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 excellent place to go for help on how to have those types of conversations is at themamabeareffect.org.
They have excellent, excellent materials. Please check out that website and start having these conversations with your child.
Teach Children to Use the Correct Terms for Their Body Parts
It is also important to teach children to use the correct terms for their different body parts. It can be very confusing if they have been taught to refer to their vagina as their "flower." If a child is confiding in someone and using inaccurate terms for their body parts, then that person may miss what the child is trying to say.
What are Possible Indicators a Child Has Been Abused?
Bruises, marks, or scrapes can be a common thing for some kids who are more of "ruff and tumble" kids. But, if you as an adult are having a "funny tummy" feeling about their excuses for their injuries, then it may be reason to suspect something is going on.
If a child is acting 180 degrees different than they usually do, or perhaps just that different towards a particular person, then that is reason to be curious and talk to the child do see what is going on in their life.
Also, as Amy pointed out in the interview, often times when kids are constantly acting out, it may be because something else is going on. Sometimes those children aren't comfortable verbally expressing what has happened to them, so they are using other ways to draw attention - such as acting out.
Reach Out for Help
DSS and child advocacy centers in your area are experts in this field. If you suspect anything, if you have questions, then please reach out to them. That is part of the reason why they are there.
In the state of NC, and in many other states in the US, if someone over 18, so an adult, suspects someone under 18 is being physically and/or sexually abused, there is a mandated reporting law that the adult must report it to DSS or law enforcement. So please reach out to them if you suspect something.
What To Do If a Child Confides in You
Believe them. Accept them. And Thank them.
Receive what they are telling you with love. Believe what they are telling you. Accept what they are telling you. Thank them for trusting you. Then reach out to the experts for help.
Believing a survivor if one of the most important things you can do for a survivor. Believe them. Accept them. And Thank them for trusting you.
The next step is to reach out for help. I completely understand the desire to want to physically harm the person who hurt your child, or hurt a child you know – but the reality is that child needs you here. They need you in their life. They need you at this moment in their life more than ever. If you seek physical vengeance then, sadly, there is a chance that you may end up behind bars.
Instead, reach out to DSS, law enforcement, or a child advocacy center and let them take it from there. They know the best routes to take to give this case the best chance it has in court. They know how evidence needs to be collected, the questions to ask.
Sometimes predators end up in prison. Sometimes they don’t. One of the hardest realities I have had to face, and that so many other survivors have had to face is when there wasn’t enough to take the case to court, or it did go to court but the perpetrator wasn’t found guilty.
As a survivor, you know 100% that a crime was committed. Your body, your memories are proof to you. But this person is walking around with no legal repercussions.
It isn’t fair. There isn’t any way I can sugar coat that.
If something has or does ever happen to you or to someone you care about – then I hope with every part of me that the perpetrator does end up in prison and labeled as a sex offender. But . . . if that doesn’t happen, don’t let that person take one more thing from you by seeking physical revenge that could put you where that person truly belongs.
If you are a parent of a child who has been abused, I say again, what I did a moment ago.
Your child needs you here. They need you in their life. They need you at this moment in their life more than ever. If you go and seek physical vengeance then, sadly, there is a chance you may end up behind bars. Which is the opposite of where you child needs you to be.
As difficult as it can be, let the systems in your community take the reins with the justice proceedings. No matter the outcome. Know that this child – whether they are your own, or someone who trusted you enough to share this information – know that child needs you here in their life more than the need to seek physical revenge on the perpetrator.
The Misconception that a Large Percent of Sexual Abuse Accusations are False
In the interview Amy shared her extensive history of working with sexual abuse survivors of all ages, and how this misconception has always been prevalent.
The reality though is the FBI has shown every time they release new crime statistics that the number of false accusations is 1 to 2% of reported cases.
However, only 25% of cases are estimated to be reported. This means that is all cases were reported, then only 0.5% of them would be false.
