Commentary by Wendy Gamble and Kelly Reif
Cherish is honored to be a part of the No More Secrets Campaign. As Hamilton County’s Child Advocacy Center, we see firsthand the brave kids and teens who come forward to share their stories of abuse. We work to provide a comfortable, child-friendly and safe environment where victims can talk to a trained professional. Last year alone, 457 kids came through Cherish’s doors and told their stories, many for the first time. This was an 18 percent increase in the number of kids we served in 2016, and a 42 percent increase since 2010. Statistics tell us that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will experience some form of abuse, almost always by someone they know. This is a sobering statistic and yet we know that abuse is grossly underreported.
There are countless reasons why children choose not to disclose abuse. Fear of being hurt more, threats from the abuser, scared of disrupting their family, shame that it was somehow their fault, anxiety that they will not be believed, fear of being taken away from their family, embarrassed due to the nature of the abuse, and the list goes on. It may take a child days, months or years to disclose. Understand that it is scary and hard for someone to come forward with this information, so it’s important to know what to do when a child makes the courageous decision to tell about their traumatic experience.
Above all, believe and support the child. Stay calm and listen carefully to what the child tells you. Do not interrogate or ask too many questions, but let the child know you want to listen to everything they have to say. Reassure the child by thanking them for telling you and that they did the right thing by telling. Let them know they are loved, accepted and believed. Take any necessary steps such as getting them needed medical attention and keep them safe and away from the abuser.
Also, you must immediately report the abuse to the proper authorities. Indiana law mandates that anyone who suspects that a child is being or has been abused or neglected must report it. To report abuse, call the DCS Indiana Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline at 1-800-800-5556. This hotline is open 24/7 and you can report anonymously.
Remember that your reaction and behaviors following a child’s disclosure greatly impacts their ability to deal with their trauma. Your love and support during this time can help their recovery journey immensely. Seek the help of an experienced trauma therapist to aid in their healing. It’s also important to respond to your own feelings and responses to a child being abused. Oftentimes caregivers feel anger, guilt and overwhelmed, so be sure to get support and counseling for yourself if you are in this position. There are great providers in our community that can provide this type of support to child victims and their families.
Remember, it is everyone’s responsibility to protect our children. If you have questions or want more information, feel free to reach out to Cherish at 317-773-3275 or CherishCAC.org.