Revisiting dangers of denial
Area advocacy centers stress being proactive
DIXON – The message of “stranger danger” is important, advocates say, but sex abuse is most often committed by those children know.
Both Lee and Whiteside counties have children’s advocacy centers designed to help young victims of sexual and physical abuse. There, they conduct forensic interviews with victims in safe, child-friendly environments.
Lee County’s center is Shining Star in Dixon, which also serves Ogle County, and Whiteside County’s is April House in Morrison.
Cathy Ferguson, vice president of Shining Star, said advocates want to get the message out that people need to listen to children when they speak about abuse.
She said situations like Penn State’s upset her. Football coach Joe Paterno and other officials failed to inform authorities about assistant coach Jerry Sandusky’s sexual abuse of children.
“The failures in that case were unbelievable,” Ferguson said. “Because they didn’t address it, they directly caused the abuse of other victims. It makes my blood boil. We have to start talking about it.”
She said parents need to tell their children they won’t get in trouble if they report abuse. Teachers, counselors and other professionals who deal with children are considered “mandated reporters” of abuse. By law, they must report it.
Ferguson, who also heads the Lee County Health Department, said her agency discovers abuse occasionally and “swiftly” reports it to authorities.
Johanna Hager, April House’s executive director and forensic interviewer, said children’s advocacy centers are important.
“People need to understand that the majority of human beings who are sexually abused as children go to their grave without telling anyone. This is an opportunity for children to actually tell someone,” she said.
Ronelle Allen, a therapist who treats abused children and sex offenders in Dixon, urges parents to be more vigilant.
“Over 90 percent of kids are abused by someone they know,” she said. “You don’t want to look around at people and think they are doing these things. But denial is not protecting kids.
“Know where your kids are at night, know what homes they are going to,” Allen said.
Sometimes children won’t talk with their parents about abuse, she said.
“It’s not that they don’t love their parents. It’s that they want to protect their parents. They don’t want to see their parents get upset,” Allen said. “We want to let kids know who they can talk to.”
Sex offenders come from all walks of life, she said.
“They aren’t a certain color or age. Probably my oldest offender is 70 years old and my youngest is 18 and a full range between there,” she said.
At Lee County, the Shining Star center has murals, toys and video games to make children feel more comfortable. Such centers allow interviews to be conducted once; it hurts when children have to tell about what happened many times, advocates say.
For more info
Shining Star Children’s Advocacy Center is at 215 E. First St., Suite 110, in Dixon’s Commerce Towers. Its website is at www.shiningstarcac.org or call 815-284-1891.
April House Children’s Advocacy Center is at 503 N. Madison St. in Morrison. It can be reached at 815-772-8663.
Child abuse – myths and facts
Myth: Child sexual abuse is a rare occurrence.
Fact: One out of three girls and one out of five boys will experience some form of sexual abuse by the age of 18. Many cases of child sexual abuse involve children younger than 5.
Myth: Child sexual abuse is most often committed by strangers.
Fact: Ninety percent of child victims know their sexual offenders; most offenders are trusted family members, relatives or friends. Sexual abuse within the family often begins in early childhood and may last several years.
Myth: Child abusers are easy to identify.
Fact: Child abusers cannot be easily distinguished from others. They usually are not adults with mental illness or a developmental disability. Offenders come from every profession and socioeconomic group, and many adult offenders are upstanding members of their community.
Myth: Children who are abused do something to cause the abuse to occur.
Fact: The child is always the victim. The responsibility for the abuse lies solely with the offender. In the case of child sexual abuse, many offenders try to shift the blame for their actions by accusing the child of being seductive or promiscuous.
Myth: Children often make up stories about sexual relations with adults.
Fact: Young children do not know enough about sex to describe behaviors that have not occurred.
Source: Shining Star Advocacy Center