Severe injuries suffered this year by a three-week-old baby compelled area residents to gather in her name and to renew efforts to fight child abuse.
Baby Lilly from Osceola Mills, had both of her legs broken, suffered bruises on her ribs and nose, cuts on her face and a rectal tear. For most of us that’s hard to believe, but some people hear this type of report much more often than you realize.
“Oftentimes, the media doesn’t pick up on the stories unless it’s a case where it’s a really small child and, you know, these horrifying situations. The fact is, I get kids almost over a hundred kids a year,” says Mary Tatum, Director of the Child Advocacy Center of Clearfield County.
And Clearfield County District Attorney William Shaw adds that, “It goes on, and it goes on far more often than people would realize.”
Statistics show that more than 300,000 children were taken care of at child advocacy centers last year, with two-thirds of the cases involving sexual abuse. Girls were much more likely to suffer some type of abuse.
Most often a child was hurt by a parent, relative, stepparent, boyfriend or girlfriend of a parent, or someone else the victim knew. Most abusers were 18 or older.
Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape
Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence
Childline to report suspected child abuse:
Pennsylvania Chapter of CACs and MDITs
Abby was sexually and physically abused, starting when she was six, first , by her other’s boyfriend.
She remembers, “He was an alcoholic and very abusive, when we finally left him my mom got married to her current husband my stepdad, and sexually abused by him since the age of 8 to 18.”
She told her mother about the boyfriend’s abuse, but her mom didn’t believe her and attacked her, instead
Abby says, “I was grounded for awhile, beaten, so I didn’t tell no one about my step dad…”
She suffered ten years of rape and other types of sexual abuse.
Crystal’s half-brother sexually abused her when she was just seven until she was 13 years old. She also asked for help. She says, “I went to my teacher and told him I was bleeding, and I told him where and he, I remember the look on his face. He called my mother and she came and got me and she handed me a jar of vaseline and said put this on yourself and go lay down.”
Crystal says her mother was afraid of her father, and that her mom, the school, the police, and the rest of her community were actually trying to protect her from her dad’s anger. He was an alcoholic who became violent .
“They had come to the house during fights with my parents and my mother obviously beaten. and if I showed my face they knew that I had been involved in some fashion, but they never took him away. It was a family issue,” she explains. Crystal says she was also punched and thrown by her father when she tried to defend her mother.
Later, Crystal was raped by two of her sister’s boyfriends, and a brother-in-law. She says she told a school nurse after she was raped and became pregnant, but the nurse just kept her in her office, where Crystal miscarried. No one told her parents.
Hearing of Baby Lilly’s injuries gave Crystal nightmares and made her angry. Her way of coping now? She came to the Child Advocacy Center In Clearfield County to speak out in hopes of helping other children.
Of the CAC, she says, “this is incredible. I got tears in my eyes, the first time, I walked in this building, to know that number 1, it was going to stay busy, but number 2, that they’re really thinking about the child now.”
In the past few years, five counties in our region, Blair, Cambria, Centre, Clearfield, and Jefferson opened safe places for children who may have been sexually or physically abused,
At Child Advocacy Centers, victims can talk about what happened with specially trained forensic interviewers who work with law enforcement to investigate and prosecute abuse.
Tatum says,”They ask open ended questions that aren’t leading so the child can disclose sometimes kids aren’t ready and that’s okay.”
She says talking about abuse is the first step toward, helping children and getting abusers out of their lives.
“As soon as your kiddos can talk they should know what their private parts are,” Tatum advises, and adds that children need to be told who can be allowed to touch these areas, i.e. doctors when doing a medical exam and parents when washing them.
“One of the things we try to teach children is keeping secrets that aren’t surprises or good secrets could get them into trouble, it could not be a safe thing,” is another lesson Tatum mentions. “We tell children, if something bad happens, tell until you’re heard. Don’t stop telling until you’re heard, because somebody will hear you and get you help.”
Twice, Crystal tried to get help after repeated sexual abuse, once from a teacher, and a second time from a school nurse. Neither report went anywhere.
In the 70s, the law didn’t require school employees to report suspect physical or sexual abuse,
They’re now mandated reporters as are people in many fields such as health care, religion, child care, emergency response, and law enforcement.
Mandated reporters and anyone who suspects child abuse can report it by calling the Childlike at 1-800-932-0313. Tatum says if you’re not sure, report it and let the professionals sort it out.
DA Shaw says, “I think the reporting has increased so we see and hear about it more often, but i think it’s been going on for years and generations.”
And he adds that , new tools and techniques are also improving the investigation and prosecution of child abuse.
The presence of child advocacy centers, along with the increased awareness and mandated reporters are designed to give today’s children a much better chance to avoid or escape abuse…
Advocates say it’s important to listen to children and believe what they have to say.
Abby and Crystal say you can’t overemphasize this message.
“Number one, say something and if the first person doesn’t do anything, go talk to somebody else,” as Crystal puts it.
And Abby adds, “don’t hold it in it makes things worse. Second thing would be that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Abby says for her, it’s her faith and her church family.
Crystal says, “Given the choice I would not have lived it, but having lived it and not having the choice, “I’m glad that I can use that as a gift for somebody else.”