Of reported cases, 98% of them are true. Therefore, the moral of the story is to believe survivors. To stand with the data that it most likely is true.
Amy shared that with child sexual abuse cases, people sometimes wrongly think the child is confused, making it up, or has a vivid imagination. She also shared how those people envision children are making these false accusations with descriptions similar to an adult-film depiction.
But instead, most children don't exactly understand what has happened to them. They share their story in a matter-of-fact way using language familiar to them, but that every adult listening to that story is having the hairs on the back of their neck raise up because they know what their words mean.
We need to believe children when they confide in us. Thank them for sharing, and then reach out to resources in your community to help take the next steps. Those resources know what to look for. They know what statements, and other details are consistent with child abuse cases.
Sometimes it will end up that it isn't sexual abuse, but as Amy shared in the interview, "I would rather be wrong 100 times, than to turn away that one child who did have something happen to them."
Communication, Communication, Communication
Communication was a thread woven throughout out entire conversation. The importance of creating and maintaining open and constant communication.
We already mentioned the importance of having conversations with kids. About how it needs to be a conversation that is revisited often. A conversation that is built upon through the years with the different age-appropriate conversations that need to be had.
Again, you can go to themamabeareffect.org for great information on how to have those conversations.
But there is also the importance of what kind of environment and relationship, having open and continuous conversations with children is building.
If you rarely have time for your children, or if things they share with you are not received in a loving way – then it is going to make it a lot more difficult for them to come to you if something wrong happens to them.
If you don’t spend time investing in your children, then you may not notice if they are acting different than normal.
They may start acting out because you don’t have a good open line of communication, and instead of thinking something may be going on with them, you jump to the thought that they are just being a rebellious teenager, and that may be the case – but it also may mean that something serious is wrong in their life.
It may not be sexual abuse, but it could be something like bullying or mental health issues.
Having conversation be a consistent part of your relationship with your child is one of the best decisions you can make in how you raise your child – for several reasons beyond just this.
Amy mentioned in our conversation that kids will often test you. When they share something they have done wrong – like if they broke something in the house - the way you respond to that single event is letting them know how you would respond if they were to tell you other difficult things.
In last week’s episode on The Restoring Heart Podcast, Episode 22, Crystal Sutherland shared how she didn’t tell her mom for the longest time about her step-father sexually abusing. She shared it was because her mom had responded to her in other abusive ways before and she was afraid her mom would respond to her that way if she confided to her about the sexual abuse.
You may not have a hostile environment in your house, but things such as not pausing to truly hear your children, letting yourself get heated up and yell at them, and other reactions in which your emotions take over – can communicate to your children that you are not always the safest person for them to confide in.
This doesn’t mean don’t hold children responsible for their actions, but that the communication throughout it all is to be conducted with respect and not letting your emotions get the best of you.
Amy shared that we often tell kids, “You can tell me anything,” but it is the moments like just described that are building the case for whether that is true or not. Don’t just tell them they can tell you anything. Show them over time with your words and actions.
Support The Carousel Center
The Carousel Center and other child advocacy centers do work that you could not put a price tag on. I am so thankful that centers like this exist. I can’t imagine where child abuse survivors and families would be without their services.
The Carousel Center in Wilmington, NC receives funding from a number of resources, included grants, but about a third of its funding and other needs come from the community.
You can support them financially, with time, and also donations of other kinds. For instance, if you go to carouselcenter.org, click on "Donate," then you’ll find a link called “Our shopping wishlist” with all sorts of things, from food to have on hand at the center for kids, to gas cards for there parents in order to help them if money is tight to get their child to a therapy session. They have a ton of ways you can help.
Also, under that "Donate" menu, you’ll find a link for “Make a Donation” where you can make a one time financial gift or a re-occurring one.
If You Suspect Child Abuse . . .
If you suspect child abuse, or have any questions, you can always reach out to the Carousel Center at 910-254-9898, or to the child advocacy center in your area, or Department of Social Services.