“Anna, Age Eight” — The Societal Pandemic of Child Abuse

By SUE BOLDE, Executive Director

The sad truth?

No one wants to talk about child sexual abuse. After all, why would we? It’s an awful, almost incomprehensible topic that we simply can’t imagine a child we love would ever have to endure.

Unfortunately, our society, in general, has virtually become numb to addressing this issue on any substantive scale that would actually move the needle. Over 700,000 children suffer some form of physical or sexual abuse or neglect each year. Additionally, it is estimated that 10% of all children will become victims of sexual abuse before they reach the age of 18.

These staggering statistics here in the US clearly indicate a societal issue of pandemic proportion.

Underscoring these alarming stats is new research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) about the lifetime costs of child abuse and maltreatment here in the US. In its abstract released in September (full report to be released in December 2018), the CDC cites significant increases in societal costs resulting from child maltreatment. The methodology used in this research conducted between 2010 and 2015, now includes ancillary, indirect cost estimates, as well as the direct costs of services provided in both the investigation of alleged child abuse cases, as well as the intervention, prosecution and victim support services (including healthcare). Here’s what they found…

• The estimated lifetime cost per-victim of child maltreatment (non-fatal) increased from $210,012 (2010 USD) to $830,928 (2015 USD)… 296% increase!

• The estimated lifetime cost per-victim of child maltreatment (fatal) increased from $1.3 to $16.6 million… 1,100%+ increase!

• The estimated US population economic burden of child maltreatment based on 2015 substantiated incident cases is $428 billion, representing lifetime costs incurred annually.

• The estimated US population economic burden of child maltreatment based on 2015 investigated incident cases is $2 trillion, representing lifetime costs incurred annually… that equates to nearly 10% of our current national debt! 

Touted as, “the nation’s blueprint for ending the epidemic of childhood trauma, a book called,Anna, Age Eight: The Data-Driven Prevention of Child Trauma and Maltreatment, address ways in which we as a society can actually put the brakes on this rampant pandemic. The authors Katherine Ortega Courtney, PhD, and Dominic Cappello, believe so strongly in making this information available that they offer their guide as a free downloadable pdf.

The book shares several stories of child abuse and trauma, including Anna’s story…

“…It was not so for Anna. In her eight years, she had racked up just as many episodes in the custody of her state’s child welfare system. Returned again to her very troubled mother, Cassandra, she celebrated a birthday with a few small toys and, we can only hope, some quantity of good cheer. If she did so, it would have been about the last high point she would ever know. A few days later, Cassandra and her boyfriend beat Anna to death in a drug-fueled, mental illness-influenced rage.”

Anna’s death was completely avoidable had simple technology been utilized to help child protection professionals collaborate and recognize the countless red flags in Anna’s short life. This book promotes the importance of utilizing technology to facilitate information sharing among those who can help step-in and protect vulnerable children.

The essential need to protect children and help ensure emotionally and physically healthy childhoods can no longer be dismissed or “left to someone else.” Need data? The CDC is offering it up to us in the form of a HUGE societal economic burden. But it just makes good sense… raising children in healthy, secure environments teaches them to live healthy, safe lives… and in turn, pass those traits on to their own children and families. The book eloquently and succinctly captures this concept…

“Emotionally healthy people who are treated well throughout life tend to treat others well, in an emotionally healthy way, but the opposite is also true. Whatever happened to those kids that we try not to think about – whenever it happened – it will brush off with every human interaction, and then some little piece of it will have happened to you, and to all of us.”

We have the power to stop this pandemic… let’s get to work.


About Sue ♥

Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center Executive Director Sue Bolde has a BA in psychology from the University of California Santa Barbara and an MA in art therapy from the University of Illinois. Her professional career includes clinical work with children and teens at the University of Chicago, graduate-level instruction with students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and certification as a Montessori teacher and yoga instructor. She is currently a teacher in training with Google’s Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute as well as a Michigan ACE Initiative trainer.

About Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center ♥

The nationally accredited Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center brings help, hope, and healing to child victims of sexual abuse, physical abuse, and violence. Our mission is to protect children by supporting multidisciplinary investigations into alleged cases of child abuse by conducting child forensic interviews in an environment that is child-sensitive, supportive and safe. We help heal child victims and their families through our in-house therapeutic services and offer prevention education throughout the region via our Team Zero program. As the Grand Traverse regional response center for the investigation of child abuse, we collaborate with multidisciplinary teams in six counties – Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Leelanau, and Wexford – in addition to the Sovereign Nation of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. More than 1,700 children have been referred to the Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center since our founding in 2010.


