A Partnership for the Victims of Child Abuse



BY RICK CHARMOLI  | October 26, 2015

WEXFORD — A new partnership between Wexford County and a national organization with local ties is looking to help protect children when they need it most.

Recently, Wexford County has entered into talks with the Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center. The Traverse City center is a regional response center for the protection and well-being of children. It provides prevention education and multidisciplinary intervention in the investigation, assessment and treatment of child sexual abuse, child physical abuse and for children who witness violence.

Children’s Advocacy Centers were first developed in the United States in the 1980s and were designed to reduce the stress on child abuse victims and families created by traditional child abuse investigation and prosecution procedures and to improve the effectiveness of the response.

Sue Bolde is the executive director of the Traverse City CAC and she said the goal of the organization is to do the work that needs to be done in any abuse case that is sensitive, supportive and safe for the child. Currently, Bolde said the Traverse City office serves five counties including Grand Traverse, Leelanau, Antrim, Kalkaska and Benzie as well as the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians.

“At our core our model is teamwork. We bring everyone (law enforcement, child protective services, and the prosecuting attorney) together at the front end and we put the child first,” she said. “The CAC model brings the system to the child.”

For example, if the team comprised of the different agencies decides a child would benefit from counseling services, the decision can be made immediately and care can begin from either right at the CAC’s office or through a referral, Bolde said.

Wexford County Sheriff’s Office Detective Sgt. Chris Piskor said the benefit the CAC provides is huge. It not only helps the child and their family deal with abuse but also helps law enforcement. In particular, Piskor said the CAC can do the forensic interview of the victim.

A forensic interview is a structured conversation with a child intended to elicit detailed information about a possible event or events a child may have experienced or witnessed. There are several purposes of a forensic interview. They include obtaining information from a child that may be helpful in a criminal investigation; assessing the safety of a child’s living arrangements; obtaining information that will either corroborate or refute allegations or suspicions of abuse and neglect; and assessing the need for medical treatment and psychological care.

“We can’t ask leading questions. You can’t ask follow up questions,” Piskor said of the forensic interview process. “We don’t have the facility here at the sheriff’s office that is conducive to doing an interview with a child. The CAC is more like your living room and it creates an environment that makes the child feel more safe. For us, that is a huge advantage.”

Piskor also said there is only one chance to do a forensic interview and while he is trained to do them, he does not do them all the time. The CAC has someone who does these on a regular basis and has the expertise to make sure the process is done correctly each time.

Bolde said the person who does the interviews at the CAC is trained in child development and follows the strict protocols for forensic interviews.

“In more rural areas, police are doing a lot of different things. It is unfair to expect them to switch roles and feel good about their work,” she said. “That is why we are a tremendous assistance to rural communities.”

Although Bolde said the CAC is in the process of getting an agreement in place with Wexford County, she also said once that is in place she will be looking at finding local partners to have linkage agreements with. That would be for things such as medical or mental health partners but also other services.

Healing Private Wounds Executive Director Shirley Petersen said she believes having the CAC partner with Wexford County is a great idea and one she would be willing to support. She also said she believes her organization would be willing to be one of the local partners with the CAC.

“I believe it is a good thing. The more agencies that collaborate together and spread the news. It (abuse) is out there and there are services available,” Petersen said. “We need to work as a community. That is important.”

While Piskor, as well as Undersheriff Trent Taylor, have said the rate of sexual abuse and criminal sexual conduct doesn’t seem to be rising, so far this year the sheriff’s office has investigated 24 cases. Piskor said he looked at 19 of the 24 cases and 17 of those 19 he looked at had victims under the age of 18.

Petersen said when you look at the stats, it can be alarming. According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in five females and one in seven males will experience some sort of sexual abuse. Most victims who experience sexual abuse are under the age of 6.

While those numbers are alarming, Petersen said what is more shocking is there are probably more that go unreported. That said, Petersen is encouraged to see more people, both males and females, coming forward looking for help.

“It is good that people are more free to talk about it and we are getting more younger people who are talking about it. The younger you begin the healing the better you will be,” she said. “They don’t carry the shame, and fall into the pitfalls of feeling unworthy, dirty or using drugs and alcohol to cover up how they are feeling.”

For more information about the Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center, log on to www.traversebaycac.org and for more information about or to find support from Healing Private Wounds in Cadillac, log on to www.healingprivatewounds.org or call (231) 846-4495.


