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4/27/12blog post

changing the child abuse system

Robin is a five year old girl who loves to play dolls with her friends, eat ice cream, teach her dog tricks and go to kindergarten. While Robin may appear to be a normal five year old to those around her, she actually is keeping a very deep and dark secret. Six months ago, Robin’s mom started dating a new guy and he moved in with them shortly thereafter. Since then, Robin has been sexually abused night after night by her mom’s boyfriend, someone she originally trusted and even loved. While Robin knows that what he is doing doesn’t feel right, she doesn’t want to tell anyone because he’s told her that if she tells her mom or anyone else that he will kill her dog. Robin doesn’t know what to do.

While Robin is a fictional character, she represents the large number of children who are abused both physically and sexually in this country and even in the Dayton community. Robin’s case is not unique. One in six girls and one in four boys will be sexually abused before they are 18 and like Robin, 90 percent will be by someone the child knows, loves and trusts.

The Dayton community is fortunate to have three child advocacy centers’ (CAC’s) that exist solely to help children of abuse. CARE House (Montgomery County), Michael’s House (Greene County) and The Child Advocacy Center of Warren County each provide a safe environment for children who have been abused to come and share their story one time with everyone who needs to hear it. Since 1999, the three CAC’s in Dayton have seen nearly 9000 children.

Before child advocacy center’s existed, Robin would have had to tell her story to a number of people. She may have started by telling her teacher, but by the time the case was ready to be prosecuted she would have been asked to tell her story to a possible 15 or more people such as a school nurse or principle, police officer, social worker, doctor, detective, child protection investigator, lawyer and a counselor. Having to share her story with this many people only abuses Robin more because she is continually having to relive the abuse done by her mom’s boyfriend. (See diagram)

“Children eventually shut down when they are asked too many questions, especially about a sensitive subject,” says Libby Nicholson, director of CARE House. “When a child has to share their story of abuse multiple times, they can become sick of sharing all the details and sometimes even take back the whole thing because they don’t want to talk about it anymore.”

With the current system of CACs, children are not put through this extra layer of abuse by the system. Instead, they are brought to a place where they can share their story a minimal number of times and receive the help that they need. Robin will be able to sit down with an interviewer who will help her to share all the details of the abuse by her mother’s boyfriend. The interview is recorded and watched by a detective, district attorney and child protective services worker. This way everyone who needs to hear Robin’s story is able to without having her tell it over and over again.

When a suspected abuse case is reported, the CAC within that county is notified and the process for meeting with the child is put into place. The CAC’s are very child friendly facilities that make the child feel welcomed and safe to share their story.

The three CAC’s also partner with The Children’s Medical Center of Dayton (Dayton Children’s) to process these cases. Dayton Children’s currently has a full time board certified child abuse doctor on staff, Lori Roediger, MD. Dr. Roediger medically examines children of abuse and spends much of her time advocating for them in court.

Currently, one of the CAC’s, CARE House, is embarking on a $2 million campaign to expand their space and update their facility. In its current location, only one interview with a child can take place at a time, and there is a lack of sound proofing making privacy somewhat difficult. The new space will allow for more interview rooms, sound proofing, more privacy, accessibility to a multi-purpose room for trainings, as well as a number of other new child friendly features.

The CAC’s not only treat the children who come through their doors but they also offer prevention training to the community. Awareness is the first step in identifying and preventing children like Robin from ever having to experience abuse.

“The innocence of these children and the incredible violation that they undergo is why we come to work every day,” says Nicholson.