Evy Poumpouras, Ageless
TV Correspondent and Former Secret Service Special Agent
One of only five women to have won the United States Secret Service Medal Of Valor, Evy Poumpouras is a true renegade. “Even when you fail - which you will - it's not over until you stop trying,” the former Secret Service Agent remarks. It was with sheer determination that Poumpouras came to triumph in her career, and and now she devotes much of her time as an adjunct professor for The City University of New York instructing criminal justice to those that wish to follow in her incredible footsteps.
1. What made you choose this career path? What has been your greatest achievement?
I followed my heart in the career choices I made, both in becoming a Secret Service Agent and then a TV journalist later in life. Although people want to give you their advice sometimes it can confuse you. In the end, the only opinion that matters is mine because I have to live with the decisions I make. For years all I have ever heard and still hear is ‘You don't look like a Secret Service Agent.’ My response, ‘Thank you.’
2. What’s the biggest criticism/stereotype/judgement you’ve faced in your career?
Most people have a stereotype in their mind that women have to look and act masculine to be in law enforcement. I maintained my authenticity and embraced the fact that I was a woman. I learned that I could still kick ass and be a lady about it. I’m someone who takes risks in life and that has always thrown people off. I constantly need to grow as a human being and that requires change. For me, staying the same is staying afraid.
"For years all I have ever heard and still hear is ‘You don't look like a Secret Service Agent.’ My response, ‘Thank you.’"
"What I learned is that true strength lives in the mind and heart. It is about your will to succeed and push on even when you want to quit."
3. What was the hardest part of overcoming this negativity? Do you have an anecdote you can share?
I was initially told that I wasn't strong enough to be a Secret Service Agent simply because of what I looked like. I trained day and night, and ignored the noise around me.
Overtime I learned that you can't demand respect, it is something people choose to give. But you can command it in how you face adversity and carry yourself. We show the world who we are by what we repeatedly do.
4. How did you #SWAAYthenarrative in your own life or career?
There is a narrative that women aren’t strong or tough enough to be in law enforcement. I never bought into that, nor did I care to listen. I wasn’t going to let a stereotype dictate what I did with my life. I trained relentlessly, pushed myself and made sacrifices. What I learned is that true strength lives in the mind and heart. It is about your will to succeed and push on even when you want to quit. I swayed my narrative by believing in myself and tuning out the bullshit. I define who am, not others. After all, I wasn’t a female special agent. I was a special agent. Period!
5. What’s your number one piece of advice to women discouraged by preconceived notions and society’s limitations?
Don't listen to anyone because in the end you have to live with the decisions you make. Even when you fail, which you will, it's not over until you stop trying.
In 2016, I finally found my voice. I always thought I had one, especially as a business owner and mother of two vocal toddlers, but I had been wrong.
For more than 30 years, I had been struggling with the fear of being my true self and speaking my truth. Then the repressed memories of my childhood sexual abuse unraveled before me while raising my 3-year-old daughter, and my life has not been the same since.
Believe it or not, I am happy about that.
The journey for a survivor like me to feel even slightly comfortable sharing these words, without fear of being shamed or looked down upon, is a long and often lonely one. For all of the people out there in the shadows who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse, I dedicate this to you. You might never come out to talk about it and that's okay, but I am going to do so here and I hope that in doing so, I will open people's eyes to the long-term effects of abuse. As a survivor who is now fully conscious of her abuse, I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and, quite frankly, it may never go away.
It took me some time to accept that and I refuse to let it stop me from thriving in life; therefore, I strive to manage it (as do many others with PTSD) through various strategies I've learned and continue to learn through personal and group therapy. Over the years, various things have triggered my repressed memories and emotions of my abuse--from going to birthday parties and attending preschool tours to the Kavanaugh hearing and most recently, the"Leaving Neverland" documentary (I did not watch the latter, but read commentary about it).
These triggers often cause panic attacks. I was angry when I read Barbara Streisand's comments about the men who accused Michael Jackson of sexually abusing them, as detailed in the documentary. She was quoted as saying, "They both married and they both have children, so it didn't kill them." She later apologized for her comments. I was frustrated when one of the senators questioning Dr. Christine Blasey Ford (during the Kavanaugh hearing) responded snidely that Dr. Ford was still able to get her Ph.D. after her alleged assault--as if to imply she must be lying because she gained success in life.We survivors are screaming to the world, "You just don't get it!" So let me explain: It takes a great amount of resilience and fortitude to walk out into society every day knowing that at any moment an image, a sound, a color, a smell, or a child crying could ignite fear in us that brings us back to that moment of abuse, causing a chemical reaction that results in a panic attack.
So yes, despite enduring and repressing those awful moments in my early life during which I didn't understand what was happening to me or why, decades later I did get married; I did become a parent; I did start a business that I continue to run today; and I am still learning to navigate this "new normal." These milestones do not erase the trauma that I experienced. Society needs to open their eyes and realize that any triumph after something as ghastly as childhood abuse should be celebrated, not looked upon as evidence that perhaps the trauma "never happened" or "wasn't that bad. "When a survivor is speaking out about what happened to them, they are asking the world to join them on their journey to heal. We need love, we need to feel safe and we need society to learn the signs of abuse and how to prevent it so that we can protect the 1 out of 10 children who are being abused by the age of 18. When I state this statistic at events or in large groups, I often have at least one person come up to me after and confide that they too are a survivor and have kept it a secret. My vehicle for speaking out was through the novella The Survivors Club, which is the inspiration behind a TV pilot that my co-creator and I are pitching as a supernatural, mind-bending TV series. Acknowledging my abuse has empowered me to speak up on behalf of innocent children who do not have a voice and the adult survivors who are silent.
Remembering has helped me further understand my young adult challenges,past risky relationships, anger issues, buried fears, and my anxieties. I am determined to thrive and not hide behind these negative things as they have molded me into the strong person I am today.Here is my advice to those who wonder how to best support survivors of sexual abuse:Ask how we need support: Many survivors have a tough exterior, which means the people around them assume they never need help--we tend to be the caregivers for our friends and families. Learning to be vulnerable was new for me, so I realized I needed a check-off list of what loved ones should ask me afterI had a panic attack.
The list had questions like: "Do you need a hug," "How are you feeling," "Do you need time alone."Be patient with our PTSD". Family and close ones tend to ask when will the PTSD go away. It isn't a cold or a disease that requires a finite amount of drugs or treatment. There's no pill to make it miraculously disappear, but therapy helps manage it and some therapies have been known to help it go away. Mental Health America has a wealth of information on PTSD that can help you and survivors understand it better. Have compassion: When I was with friends at a preschool tour to learn more about its summer camp, I almost fainted because I couldn't stop worrying about my kids being around new teenagers and staff that might watch them go the bathroom or put on their bathing suit. After the tour, my friends said,"Nubia, you don't have to put your kids in this camp. They will be happy doing other things this summer."
In that moment, I realized how lucky I was to have friends who understood what I was going through and supported me. They showed me love and compassion, which made me feel safe and not judged.