Preventing Abuse Through Story, Song

Miriam and Jenifer

Singer and song writer Miriam Pico, left, and storyteller Jenifer Strauss rehearse for their story time presentation, “My Body Belongs to Me,” for pre-schoolers and kindergarteners on awareness and prevention of child sexual abuse at the Traverse Area District Library Woodmere Branch.


BY SARAH ELMS selms@record-eagle.com | October 11, 2015

TRAVERSE CITY — Jenifer Strauss and Miriam Pico aim to reduce child sexual abuse through story and song.

The local storyteller and singer-songwriter are teaming up with officials from the Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center and the Traverse Area District Library to host a special story time geared toward young kids and their families.

“This topic is a sensitive one, but it’s also a really important one,” Strauss said.

Strauss and Pico will adapt stories and songs from children’s books like, “My Body Belongs to Me” by Jill Stareshevsky and “Some Secrets Should Never be Kept” by Jayneen Sanders at the Oct. 12 event.

Using stories and sing-along songs is a gentle way to spark a dialogue about protecting children and preventing abuse, said Cathy Lancaster, TADL Youth Services Coordinator.

“It’s really meant to leave them with the understanding that they control their space and their bodies and there is a difference between secrets and surprises,” Lancaster said. “It’s a tough conversation, but I think Jenifer and Miriam really present it more about empowering young children.”

Child sexual abuse impacts one in 10 children, and younger children often are the most at-risk, said Hannah Rodriguez, prevention coordinator at the CAC.

“Children are often sexually abused during preschool and kindergarten age because that’s when they’re the most vulnerable,” she said. “This is the age we want to start talking about it.”
The program is an encore of a similar story time held in April, brought back to the library at the request of community members.

Organizers are offering a late-morning and evening presentation to reach as many school groups, childcare centers and parents as possible.

“I think it’s such a sensitive topic that a lot of parents want to be there with their child,” Lancaster said. “I think there’s a lot for parents to learn as well in terms of how to speak with their children about these things and making children feel comfortable to confide in them.”

The CAC is in the early stages of applying for grants to fund similar programs at schools and libraries across the state.

“The goal is to put this show on the road so we can reach a larger audience, so it doesn’t stop here and the message continues,” Strauss said.

The two special story times are set for Oct. 12 at 11 a.m. and at 6:30 p.m. at the main library branch on Woodmere Avenue in Traverse City. Call the library’s youth services department at 231-932-8503 for more information or to register a group of 10 or more.

Storyteller Jenifer Strauss uses puppets Sniggle, left, and Snaggle as part of her presentation with singer and song writer Miriam Pico on awareness and prevention of child sexual abuse.

Storyteller Jenifer Strauss uses puppets Sniggle, left, and Snaggle as part of her presentation with singer and song writer Miriam Pico on awareness and prevention of child sexual abuse.

One in 10: Teachers taught signs of child sexual abuse



BY SARAH ELMS selms@record-eagle.com | September 3, 2015

TRAVERSE CITY — Nearly 600 Traverse City Area Public Schools employees will go through a new safety training before classes resume next week — one that focuses on keeping children safe outside of the classroom.

The Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center through a grant from the Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation is providing free training throughout the community on how adults can identify and respond to child sexual abuse.
“What we want everyone to walk away with is more knowledge and more tools to make sure that when we’re interacting with children we’re doing everything we can to really listen to them and keep them safe,” the center’s Prevention Coordinator Hannah Rodriguez said.

Suttons Bay Public Schools held a training on Sunday, and TCAPS’ training kicked off on Tuesday. It’s the first time local districts participated in the sessions on such a large scale, Rodriguez said.

“We used to talk about stranger danger, and we found out in the training that in over 90 percent of child sexual abuse cases the abuser is someone the child knows and trusts,” Superintendent Paul Soma said. “It’s real important stuff. It’s part of our safety and security measures.”

Traverse City High School Principal Lance Morgan sits on the center’s board of directors. He said the training gives educators the tools they need to address abuse, but it also spurs conversation around a startling statistic: One in 10 children is sexually abused before they turn 18.

“The more that we can make people aware of the situation, I think the safer everybody is going to be,” he said.

Morgan hopes the training is the first of more to come both within TCAPS and at other districts in the region.

“I think it’s certainly important to get the certified staff trained, but it’s equally important to get our bus drivers, our custodians, our secretaries and our administrative staff trained,” he said. “It’s absolutely my hope that other districts and the ISD take a look at this for their staff.”