Hiding in Plain Site: Warning Signs of Child Sexual Abuse

By SUE BOLDE, Executive Director

Hiding in plain sight…

• Amanda (14 yrs.) always wears long sleeves to cover the numerous self-inflicted cuts and burns on her arms.

• Cari (8 yrs.) suddenly begins wetting her bed at night.

• Joshua (5 yrs.) is discovered having oral sex with his 3 year-old sister in the hall bathroom.

As adults, we may think that children who are sexually molested would naturally alert someone about their abuse. Not so! In fact, an alarming 73% of child victims don’t tell anyone about their abuse for at least a year. Another 45% of victims keep it to themselves for at least 5 years, while still others NEVER disclose their abuse. (Smith et al., 2000; Broman-Fulks et al., 2007)

Children who have been molested may… or often MAY NOT… display behavior that is indicative of sexual abuse. For children who are acting outside their norms, be alert to these potential warning signs:

  • Knows more than normal about sex for their age
  • Masturbates excessively
  • Has a sudden fear of touch or is frightened of a certain person(s)
  • Starts wetting the bed or has nightmares
  • Changes eating habits
  • Can’t sleep
  • Exhibits low self-esteem
  • Seeks excessive attention
  • Seems depressed
  • Begins self-mutilation (e.g., cutting, burning, hitting, etc.)
  • Shares suicidal thoughts or actually attempts suicide
  • Uses drugs or alcohol
  • Has problems at school or is frequently absent
  • Sexually abuses others
  • Tells stories about a “friend” being abused

It’s important to keep in mind that if a child displays any of the above behaviors, that does NOT automatically mean that the child is a victim of sexual abuse. It does, however, indicate that something may not be “right” in that child’s life, so it’s important to further explore potential root causes of the behavior. If you are concerned that child in your life MAY be a victim of abuse, please refer to our 7-Step Response to Child Abuse Disclosure outline for a step-by-step tutorial of how to have the conversation and what to do if a child discloses abuse.

The number of child-on-child (or youth perpetrated) sexual abuse cases is on the rise in our country and as kids head back to school, it’s important to be attentive to changes in a child’s behavior, habits, and moods. To help, we invite you to download our free infographic called, “Child Clues,” which offers an at-a-glance list of the 9 primary warning signs that may indicate a child is in trouble and needs help.

Get CHILD CLUES!

I encourage all of us to be better informed about these potential warning signs so we can protect ALL the children in our lives! ♥

*Please note: Any names, ages and specific examples of child abuse have been altered to protect the identity and privacy of child victims and their families.


About Sue ♥

Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center Executive Director Sue Bolde has a BA in psychology from the University of California Santa Barbara and an MA in art therapy from the University of Illinois. Her professional career includes clinical work with children and teens at the University of Chicago, graduate-level instruction with students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and certification as a Montessori teacher and yoga instructor. She is currently a teacher in training with Google’s Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute as well as a Michigan ACE Initiative trainer.

About Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center ♥

The nationally accredited Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center brings help, hope, and healing to child victims of sexual abuse, physical abuse, and violence. Our mission is to protect children by supporting multidisciplinary investigations into alleged cases of child abuse by conducting child forensic interviews in an environment that is child-sensitive, supportive and safe. We help heal child victims and their families through our in-house therapeutic services and offer prevention education throughout the region via our Team Zero program. As the Grand Traverse regional response center for the investigation of child abuse, we collaborate with multidisciplinary teams in six counties – Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Leelanau, and Wexford – in addition to the Sovereign Nation of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. More than 1,400 children have been referred to the Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center since our founding in 2010.


10 Campus Safety Tips Every College Student Should Know

By SUE BOLDE, Executive Director

As summer winds to close, many kids are preparing to head off to college, be it near home or far away. This leaves many parents pondering, “Will my child be safe on campus?”

This question is especially salient for parents of incoming freshmen who will be away from home for the first time. For these young adults, going to college may be their first opportunity to experience a significant degree of independence. With that independence comes a high level of responsibility, including making daily safety choices. So, how can you as a parent help prepare your freshman (or returning student) for life on campus?

