t feel like I’m that strong woman that people think I am today… I’m only human, and sometimes the stuff I’ve gone through, I think about all the time, and it just brings me back.”
“I’m proof that you can actually move on from this.”
[Photo Courtesy Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images]