Thursday, July 02, 2015

“I was an abused child and I didn’t really know it,” said Berg, who is now 18. “I always thought that’s what’s normal. I did not realize that it was not okay.”

Samantha Berg, teen beauty queen, has serious message

Overcame abuse, now she wants to help others 

Samantha Berg, Miss Teen Massachusetts International
Samantha Berg, Miss Teen Massachusetts International

 Miss Teen Massachusetts International, Samantha Berg, is more than just a pretty face. The recent Newton South High School graduate is using the pageant world as a platform to promote her cause – helping raise awareness of child abuse. The issue is a personal one for Berg, who was sexually abused by her father from the time she was about three years old until she was 16.

“I was an abused child and I didn’t really know it,” said Berg, who is now 18. “I always thought that’s what’s normal. I did not realize that it was not okay.”

She found comfort in the Jewish community. Berg, who belongs to Temple Beth Avodah in Newton and attends a midrasha (Torah class for women) every week, turned to Jewish Family & Children’s Service’s ( JF&CS) Journey to Safety program to seek counseling and find a way to put a stop to the abuse. “From the outside, we looked like a big, happy family,” she said. “That’s not what it was like [in reality].”

Now she wants to share her story and help other children who are going through a similar struggle. “I wanted to take a stand against abuse and pageants were a way to do that,” she said. “I knew if I could win, I’d have a voice.”

At first, Berg thought beauty contests would be like they are portrayed on the reality TV show “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.” But to her surprise, “Pageants are nothing like that,” she said. “I thought it was about girls making each other feel bad and that’s not true. We’re all so supportive of each other.” Being a Jewish Miss Teen Massachusetts is not easy. Most other contestants are of different faiths and it is customary to pray before various events. Berg said that she usually joins in, but davens in a Jewish way. “When we have a moment to pray, I do pray because I am so lucky to be where I am and I’m so thankful for it.” Her next pageant is Miss Teen International in July.

Berg, who will attend High Point University in North Carolina in the fall, where she will study special education, is spending her summer making appearances at various events as Miss Teen Massachusetts International. Last week, she hosted an event at Tobey Grey, a clothing store, where 10 percent of the proceeds went toward JF&CS Teen Safe, a program that works to prevent teen dating abuse in the Jewish community. The reason the event centered on clothing was to draw attention to the fact that too often, victims get blamed for bringing on the sexual abuse with what they wear.

She also wanted to give back to the organization that helped her. “JF&CS made me feel like I wasn’t alone,” Berg said. “Through it all I felt so alone, and that it’s only happening to me, and ‘ Why me?’” Through Journey to Safety and Teen Safe programs, she met other girls and women in similar situations. She learned about the prevalence of child abuse. According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, one in five girls is a victim of child sexual abuse.

“Facts like that are so important,” Berg said.

In counseling, she also found out that rape and abuse are not often committed by strangers and these acts do not take the violent form that is often portrayed on TV. “When I thought of abuse, I thought it was about kicking and screaming, but that’s not what it is,” she said. “All my abuse came from someone I trusted so much and knew so well. When I was around him, I didn’t have my guard up.”

Berg was afraid of the family breaking apart, but she eventually worked up the courage to tell her mother. Her parents are currently going through a divorce and Berg took out a restraining order against her father.

For her senior year project, Berg worked together with JF&CS, conducting interviews with the counseling staff on ways to raise awareness of child abuse. “It was empowering because they are the people who helped me and I got to ask them how I can help,” she said.

To contact Samantha Berg for an appearance, please email samantharachael13@gmail.com.