Straight Talk

Mom and Dad, it’s important to be totally straight-up and honest with your teen about what campus life will be like. Take the time to sit down and discuss this… it doesn’t have to be a scary conversation, but it does need to be real. In fact, it’s a good idea to begin prepping your teen for safety while they are in high school (many of the same rules apply).

Expect your teen to seem frustrated or bored by the conversation and try not to let it bother you. Believe it or not, they will be listening and, with a little savvy and luck, may even engage in the conversation with you. One of the reasons this conversation is SO IMPORTANT is because students, especially new students, are at higher risk to become victims of sexual violence. In fact, the majority of sexual assault cases happen to new students in the first two (2) semesters on campus.

Here are 10 campus safety tips to review with your kids as they head off to college.

1. Trust your gut, but err on the side of caution.

Your young adult will be making all sorts of new friends and acquaintances as s/he begins life on campus. Before sharing too many personal details or trusting someone implicitly, be sure s/he understands the importance of really knowing that person. If s/he has even an inkling that something isn’t straight-up — you know, that funny, uncomfortable feeling you get in the pit of your stomach — the time isn’t right to throw his/her trust in the ring. Encourage your teen to be careful and have faith in his/her inner-self.

2. Prep and use your cell phone.

Before arriving on campus, program emergency numbers into your teen’s phone so help is readily available at the press of a button or a quick Siri request. Mom and Dad, you should already be programmed in — other numbers to include would be:

  • Campus police
  • Residential housing office
  • Campus health clinic
  • ICE (“In Case of Emergency”) Contact — this may be Mom, Dad or someone else you know that lives close to campus. Program “ICE” at the beginning of the contact information; emergency responders are trained to search for ICE on cell phones. There is also “an app for that”.
  • Taxi service: this is helpful for times when your teen needs to get back to a dorm or house late at night and is by himself. Have him be sure to ask the taxi driver to wait until he physically enters his housing unit before leaving.

Your new college student should keep the cell phone charged and with him at all times! Remind him to be careful of using geotracking software or “check-in” features found on many social media apps such as Four Square , Snapchat, Instagram or Facebook to identify a current location. That can open up all kinds ‘o trouble.

3. The Buddy System works!

Whether it’s a roommate, a fraternity brother or sorority sister, or a friend down the hall, stress the importance of always letting someone know your college student’s plans and location. Have your teen share her class schedule with a friend or two and do casual check-ins when she returns. If heading to the gym, cafeteria or library, again just touch base and let a friend know her plans. Encourage her to ALWAYS bring a friend along to any party, agreeing to have one another’s backs. It’s good to have an “out” contingency plan if one or both of them are uncomfortable — they should identify a code word or signal to help gracefully (and safely) exit the situation. It’s amazing how often that comes in handy!

4. Be aware of your surroundings.

Whether it’s walking to class, studying at a quiet table at the back of the library, taking a shower in the dorm or parking the car, it is vitally important to be vigilant of surroundings. Encourage your teen to ask…

  • Are there people around me?
  • Is this a well-lit area?
  • Have I told someone where I was going to be and at what time to expect my return?
  • Do I really know the person from whom I’m accepting this ride to class?
  • Are my doors locked?

If your teen ever thinks s/he is being followed while walking, instruct your teen to try crossing the street to see if the person continues the pursuit. If that person does and your teen is at all uncomfortable, tell him/her to immediately pull out the cell phone and dial 911 or the pre-programmed number for campus police. If followed while driving, have your teen try taking a few turns —if the vehicle of concern continues to follow, immediately dial 911.

5. Lock your doors.

This seemingly simple concept is often overlooked. This includes dorm rooms, apartments, classrooms and labs (if your college student is alone) and car doors. S/he should make a habit of having his/her keys ready when arriving at the door to avoid fumbling around for them. Before getting in a car, s/he should be sure to check the back seats. Also, DO NOT attach any personal identification on any keys.

