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Woman pushes cart from Savannah to Atlanta to raise child abuse awareness
Milano taking flag
Rachel Milano takes a break at the Statesboro Church of God Tuesday. She is pushing her cart from Savannah to Atlanta to raise awareness about child abuse - photo by HOLLI DEAL BRAGG/staff
    She appeared outside of Brooklet Monday, pushing a wooden cart resembling a covered wagon, decorated with American flags. As each mile passed underneath her feet, Rachel Milano placed a flag in the ground along U.S. 80, hoping her actions would call attention to the reason she is pushing the half-ton wagon from Savanna to Atlanta.
    Milano's sister died from child abuse and neglect, and Milano herself  suffered years of abuse from a mentally ill mother as well as foster parents. Her mission, about which more can be learned from the Web site, is to change the way people deal with abuse and to put an end to children being abused.
    Milano was only six, and her brother only five, when their 7-year-old sister drowned in a neighbor's pool while all the adults who should have been supervising the young ones were drunk, she said. Her sister was a Red Cross swimmer, yet somehow drowned while she and a neighbor boy were playing.
    Already mentally ill, Milano's mother became worse, and beat her remaining children for any reason, she said. She also neglected them, and Milano and her brother ended up in a series of foster homes, where more abuse occurred, she said.
    Speaking while eating at a local restaurant Tuesday, Milano shared her tale.
    Her clothing came from donation bins, stolen in  the middle of the night. She gambled at school to win other students' lunches, which she hoarded. "It was squooshed and sometimes spoiled and made me sick, but it was food," she said of the school lunches she crammed into a lunch box and took home.
    When a postman asked about her bruises one day, she didn't lie, and when the knock on the door came, Milano knew it was a rescue. She was right, but it was no better than living with her mother; it was actually worse. Some of her many foster parents abused her, one foster father even sexually abused her, she said.
    She moved so many times, " I have never had a place to call home," she said. "I am 36 and have moved 39 times in my life."
    Milano was finally adopted after her mother received a " message" from a television evangelist that she should sign the adoption papers - something she had refused to do for years, she said.
Effects of being abused
    After becoming an adult, getting  married and having five children of her own, Milano realized the abuse she suffered as a child stayed with her. When her children needed bathing and changing, she felt guilty, as if it was wrong of her to touch the children, she said. "I had to tell myself it was OK to change a diaper, to bathe my child."
    When her children, especially one son, sought physical affection, she "freaked out," she said.
    "I had  to train myself" to be able to give affection and realize it was OK, she said.
    When her marriage failed after 12 years, Milano fell into a lifestyle that she felt was all she deserved. Prostitution, working in adult entertainment by acting out erotic poetry on stage, Milano lived out the abuse she had learned as a child. "I asked myself, 'what are my options?'"
    The she suffered cervical cancer, which was a result of early sexual abuse, she said. "Men have done this to me all my life since I was four years old."
    But when someone persuaded her to write her life story, she did so and came to the realization that she was worth more than the life she was living.
    The book - a trilogy called "The Mosaic," and a related documentary tells the tale, she said. Milano hopes one day she can sell her story and fund "the first national center for holistic abuse recovery," she said.
    The realization that she needed to work towards changing people's views towards child abuse changed her life. "I have to make my life worth having lived," she said.
    Milano wants people to do more than  teach children to report inappropriate behavior. She wants victims to  talk about what happened to them, seek counseling and be healed, thus helping end the cycle. Many abuse victims perpetuate the problem by becoming abusers themselves, she said.
    So, April 16 Milano set out to walk from Savannah to Atlanta, accepting donations in order to live and eat, accepting shelter at various houses and churches,, hoping to reach possibly thousands along the way to bring awareness to the evils and effects of childhood abuse.
    "This is my life - what I've decided to give my life to," she said. She's doing it for her sister and all other victims. "I'm going to give her love a voice."
    As Milano walked through Brooklet, she caught the attention of Sparrow Sines, who decided to help push the heavy cart from Brooklet to Statesboro.
    "I saw her on the news and again this morning," Sines said. "I don't have a penny to give her, but I said, maybe I can walk with her."
    Sines' granddaughter was abused by a relative, and Sines herself suffered abuse. "It's time we stopped hiding our family secrets and speak up. I'm not ashamed of what happened to me."
    Sines said she was amazed at Milano's mission. " I met an angel today," she said.
    "I get a little more rest tonight because of her help," Milano said. "She was my first walking partner."
    Hopefully others will take note as she pushes the cart to Atlanta, she said. "One in every three adults is a victim of some sort of abuse," she said. "The time for intervention is now."
    After spending the night with local resident Debbie Bonner, Milano picked up the cart she left at Statesboro Church of God and started walking again, headed for Portal.
    And for every mile she walks, she will place an American flag in  the soil in hopes someone will pay attention to her mission - to end child abuse, or at least reduce it significantly by educating victims so they don't repeat the cycle, she said.
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