April 04, 2011 12:00 PM

ANNE LEE, 52

Charleston, S.C.

It’s been nearly 50 years, but Anne Lee still remembers the dread she felt at her family’s annual reunion in Florida. From the time she was 4, a trusted great-uncle began slipping into her bedroom and molesting her. “It was the beginning of years of abuse by someone I loved,” says Lee. “I didn’t know where to turn.”

Overwhelmed with shame, Lee suffered in silence for decades. But when her daughter Ansley turned 4 in 1997, Lee realized it was time to confront the pain of her past. “It hit me like a ton of bricks,” she says. “I knew I had to do something.” Quitting her marketing job, she raised $100,000 from friends and local businesses to launch Darkness to Light (darkness2light.org), a nonprofit devoted to preventing sexual abuse of children. Since 2000, some 250,000 people-teachers, police officers, coaches-nationwide have participated in the training program, which is also available online, learning how to recognize signs of abuse. “I had a student who suddenly became withdrawn,” says one Charleston kindergarten teacher. “Because of the training, I discovered her stepfather was molesting her. She’s now safe-and he’s in jail.”

Though Lee’s abuser was never punished, she finds solace knowing that more kids are now protected. “I know what the abuse did to me,” says Lee, now married to her third husband. “We can’t let it happen to other children.”

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