6. Drink responsibly.

Let’s face it… alcohol is accessible on most college campuses. Parents, it is imperative that you talk with your teens about responsible drinking, a conversation that should include abstinence. The legal drinking age in the United States is 21 and there are very real and severe legal, and life, consequences for underage drinking. It may feel like a tough conversation to have, but it’s one where you need to share your personal parenting perspective with your child, as well as possible legal ramifications for your teens should they choose to break the law and consume alcohol before they reach the legal drinking age. It also means if your teen chooses to drink, s/he needs to know to NEVER get behind the wheel of a car… or ride in a vehicle driven by someone else who has been drinking… or let a friend drive drunk. Also, be sure to share with him/her the dangers of leaving drinks (both non- and alcoholic) unattended. If a drink is left alone, it should be dumped. Finally, reinforce the importance of the Buddy System.

7. If you are ever a victim of sexual assault… DO NOT keep it a secret!

Sadly, rape and sexual assault happen far too often on college campuses. Various studies have found that 20% to 25% of college students have been victims of attempted or completed rape nearly half of those victims didn’t tell anyone about their assault —and only an estimated 10% report it to authorities. Why, you may ask? There are a variety of reasons including shame, feeling responsible, guilt, or even fear of getting in trouble for drinking or taking drugs. According to Campus Safety Magazine, “College freshmen and sophomore women appear to be at greater risk of being victims of sexual assault than are upperclassmen.” In fact, 84% of the college women who reported incidents said the assaults occurred within their first four semesters on campus. Remind your teen that it could never, ever be her fault if something like that happened to her. Reinforce the importance of the Buddy System and making good, safe decisions about the people with whom she is socializing.

A flagship online system now exists, called Callisto Campus, which gives students who are victims of sexual assault (or attempted sexual assault) disclosure and reporting options that make them feel safe. I strongly recommend that you visit the Callisto Campus website and actively advocate for your son or daughter’s school to participate in this new and critical resource.

8. Guard your social media footprint.

In today’s digital world, nearly every action you take has the potential to be publicly shared. Things your teen may think are okay or cool today, could very well come back to haunt him/her. Reinforce the importance of NOT sharing photos that include images with the potential to taint your teen’s reputation with the college or university, scholarship programs or potential future employers. A good litmus test: “If you can’t show the post to Grandma, DO NOT post it!”

9. Have your fellow students’ backs.

Students really need to look out for one another. Have your teen keep a watchful eye out for friends and fellow students while out-and-about on campus… and seek help as needed. If s/he sees someone being victimized, immediately call 911 or contact the campus police. Students on campus are in it together and looking out for one another does nothing but improve the college experience for all.

10. “Remember who you are.”

These four simple words pack quite a punch and offer a positive reminder to kids that you trust them to make good decisions while they are away from you. I highly recommend this simple, empowering validation– it works!

Want more information?

In addition to reviewing the campus student safety information for your young adult’s campus, I encourage to check out these websites that offer additional super safety information for all students on campus:


About Sue ♥

Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center Executive Director Sue Bolde has a BA in psychology from the University of California Santa Barbara and an MA in art therapy from the University of Illinois. Her professional career includes clinical work with children and teens at the University of Chicago, graduate-level instruction with students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and certification as a Montessori teacher and yoga instructor. She is currently a teacher in training with Google’s Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute as well as a Michigan ACE Initiative trainer.

About Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center ♥

The nationally accredited Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center brings help, hope, and healing to child victims of sexual abuse, physical abuse, and violence. Our mission is to protect children by supporting multidisciplinary investigations into alleged cases of child abuse by conducting child forensic interviews in an environment that is child-sensitive, supportive and safe. We help heal child victims and their families through our in-house therapeutic services and offer prevention education throughout the region via our Team Zero program. As the Grand Traverse regional response center for the investigation of child abuse, we collaborate with multidisciplinary teams in six counties – Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Leelanau, and Wexford – in addition to the Sovereign Nation of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. More than 1,400 children have been referred to the Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center since our founding in 2010.


10 Reasons Children DO NOT Disclose Sexual Abuse

Get "10 Reasons Children DO NOT Disclose Sexual Abuse" FREE Infographic >>

 

By SUE BOLDE, Executive Director

It’s an awful thing to think about… the possibility that a child you know is being sexually abused.

While most adults think they would KNOW if a child was being victimized, the truth is, they don’t.

How can a child be sexually abused without mom, dad or another caring adult knowing about it? Under the shroud of the “Three A’s” that are generally present for child sexual abuse to occur — Access, Alone Time and Authority — it is estimated that between 1 in 4 children to 1 in 10 children will become a victim of sexual abuse before turning 18 years old.

