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Living in the shadows

Statistics are staggering, alarming

Editor’s note: This is the final segment in the series on sexual abuse to a child. The names in this four-part series have been changed to protect the identity of the family involved.

John and Jane Smith live a comfortable life with their children. They appear to have it all, but the nightmare of sexual abuse invaded their family recently when it was discovered two of their daughters were sexually abused by their grandfather.

Though the discovery of the sexual abuse was heartbreaking, and it clearly changed their family and their extended family forever, their goal in telling their story to the Bureau County Republican was to help others who may have or will go through something similar in the future.

So what are the chances a child in your family will be sexually abused? The statistics are staggering, not to mention alarming.

According to the Center for Disease Control, one out of every four girls and one out of every six boys will be a victim of sexual abuse before they reach their 18th birthday.

And according to the website, 90 percent of children who are sexually abused know their abuser, and 30 percent of children who are sexually abused are abused by family members. The younger the victim, the more likely for the abuser to be a family member.

Heather Cain, victim advocate for the Bureau County State’s Attorney’s office, said, “I believe the most important thing to do when a child discloses abuse to you is to tell them you believe them and thank them for telling you. Even if a parent or adult has doubt anything may have happened, don’t be the judge of whether it happened or not.”

If a child does divulge the abuse, Cain said one should ask very few questions and only get basic information. And then the adult to whom the child confided should immediately contact law enforcement authorities.

“In Bureau County and many counties, a team approach is used,” Cain said, regarding the interview process with the child. “This approach keeps the need for multiple interviews of the child significantly decreased. A forensic interview is conducted in a child-friendly room. In Bureau County, they are conducted in a room in the State’s Attorney’s office called Kahla’s Room — a room dedicated to Kahla Lansing, a 6 year old who was abducted and sexually abused and killed in 1991.”

Cain described a forensic interview as one conducted by a trained professional who asks non-leading questions regarding any possible sexual or physical abuse that may have occurred. She said the interview is video recorded and is used in determining the charge or charges in an alleged sexual abuse case. This interview can be used in a possible trial, she said. 

Cain said her office also works with Braveheart Children’s Advocacy Center located in Cambridge.  

“In Bureau County in 2013, there were 45 new forensic interviews done,” Cain said. “If a child tells you they have been abused in any way, contact the proper authorities so the justice system can work, and the healing can begin.”

The officials made a difference

John and Jane Smith said there were important local officials who clearly made a difference in the way the case was handled. Their support and compassion was outstanding through the entire experience. the Smiths said.

Those supportive individuals include Bureau County State's Attorney Patrick Herrmann, Bureau County Victim Advocate Heather Cain, Bureau County Investigator Randy Hasbrook (now retired) and Kate Yerly of the Department of Children and Family Services.

Be aware ...

According to Heather Cain, victim advocate at the Bureau County State's Attorney's office, the following are some of the behaviors you may see in a child or adolescent who has been sexually abused:

• Has nightmares or other sleep problems without an explanation.

• Seems distracted or distant at odd times.

• Has a sudden change in eating habits like a refusal to eat; loses or drastically increases appetite; or has trouble swallowing.

• Sudden mood swings: Rage, fear, insecurity or withdrawal.

• Leaves "clues" that seem likely to provoke a discussion about sexual issues.

• Writes, draws, plays or dreams of sexual or frightening images.

• Develops new or unusual fear of certain people or places.

• Refuses to talk about a secret shared with an adult or older child.

• Talks about a new older friend.

• Suddenly has money, toys or other gifts without reason.

• Thinks of self or body as repulsive, dirty or bad.

• Exhibits adult-like sexual behaviors, language or knowledge.

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