Kathryn Bailey says she came forward publicly to help other victims of sexual abuse and she has already heard from several online

By Chris Harris
April 11, 2017 04:32 PM

For the first time in years, Kathryn Bailey is sleeping through the night again. Her appetite has returned and she is finally feeling optimistic about her future. Things have been much different since her older brother was sentenced to 32 years in prison for repeatedly raping her over a two-year-period beginning when she was 9.

“I feel incredible,” Kathryn tells PEOPLE Tuesday, less than a week after addressing her brother, James Bailey, in an upstate New York courtroom. “It’s not just me but my family as well, my boyfriend … it’s a united feeling of true happiness — like a euphoric feeling. I’ve finally gotten to the end of the tunnel, and the support I’ve been getting has helped phenomenally.”

On Thursday, Kathryn, 23, delivered a stirring statement at her brother’s sentencing, telling James, 31, for the first time, how his years of sexual abuse left an indelible imprint on her. The abuse stopped when she was 12. Last month, James was convicted of two felony counts of repeated sex abuse of a child.

Kathryn says she came forward publicly to help other victims of sexual abuse and she has already heard from several online. They have told her that seeing her stand up to her brother last week has filled them with courage.

“I feel so amazing I’ve been able to do that for others,” Kathryn explains. “Before the sentencing, I didn’t sleep. I had a hard time eating and maintaining a healthy diet. After the case, I can eat now, I can sleep … I feel relaxed. The removal of that weight from my life feels incredible. We feel like we’ve gotten closure and that’s what we needed.”

Kathryn Bailey

For years after the abuse, Kathryn suffered from seizures she attributes to the unresolved stress stemming from her experience. She tells PEOPLE she has not had a seizure for more than a year now, having learned methods to keep her anxiety at bay.

According to court documents, James was a teenager when his parents entrusted him with his younger sister’s care; their mother worked long hours as a nurse, and their father’s occupation required regular travel. For years after the abuse, Kathryn suppressed her memories, never speaking about them to anyone. But in 2013, when the family disowned James for his drug abuse, Kathryn decided to come forward.

James Bailey is appealing his conviction, claiming he was on drugs during his confession to police.

Kathryn told her brother last week she wants nothing more to do with him, and a judge signed off on an order of protection barring him from contacting her for the next four decades.

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“It took 10 years for me to process the physical issues I had as well as the emotional issues I was dealing with and after I was able to speak, and say what I finally wanted to say, it helped bring me closure. I could finally speak my voice and say to him what I wanted to say.”

Kathryn says things began to feel differently for her after the guilty verdict was delivered last month.

“The initial relief I had after the guilty verdict … it was instantaneous,” she says. “I broke down and just sobbed. Everything sort of faded away. That weight just disappeared. I was able to breathe again. I felt like myself again, and I thought I had lost myself so long ago.”

Kathryn, a criminology major at the State University of New York at Cortland who is weeks away from graduation, tells PEOPLE she would “disassociate” during the times her brother abused her, removing herself mentally from the trauma of the moment.

“I felt like I could mentally leave my body,” she explains. “My brain was so traumatized, so to prevent any more harm, I pulled myself away from it. I faded away. I would rather not feel anything than experience what was going on, which caused me a lot of intimacy issues later on in life.”

The experience of seeing her brother tried and convicted has inspired Kathryn in her career pursuits, she says. Rather than pursue a position as a police officer, she wants to serve as an advocate for child victims of sex crimes.

“The tremendous amount of support I’ve received from my parents, who got me the help that I needed, and my boyfriend, who has been so understanding with the trauma and the pain I had to go through … this is the first healthy relationship I have ever had. My siblings have been fantastic; it is their brother too, so I love them so dearly for standing by me and believing me. I’m just so happy.”