ASHEVILLE — After a 22-year career telling other people’s stories as a journalist, Knight Chamberlain, a former reporter for The Robesonian, has put his own story on paper.
In his first published book, “Sidestepping the Pit,” Chamberlain tells how he was raped by a stranger 50 years earlier and how he managed to overcome that trauma, eventually forgiving his attacker.
Chamberlain started working at The Robesonian as a college intern in 1978 and continued working on and off at the paper until 2009. His work has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the News & Observer, the Charlotte Observer and The Associated Press.
Chamberlain says writing “Sidestepping the Pit” helped him come to terms with what happened to him as a 9-year-old in Brevard, and how, with the help of loved ones, he was able to move past the experience. Looking back, Chamberlain feels fortunate for how he fared in the years since a mysterious man forced him into the woods with the promise of helping him earn a quick five bucks doing chores at a cousin’s garage.
“After it happened and I became an adult, anecdotally, I would read about people who had suffered these kinds of attacks and how it was so devastating. They suffered with drugs, alcohol, post traumatic stress, depression, they couldn’t form healthy relationships, they dealt with a lot of shame,” he said.
“Sidestepping the Pit” is Chamberlain’s second book. The first, about a detective story, wasn’t published.
“They say if you’re angry with someone you should write a letter to them and burn it,” Chamberlain said. ” … I didn’t get that book published but it was cathartic. Thirty-three years later I’d kind of gotten rid of this sense of outrage over what happened to me in a constructive way.”
Chamberlain’s time in Robeson County was also integral to his ability to overcome the assault. After working at The Robesonian, he joined the Robeson County Partnership for Children, where he met with the Center for Child and Family Health, which wanted to establish a local office to address child abuse.
“I don’t know what it was but I just raised my hand and said, ‘I was a victim, this happened to me when I was 9 years old. I’d really like to tell my story to raise awareness’,” he said.
Although some friends and relatives knew what had happened, it was the first time Chamberlain had shared his story with strangers. In his new mission, he would go in front of commissioners and council members — the same officials he had covered as a reporter — and explain what he had been through and how they could save other children from the same trauma.
“What I used as motivation was thinking about children,” he said. “Even as I was speaking I was thinking somewhere in Robeson County, there is a child cowering in his bedroom or her bedroom hearing those footsteps coming down the hall and knowing what they would be subjected to.”
Chamberlain was prompted to write his book when news broke that former Pennsylvania State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was being convicted on 45 child sex abuse charges.
“It’s starting to come out now that a lot of men have been sexually assaulted,” he said, citing the Oscar-winning film, “Spotlight.”
Chamberlain said he hopes his book can help even one person find closure and forgiveness and realize they don’t need to “be afraid of life.” He also hopes his portrayal of his mother can serve as a guide for the families of sexual assault victims.
“She didn’t imprint on me that the world was a dangerous and frightening place,” he said. ” … If she had not been that way, I think things would have been so different.”
Chamberlain’s next book will likely take a lighter tone; he’s kicking around a “nostalgic trilogy” on the best summers of his young life.
“Sidestepping the Pit” is available via GratefulSteps.org and Amazon.
Sarah Willets can be reached at 910-816-1974 or on Twitter @Sarah_Willets.