Woman Confronts Abuser on Camera

Something happened to Celesta Davis when she was 5 years old that made her feel like a victim all her life -- distrustful, depressed and powerless to move beyond the pain.

Then one day she heard news about a man from her troubled past.

"I was driving with a friend, and I heard it on the news, on the radio," Celesta told "Primetime." "His son had been ... arrested for 16 counts of molesting kids."

That news made her remember a man who we will identify as "Bill," a close friend of her family when Celesta was growing up. He's also the man who she says sexually molested her and her sister 25 years ago.

Hearing about Bill's son triggered Celesta's worst fears -- that there were other victims.

"I immediately called my sister and my mom, and we started talking about it and we knew we had to do something," she said.

They had talked about confronting Bill before, but as far as pressing criminal charges, the statute of limitations had run out.

After hearing about Bill's son, Celesta, her sister, Karen, and mom, Ellen, convened a family meeting.

"I think honestly we all want to know, is he still a predator? So we can protect other people," Karen said.

That night, the women decided on a plan, one that Celesta began videotaping from that moment on.

Can't 'Get Over It'

Before confronting her abuser, Celesta realized it could be psychologically traumatic, and so visited a therapist and recounted the initial abuse.

"We were at a family party," she recalled. "I guess it was right after I'd turned 5 and everyone was having a barbecue in the backyard. And, um, and then I remember [Bill] just saying he had something to show me and taking me to the house and um, took me into their bedroom, and um, forced me to perform oral sex on him. And then that was it."

It was only one instance of abuse but experts say once is enough to cause lifelong trauma. People have told her she should "just get over it."

"People do and I think I said that to myself a lot, I've said, you should just get over this ... it's not that big a deal," Celesta said. "And yet, it's impacted every aspect of my life and you know, changed everything. ... I mean, I never knew anything but what this man had taught me about my own sexuality. That was one of the first things I remember in my whole life."

And there was more. After the abuse happened, Celesta told her mother and father what had happened. They believed her, but incredibly, they didn't end the friendship with Bill. Celesta and her sister had to go on seeing the man who abused them.

Celesta and Karen have wondered many times why their parents allowed that. In part, they blame the times.

As Karen said to her mother in a therapy session, "I think there was a dynamic between you and dad and the decade of the '70s that was saying, just keep going. Pretend like nothing happened. Act like everything's normal and then maybe it will be. And you know that went along with your protective instincts, so that was the thing to do."

Celesta and Karen are more angry with their father, who died several years ago and who always refused ever to talk to them about the abuse.

Celesta said her mother's remorse is clear. "It's hard to explain the regret that I see in her," she said. "She's a victim, too, in a way. You know this was her very good friend that betrayed her trust."

The three women had to lean on each other to get through the emotional ups and downs of the coming confrontation.

Celesta, especially, was going into "emotional overload," and the video camera caught her anguish. Her sister, Karen, who is married and has her own family, was there to help calm her down.

"This is the biggest standing up that anyone could do for another person," Celesta told her sister. "There's no one else that could stand up with me."

Sick of Being Scared

Finally, the day came when Celesta went to confront her abuser.

She, Karen and Ellen got Bill's address from a mutual friend. On advice from their therapist, they had written letters to Bill they could leave at his apartment in case he wasn't home or didn't answer the door.

Nervously, they drove to the apartment complex. Celesta knocked on the door but he didn't answer. They waited outside for several hours, until Celesta finally decided to call him.

When he picked up the phone, Celesta felt a moment of panic, unsure she could go through with it.

Karen tried to reassure her: "He's not a monster, he's just a broken down, old, sick man."

Celesta tried a couple of practice runs of what she would say.

"We stop being victims when we act, when we do something," Karen said. "And so this is all we can do and we're doing it."

The moment when Celesta confronted Bill was tense, made more awkward because she had a cameraman with her.

"For heaven sakes," Bill said when he answered the door. "Unbelievable."

It had been years since they had seen each other, and Bill took her to a common room in the building.

Finally, Celesta said, "Do you know what I'm going to talk to you about?"

