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Safety of the child is the first priority after learning about sexual abuse

July 3, 2012
By Evan Bevins - The Marietta Times ( , The Marietta Times

In cases of child sexual abuse, the most dramatic points may be the abuse itself, the revelation, the arrest and, ideally, the conviction.

But a lot happens between these steps and the process of dealing with abuse often continues long after.

"You never forget it. You never get over it. You just move past it," said Monica, the mother of a sexual abuse victim, who agreed to speak to The Marietta Times for this series on condition of anonymity.

The first step after learning about the abuse is to make sure the child is safe, said Alice Stewart, intake assessment unit supervisor at Washington County Children Services.

"The first choice, because you don't want to re-victimize the child ... is for the child to stay in the home," she said.

That may not be possible in some cases, such as if the offender lives in the home and doesn't leave because the child's parent doesn't believe the accusation. So the next step is to look for a friend or family member to take the child.

Fact Box

To learn more

For information about preventing, identifying or dealing with sexual abuse:

Washington County Children Services - 373-3485.

Child Welfare Information Gateway, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services -

If that isn't feasible, the child would be sent to foster care. Unless behavioral or mental health issues require otherwise, the child would be kept in Washington County, Stewart said.

Visits would still be set up with the non-offending parent "if the non-offending parent can be appropriate," Stewart said, meaning they would not talk about the case or try to talk the child into recanting.

After a case is opened, and sometimes for long periods after, including following the resolution of the case, counseling for victims is provided by Washington County Children Services through the Private Violence Project. The program offers grant-funded counseling for children who have experienced physical and sexual abuse and is available to county residents whose cases have been investigated by Children Services.

The process of helping a child cope with his or her abuse and heal from it varies with each individual, Private Violence Project counselor Lee Ann Bates said.

"A lot of it is just that they are a survivor and they were brave, even brave in disclosing this," she said.

Bates described her approach to counseling in some cases using the word "popcorn" - popping back and forth between serious subjects and topics the child is more comfortable with, like friends and interests. Younger children may convey their experiences through demonstrating with toys or writing or drawing about them.

How long a child requires counseling also varies by individual. Bates has worked with some children for just three or four sessions, while others have been meeting with her for two years.

And if a child who has stopped coming to counseling needs help again later, they can always come back, Bates said.

"Sometimes it takes years to get over this," she said.

The effects of sexual abuse can resurface at certain times in life. For example, Bates said that as teenagers develop sexually they may be able to process the experience in a way they couldn't when they were younger. Dating, marriage and childbirth are other times the issue may arise again, according to materials provided by Children Services.

Parents are never identified clients for Bates' counseling services, but they can be a part of it if it helps the child.

Monica said Bates' counseling and other help from Children Services was beneficial to her family.

"They have things in (place) to help you with your kids," she said. "I didn't know they did all this stuff."

Children Services can refer families to various entities for help, such as EVE Inc., L&P Services and more, said Kimberly Ensign, protective caseworker. She noted EVE provides parenting classes and assists victims of any kind of personal violence, even if they're not staying at the shelter.

"We partner with everyone we possibly can to help (families)," Ensign said. "We've done some pretty crazy stuff to help people out."

In the past, the agency had funds to assist people who needed to move, she said.

Monica is also grateful for the support she received from caseworker Ginger Davey.

"She's family now, whether she likes it or not," Monica laughed.

Stewart said although a caseworker can keep a case up to 45 days, they often stay connected to the family for longer than that - whether it's attending court hearings or just listening.

"Sometimes that's all people need to get through these situations is just a little boost from someone who believes them and their child," Stewart said.

Monica said she was nervous about the outcome of the abuser's trial, but "Ginger kept reassuring me through the whole thing, 'We got him.'"

The suspect was convicted.



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