I am writing this article as I hear our 9-year-old and 5-year-old kids play in our living room. I feel lucky that they are safe at home, yet as you’re reading this, children in the U.S. are experiencing sexual abuse or assault. In our journey as social entrepreneurs, creating technologies and sustainable models to address complex problems in society, we learned about this terrible reality and met the many angels working every day to help these kids. We decided to be part of the solution and join forces.
Child sexual abuse and assault affects children in rural and urban settings, in poor and affluent neighborhoods, from all religious, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds. Every day, four to seven children die due to child abuse and neglect. The youngest children are the most vulnerable to maltreatment, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The Role of Children’s Advocacy Centers
In 1985, the United States’ response to child sexual abuse was revolutionized with the creation of the country’s first Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC), the National Children’s Advocacy Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
To understand what a CAC is, it’s important to understand what children faced before the creation of these centers. Without a CAC, children would have to share the worst experience of their life over and over again, to doctors, police, lawyers, therapists, investigators, judges, and others. These traumatic stories would be told in a police station where a child might think they were in trouble or they may be asked the wrong questions by a well-meaning teacher or other adults, potentially jeopardizing the case against the abuser.
Today, when police or child protective services believe a child is being abused, the child is brought to a CAC — a safe, child-focused environment — by a caregiver or other “safe” adult. Once there, the child tells their story once to a trained interviewer who knows the right questions to ask in a way that does not re-traumatize the child. Based on the interview, a team that includes medical professionals, law enforcement, mental health, prosecution, child protective services, victim advocacy, and other professionals make decisions together about how to help the child.
This is called the multidisciplinary team (MDT).
And they are the Angels.
Having the privilege to work with some of these Angels over the past year has been an inspiration. It’s part of our reason, at VidaNyx, for waking up every morning to figure out how to help them protect child victims and aid in their healing.
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Solutions to a Nationwide Problem
We learned that sexual abuse doesn’t have to be a life sentence for the victims and evidence-based treatments can help reduce trauma symptoms. More than three-quarters of children who suffered from PTSD when they started treatment no longer showed issues at their last follow-up.
We also learned what district attorneys, law enforcement officials, and forensic interviewers need to work faster and more securely, and ultimately, give these children the proper care they deserve.
How Can We Help Children and Families Heal in the Aftermath of Trauma?
We can be part of the solution by promoting and supporting timely and effective services and making them broadly accessible. In our case, we created technologies to help child advocacy centers operate more efficiently with the security and ease of use that keeping our children safe and in the path of healing deserve.
Thankfully, my children are still playing safely at home. But reflecting on this topic, I can choose to go down on a spiral of sadness, overwhelmed by the harsh facts around sexual abuse and neglect in the United States, or I can choose to be part of the solution and make the world a little bit better for the hundreds of thousands of children that experience trauma and deserve proper care, by making it easier for law enforcement, the judicial system, and teams of evidence-based therapists to do their job.
How Can You Help?
Here’s how you can get involved:
- Support organizations like the National Children’s Alliance, which has more than 850 accredited CACs in the U.S. and serves more than 334,000 children each year.
- Research laws in your state to ensure that children’s advocacy centers are defined, supported and protected from having to provide child forensic interviews as part of the public record.
- Be part of the solution by learning the facts, minimizing the opportunity, talking about it, knowing the signs and reacting responsibly.
Are you ready to give?
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