Bill said yes. "Well, you're going to talk about sexual abuse, and what I can do to help you with that."

An Abuser Confesses

The words poured out of Celesta when she finally got to say what she's been feeling for so long.

"I have spent the last 25 years wondering what I do as a woman with that information," she told her abuser. "I feel like you betrayed me, you betrayed my family, you betrayed my father. I felt betrayed by my father. ... You've never come to me and said you're sorry. And you know what? It's not OK. And I struggle with relationships, and I fight to trust anyone, and I just feel like I need to give that back to you because I am sick of being scared."

Bill seemed unsure how to respond. "Did you talk to your mom about that?" he asked.

Celesta told him that she had, and in fact, her mother and Karen were outside and would like to talk to him as well. Surprisingly, Bill agreed.

Ellen told her former friend, "I wanna hear from your own lips what you did to these girls."

Bill said he wouldn't do that, unless the camera was turned off.

With the audio still running, Bill finally confessed. "OK, uh, Celesta, you were very young," he said. "I remember you were outside in our backyard. You were dancing. You were playing in a pool.

"I had you come in the house and then I took you into our bathroom. And I had you touch me, sexually. You had your bathing suit on. I then took you into our bedroom and I took my bathing suit down and I put my penis in your mouth.

"I then took your bathing suit, moved it aside and kissed, or touched your vagina. I lied to your mother at the time. Your mother asked me if I had done that and I said no. But I did. And then, that was that."

Bill then told Karen that he also abused her, by putting her hand on his penis. "That's the only time that I ever abused you. Honestly ... I never did it again."

Karen asked him who else he abused, but Bill refused to say. "I can't tell you that," he said. "That's none of your business."

Later, on tape again, Bill tried to explain the abuse by saying he was a virgin when he got married and was "unprepared for the sexuality of children."

"Let's put it that way," he said. "That people who molest take what is normally a very normal, free going, very natural thing and corrupt it."

He compared himself to a "drunk" who can't have even a drop of alcohol.

They were very surprised Bill admitted as much as he did, and as they left, something else unexpected happened -- Celesta's mother embraced the man who molested her daughters.

"I just wish all this hadn't happened," she told him. "I love the good things about you."

Finding Her Voice

Celesta was overwhelmed by mixed emotion and began crying. Karen, on the other hand, remained calm and detached.

Celesta even wished the man good luck. "I really hope the best for you. I really do."

"Celesta, I can't tell you what I would do to take those things back," Bill said. "I hope the good things that I did before and the good things I did afterwards would count for something."

Though Karen warned her sister not to get too "sympathetic," there remained some ambivalence in Celesta's feelings for the now old man.

"It's scary," Celesta said. "How can someone be so normal and so awful at the same time? And we're really all normal and awful at the same time, so you can't hate or love anyone because everyone's so ambiguous. I mean, I know that's not true, but you know what I'm saying?"

But in confronting her abuser, Celesta was able to let go of some of the rage and pain she had carried around for 25 years.

"It's like a toxic release," she said. "Everything that had been dumped inside of and everything I'd been holding inside of me psychologically was suddenly coming out."

But her story didn't end there.

Celesta focused her pain and anger into producing a documentary based on her experience called "Awful Normal," which she has shown at film festivals around the world. The film has won some awards, but more importantly, she said, it helped educate people and heal some hearts.

Celesta said that after screenings, she's often mobbed by people who are moved to talk about their own experiences -- some for the first time.

"There's a power in knowing that you're not alone, that you can find your voice, that you can heal, that there's more out there for you," Celesta said. "You don't have to define yourself by being a victim. That is an important message."

Though Celesta said that confronting Bill and making the film doesn't "fix" what happened to her, it has changed her perspective of it.

"It's totally different now, because I'm empowered to use my voice to do something for myself; I'm no longer silenced," she said. "And that makes all of the difference. It changed my life. It has changed my life entirely for the better."

To find out more about Celesta Davis' documentary "Awful Normal," you can visit her Web site www.awfulnormal.com.