For many, it may be difficult to comprehend that a child would NOT immediately run to tell someone — mom, dad, a teacher, sibling, grandparent — after experiencing sexual abuse. Unfortunately, silence or delayed disclosure is actually the norm, rather than the exception.

One estimate cites that 73% of children don’t disclose sexual abuse for at least one year, 45% don’t tell anyone for five years, and others never disclose their abuse at all (Smith et al., 2000; Broman-Fulks et al., 2007).

So, why don’t children disclose sexual abuse? Well, there are 10 primary reasons why children endure abuse in silence:

1) “Keep it a secret!”

Sexual predators are master manipulators and will often instruct children to keep the abuse a “secret,” that it’s something special that just the two of them are doing. This tactic is used frequently, especially with younger children.

Safety Lesson for Kids: Teach children the difference between “secrets” and “surprises,” which are good, fun things like birthday gifts or family celebrations. Inform them to NEVER keep a secret about someone seeing or doing something to a private part of their bodies.

2) Fear and Threats.

Another common tactic used by sexual perpetrators is to instill fear in child victims and/or threaten them. Threats can take a variety of forms including physical harm to the child, the child’s parents, siblings, friends or even a child’s pets. Threats can also include withholding items or privileges that are special to a child or even the basic necessities of life such as food and water. Sometimes, kids are just plain scared of or intimidated by their abusers. A child might also be fearful of how the person they want to disclosure to will react, or of negative repercussions, both explicit and implied, for telling.

Safety Lesson for Kids: Establish an environment where children can openly talk with you about times they are scared or worried. Clearly let them know they should come to you or another Safe Adult if someone ever threatens them or someone else in their lives.

3) “I don’t know how or who to tell.”

Imagine how you would feel describing to someone the details of your last sexual encounter… Would you feel uncomfortable? Would you know what to say? Would you be selective about the person to whom you recounted your experience?

Now imagine a young child or even a teenager trying to find the words to describe their experience of sexual abuse. For younger children, this is can often be difficult if they do not know the proper names of their body parts or understand basic body safety principles. For older kids, even if they can describe the abuse, it’s often embarrassing for them to talk about even with someone they trust. In fact, most children who disclose sexual abuse DO NOT tell their parents — rather, they seek out someone else in their circle of trust, if they choose to disclose at all.

Safety Lesson for Kids: When talking with kids about sexual abuse prevention, teach the proper names of body parts at a very young age! It’s NEVER TOO EARLY to start teaching children important body safety concepts, starting with identifying the names and locations of their private body parts. Additionally, working with children to identify Safe Adults in their lives is key!

4) The Blame Game.

Again, sexual predators are master manipulators and will often lead a child to believe that the sexual abuse is ALL THE CHILD’S FAULT! A child is told that s/he is the reason behind the abuse and that the child “made” the perpetrator do it — the perpetrator places all the blame for the abuse on the child.

Safety Lesson for Kids: When teaching body safety principles to children, reinforce that it would NEVER be a child’s fault if someone asked to see or did something to their private body parts for no good reason or just to play a game.

5) Grooming.

Another sexual predatory behavior is grooming, which is the process of earning a child victim’s trust and compliance. Predators groom victims for two reasons:

  1. “Test the waters” to see how a child victim will react or respond to advances.
  2. Train the child victim for continued inappropriate and more advanced sexual contact.

Grooming enables predators to earn a victim’s trust and can also reduce the likelihood that a victim will disclose the abuse. Grooming can take place in a very short period of time, or through numerous interactions with a child over a longer period of time. Predators also groom parents, caregivers, and other adults in a child’s life in order to establish an environment where the “Three A’s” can occur.

Safety Lesson for Kids: Let children know that if someone treats them differently (often in a “good” way) by giving them special gifts or favors not offered to other kids, that the child should let you or another Safe Adult know what’s happening.

6) “No one will believe you!”

By diminishing a child’s self-esteem and convincing a child that no one will believe them, predators often manipulate children into silence. This tactic is commonly used by people in positions of power or authority. If a child thinks his/her story of abuse will not be believed, then why bother telling anyone?

