PRIOR PODCAST: #MeToo Series: A Child Abuse Message for All
THIS EPISODE IS FROM MY PREVIOUS PODCAST entitled "The Restoring Heart Podcast." Website names and social media handles have changed since then. You can now find me @theashleybaxter on social media, and on my blog at www.theashleybaxter.com/blog . Go to the 8th episode entitled "Helping You Find Courageous Worth" for the start of the Courageous Worth Podcast. This old episode is part of my 4 episode series on sexual trauma awareness. This episode is filled with education on sexual abuse predators, conversations we need to have with children, and much more from my interview with Amy Feath, the Executive Director of The Carousel Center in Wilmington, NC, a nationally accredited child advocacy center.
This episode is an interview with Amy Feath. She is the Executive Director of a nationally accredited child advocacy center in Wilmington, NC, USA called The Carousel Center.
There are national child advocacy centers located all over the US. Many other countries also have similar organizations in place.
In the US, each accredited center may have a different name – such as Pat’s Place, A Safe Child, Child Advocacy Center. Although they may differ in names, they all have to meet set standards of care for children who have been abused or neglected.
A lot of what a child advocacy center model does is about is revolving around the child, instead of having the child revolving around the community – which is what used to happen before child advocacy centers were put into place.
As an example, if a child confided in a teacher that they were being abused, in addition to disclosing that information at school, they would also have to retell it for local law enforcement, then at the emergency department, then at the detective’s division, and then again to department of social services.
This clearly wasn’t best for a child who had been traumatized, so they created the child advocacy center model. In which, after disclosing something had happened to them, a child would come to just one place, that is a child-friendly. In that one place they would have a forensic interview that is sound and based on scientific protocols.
As well as have a head to toe medical evaluation – just like a physical exam someone would need in order to participate on a sports team, but conducted by a forensically trained medical professional.
On next week’s episode, which is the final episode of this 4 part series on sexual abuse, it is actually an interview with someone conducts those types of examinations for adults. On that episode you will hear why it is so important to have a forensically-trained professional conduct those exams – both for the patient’s-sake and for the sake of the quality and amount of information collected during that examination.
And then lastly, and most importantly, child advocacy centers help a child get on a path of healing through therapy treatment.
As you can see, child advocacy centers do an amazing amount of good in this world. They provide an environment that is right on a child’s level and have put structures in place to make the necessary steps be as streamlined and as least triggering as possible for a child.
First, Amy and I discussed the concept of "grooming," since grooming is a term often heard in sexual abuse cases.
Grooming the Adults in the Child's Life
Amy shared how predators' first objective is to groom the adults around the child. Basically the adults in a child's life who they would go to first if something was wrong.
They do this because it typically allows them greater access to the child since they have won the trust of the adults. But also because it can make it more difficult for a parent to believe that person is harming the child if the child says they did.
A child confiding in a parent that their babysitter of years has been abusing them, could result in that parent saying the child is lying or confused.
Grooming the Child
Once the predator has gotten past the child’s safety alarm of adults, they start grooming the child. It could be several little acts that seem innocent, but eventually boundaries are pushed.
Amy shared how sometimes this involves making the child do things such as drinking that the child knows they aren't suppose to do. The predator has them do "bad" things because it makes things even more confusing in the child’s head, and later the kid may mistakenly think there are partly to blame for the sexual abuse because they connect it with the other acts (like drinking) that they knew were wrong.
Parents Who Welcomed the Unknown Predator into their Family's Life
As you can imagine, there is often so much excruciating pain and guilt parents are carrying around when them - especially when the perpetrator is someone they knew. Amy reminds those parents of the craftiness and determination of predators.
Thankfully, most people in this world are not out to harm children and others, but those that are put so much energy and effort into achieving that. And as she has shared, those that do are typically playing a long and slow game of strategy and manipulation.
As we’ve seen in the media, certain people who we would think would never have done something like that, have ended up sexually assaulted people. The majority of the cases aren’t people hiding in bushes that look sketchy. It is people who are able to socialize well and seem friendly.
What are Can We Do to Help Protect Children
Now, I want to be clear, anyone who experiences sexual abuse, regardless of the age – regardless if they are a tiny child or an adult – are not responsible for what happened to them.
There unfortunately isn’t anything, any place, or any situation that can 100% guarantee someone won’t experience sexual harm. But, there are some things that may help a child recognize something is wrong, or "off."
Self-Awareness & The "Funny Tummy" Feelings
Having a “funny tummy” feeling is when someone or something seems "off," or wrong – even if you can’t put it into words, or give a reason for it.
Children need to be taught to recognize when they are having that feeling, and to share it with a trusted adult.
There may be several times when a child has those feelings and nothing is wrong, but then there is the one time when something is very wrong.
Therefore we need to teach children the importance of being self-aware of their feelings, and valuing their feelings and experiences by creating a safe relationship and space for them to share.
If they share something that ends up being nothing to worry about, you still need to thank them for confiding in you and praising them for being in-tune with how they are feeling. Those actions are building upon a relationship of trust the child has with you.
If we, instead, shut them down from sharing then they will put up walls with what they share with you and not in the future, as well as thinking their emotions and feeling safe isn't something to be valued.
Parents and other adults also need to pay attention when they have a "funny tummy" feeling about someone or a situation involving their child. Again, these feelings often don't come with an explanation, just an intuition that something is wrong. Don't discard those feelings.
Their Body is Their Own
Children need to know that their body is their own, and no one else's. Period.
They need to be taught about appropriate and inappropriate touching.
Let’s be honest - the world doesn’t teach that – even to us as adults. Movies and songs don’t teach that.
We need to be incorporating that language into our discussions with children, at all ages, and in child-appropriate language. An