Commentary by Judi Johnson
“Observe an interview with a child who is the victim of sexual assault” … That is one of the very uncomfortable (dare I say, disturbing?) duties of someone who is committed to be a member of the Board of Directors for The Cherish Center. The interview is conducted by a professional child advocate interviewer from the center, which is Hamilton County’s sexual assault interviewing and advocacy center for children.
This requirement was put in place in order for board members to understand why we truly serve and advocate for The Cherish Center. Knowing this, however, made the experience no less heartbreaking. I care deeply about children and wanted to serve in some capacity that enables them to have a better quality of life.
The day came for me to observe. I was taken to an isolated area where the Cherish Center interviewer introduced me to a Prevail child advocate, a police officer and an advocate from the Indiana Dept. of Child Services. All the members of this supportive team would be observing from an isolated area.
The first thing I learned is that no child sexual assault case is the same … there is no “normal.” The team discussed the case with great care before the interviewer left to go to the interview room. On the video screen I saw the eight-year-old child and the mother enter the building. Immediately the child went directly to the toys and start playing … later, began twirling in a chair … ironically very “normal” actions for any child. The child was invited into an interviewing room where the interviewer made the child feel safe and at ease. The interview began with friendly, introductory conversation designed to build trust. The interviewer showed the child the cameras and asked if it was ok for other helpers to listen to them talk. For a while they talked about “Body Safety,” which allowed the conversation to transition to more specific questions about the victimization.
The articulate young child spoke in detail about a two-month ordeal of sexual abuse, and how it was confusing that it had happened at all. The child said he or she didn’t ask for this to happen. The perpetrator had told the child there would be big trouble if anyone found out. Throughout much of the interview the child looked down, squirmed in the chair and rubbed nervous hands together. This was a sad, very uncomfortable, heart-wrenching conversation to witness. Throughout the interview the interviewer kept telling the child that it was not the child’s fault.
What is my purpose in writing this? Simple: The Cherish Center needs YOUR help. I witnessed, firsthand, how an eight-year-old sexual assault victim was able to talk about this traumatic experience and start the healing process in the safe and supportive environment of The Cherish Center. Please donate so more children are safe from sexual assault. Resources are needed to stop child sexual assaults from ever happening. However, if, God forbid, they do, YOU can help ensure that The Cherish Center has the resources it needs to make a difference.
To make a tax-deductible donation to The Cherish Center, call 773-3275 or visit www.thecherishcenter.org. The Indiana Child Abuse hotline is (800) 800-5556.
Judi Johnson is vice president of The Cherish Center’s board of directors. She is also the economic development director for the City of Noblesville. She may be contacted at 773-3275.