Imagine your child, grandchild, niece, or nephew sharing a secret that a person you trust has sexually abused them.
“Those three words, ‘someone touched me’, turns your whole world upside down,” said Sharon De Boer, executive director of the Child Advocacy Centers in Rutherford and Cannon Counties. “Child sexual abuse is every parent and grandparent’s worst nightmare.”
Yet in the midst of the devastation, parents and grandparents reach out to the Child Advocacy Center and the Child Protective Investigative Team for help for their children. In the last 13 years, the Child Advocacy Center has helped over 12,500 individuals in Rutherford and Cannon Counties—including parents, grandparents, and children.
“The national statistic is that 1 in 10 children will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday,” said Jennifer Gamble, Family Services Coordinator at the Child Advocacy Center, “When you think of your child’s school classroom, if there are 20 children in the class that means that two of those children will be sexually abused.”
Every day, Gamble listens to parents and grandparents share their pain of having a child who has been sexually abused. Gamble connects them to community resources, such as the Guidance Center and private therapists for counseling for their child and Our Kids Clinic for forensic medical exams.
She helps some parents who not only have a child being abused, but are an abuse victim themselves, to be referred to the Domestic Violence Program. She refers parents who were sexually abused as a child and never told anyone, to therapists who help adult survivors of child sexual abuse.
Gamble shares information with families about the Child Sexual Abuse Children’s Groups and the Non-Offending Parents groups.
“The child sexual abuse children’s groups are a wonderful opportunity for children to heal,” Gamble said.
De Boer said, “A child feels like they are the only child in the world that this horrible thing has happened to. When they walk into the children’s group they realize that they are not alone. There are other children who have been abused too. Children in the group are in different stages of the healing process and that gives the child hope that they too will heal from the trauma and victimization of the abuse.”
“When your child has been sexually abused, it is devastating for parents and grandparents,” De Boer said. “Most parents had no clue it was happening. They feel embarrassed and ashamed that their child was abused. They feel betrayed by the person who harmed their child.”
“Parents are devastated that their precious child, the person they love the most in their lives, has had their innocence shattered.”
The non-offending parents’ groups give the parents an opportunity to meet other parents who are having the same experience, share their pain, and learn coping skills for themselves and their children.
“My job is to listen to children,” said Samantha Richardson, the Child Advocacy Center Forensic Interviewer. While Gamble is talking to the parents and grandparents, Richardson listens to children describe the most horrific thing that could ever happen to a child — child rape.
Richardson has a degree from MTSU in child development. She knows exactly what questions a child has the ability to answer based on their developmental age. Richardson has been extensively trained how to listen to children and how to ask questions in a non-leading way.
A law enforcement detective and a Department of Children’s Services case manager are in the next room observing the forensic interview. Richardson takes a break during the interview and the detective and case manager field her additional questions that they need answered as part of the investigation.
Department of Children’s Services gives the Drug Endangered Children Coordinator, Amanda Pruitt, approximately 50 new drug endangered children cases per month. Pruitt assists parents who want to stop using drugs by doing alcohol and drug counseling, making referrals to alcohol and drug treatment centers, relapse prevention, communication and parenting skills education, anger management, and stress management. She helps children learn new skills to cope with their family member with addiction issues.
Pruitt said, “Many parents cannot get off drugs alone. They need help to do it. The Child Advocacy Center is here to help.”
For more information, please contact the Child Advocacy Center of Rutherford County at (615) 867-9000 or the Cannon County Child Advocacy Center at (616) 563-9915.