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From adversity to advocate

BY Samantha Oyler - soyler@chronicle-tribune.com

Matthew Peiffer was born in Nevada in 1997.

He and his two sisters were put up for adoption at a young age.

They were taken in by a family in Utah, and together, they all moved to Grant County, Indiana.

One of his parents was a socialite, running a number of local organizations.

Matthew said his parent’s prominence in the community helped cover up things going on at home.

Although the siblings didn’t realize it when they were young, they were being physically and sexually abused.

“Sometimes abusers try to put themselves in the public so they don’t feel as bad about what they’ve done,” he said.

Matthew said his parents would often become the leader of any group he was apart of, that way they could monitor him more closely.

Matthew said he started feeling uncomfortable around 8 years old and began reaching out for help.

He said even though he called 911 four times over the 13 years he lived with his adoptive family, the police didn’t look into it because his parents were active members of the community.

Living 10 miles from Marion, 5 miles from Van Buren and being homeschooled, Matthew and his sisters didn’t have many opportunities to contact someone outside of their home.

Matthew said he would try to make it look like someone broke into his father’s car, deflating the tires and messing up the inside, so that police would have to come to the house.

When the family did go into town, it was often for doctors’ appointments.

Matthew said his adoptive parents would take them to numerous doctors in an attempt to get them diagnosed with problems and collect disability payments.

Matthew was diagnosed with mild mental retardation as a result.

It wasn’t until 2013 that, during a trip to town, Matthew’s younger sister, Emily, ran to CSA to get help.

“That was the worst mistake (my parents) made,” Matthew said.

The three were taking acting classes there and Emily had grown to trust an adult who worked there.

Then-prosecutor Jim Luttrull previously said the abuse reported was not sexual in nature, but sexual molestation was uncovered during the initial investigation.

Their father, Loren Peiffer, was sentenced to 22 years in prison for child molestation as a result, according to court records.

Matthew said he and his sisters were placed in foster care and eventually separated, with Matthew going to eight homes in the span of two years.

He said seven of those eight homes no longer have their licenses due to uncovered abuse.

Now, Matthew, age 20, is a social work major at Ball State and an advocate for victims of child abuse.

While Matthew said he uses advocating as a coping mechanism, as well as counseling, others have a harder time coping.

Emily died by suicide in 2016, only a month after she turned 18.

“Thirteen years is a lot of trauma,” Matthew said. “... I understand why she did it. I understand the pain.”

But Matthew sees his sister as a hero.

“... I love her. She saved us, and I’m proud of her,” Matthew said.

Matthew was inspired by his sister to really begin advocating.

He has helped create six bills to better protect children in foster care and victims of abuse.

When he’s not in classes, he helps tackle problems most kids in foster care face, like problems with education.

“We move around a lot so we get lost in terms of education,” Matthew said.

According to the “Fostering Success in Education: National Factsheet on the Educational Outcomes of Children in Foster Care,” only about 10 percent of people formerly in foster care attain a bachelor’s degree.

Matthew said the number is closer to 3 percent.

He also recently proposed a bill that would have the Department of Child Services check on adopted children at ages 5, 10 and 15 in order to hold adoptive parents more accountable.

While Matthew has worked with professionals to look for signs of abuse and ways to connect with foster children, he’d like to advocate on a national level.

“That’s what moves me,” he said.

Matthew said there are countless red flags people should look out for when it comes to abuse.

He said food hoarding is a major indicator, as children are in survival mode and will get food however they can.

Other indicators include asking for permission for everything, parents who constantly hover around or monitor their children and parents who often cancel appointments involving their children.

“Never take anything anybody says at face value,” Matthew said.

Above all else, Matthew encourages people to talk and listen to children.

He said building a trusting relationship with a child can make all the difference.

Editor’s note: If you know anyone suffering from abuse, or if you have thoughts of suicide or know anybody having suicidal thoughts, please call the following numbers: Indiana’s abuse hotline is 1-800-800-5556. The national sexual assault hotline is 1-800-656-4673. The national suicide prevention hotline is 1-800-273-8255.