Safety Lesson for Kids: Reinforce the notion that NO ONE has the right to see or do something to a private body part for no good reason or just to play a game — and that includes all adults like parents, teachers, coaches, doctors and more! Emphasize that it is the job of adults to keep children safe. If the first Safe Adult on their list is too busy to listen or does not believe them, then they should go to the next Safe Adult on the list… and keep talking until someone listens and responds to keep them out of harm’s way!

7) Dissociation.

Dissociation is defined as disruptions in aspects of consciousness, identity, memory, physical actions and/or the environment. This state of being can often help children live through abuse by psychologically separating the child from the trauma as the abusive event is occurring. Sometimes, children who dissociate from abusive events do not recall the abuse until sometime in the future.

Safety Lesson for Kids: Talk to kids about the fact that it is never too late to tell a Safe Adult if someone has abused them. Even if the child “forgets” to say something right away, be clear that it is always better to talk with a Safe Adult as soon as they remember.

8) Punishment.

Many times, children are led to believe they will get in trouble for disclosing. Punishment can take on many forms including physical abuse, harm to other family members including beloved pets, or elimination of items that are special to a child (toys, special privileges, etc.). Kids are sometimes told they will be taken away from a parent or home they love if they tell anyone about the abuse.

Safety Lesson for Kids: As with #4 above, reinforce that it is NEVER a child’s fault if someone asked to see or did something to their private body parts for no good reason or just to play a game

9) Shame.

Sexual assault victims of any age can experience shame, embarrassment or humiliation. Those feelings can be so strong that they override the choice to tell anyone about the abuse.

Safety Lesson for Kids: Reinforcing the above teaching moments can help to reduce feelings of shame. Be sure to establish and maintain a safe environment for children to talk about difficult topics. Start with less serious topics like disagreements with siblings or friends, how to handle being mad or sad, and so on. When a child feels comfortable approaching you with everyday challenges, it increases the likelihood of them coming to you should a more serious event like sexual abuse ever occur.

10) Love.

Love is a powerful motivator to stay silent about abuse. Remember: 90% of all sexually abused children know, LOVE, or trust their abusers. So, it’s pretty common for children to have strong feelings for those perpetrating crimes against them. Because of those strong feelings, children often keep sexual abuse a secret. Love can take on many forms in child sexual abuse cases; some examples include:

  • The child loves a parent or another family member who is abusing him/her
  • The child wants to protect mom, dad, grandma, etc. if that person’s partner is sexually molesting him/her
  • A Romeo-Juliet scenario exists where the child thinks s/he is in love with an older perpetrator

Safety Lesson for Kids: Teaching body boundaries and healthy sexual development — including what relationships typically look like at various life stages — will help children make good choices and turn to you or another Safe Adult when needed. Additionally, including yourself as someone who is not allowed to touch a child for no good reason reinforces the concept that even those you love and who love you must play by the same rules of body safety.

To help educate kids about sexual abuse prevention in a way that is child-friendly, I invite you to check out our “Believe Jeeves!” online video library for kids! ♥ Also, I invite you to watch videos designed for parents and caregivers to help you talk with your child about sexual abuse prevention and body safety, as well as better understand other elements of child protection — just click on the images below.

 

 


About Sue ♥

Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center Executive Director Sue Bolde has a BA in psychology from the University of California Santa Barbara and an MA in art therapy from the University of Illinois. Her professional career includes clinical work with children and teens at the University of Chicago, graduate-level instruction with students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and certification as a Montessori teacher and yoga instructor. She is currently a teacher in training with Google’s Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute as well as a Michigan ACE Initiative trainer.

About Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center ♥

The nationally accredited Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center brings help, hope, and healing to child victims of sexual abuse, physical abuse, and violence. Our mission is to protect children by supporting multidisciplinary investigations into alleged cases of child abuse by conducting child forensic interviews in an environment that is child-sensitive, supportive and safe. We help heal child victims and their families through our in-house therapeutic services and offer prevention education throughout the region via our Team Zero program. As the Grand Traverse regional response center for the investigation of child abuse, we collaborate with multidisciplinary teams in six counties – Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Leelanau, and Wexford – in addition to the Sovereign Nation of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. More than 1,400 children have been referred to the Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center since our founding in 2010.


The Direct Link Between Animal Abuse and Child Abuse

By SUE BOLDE, Executive Director

Have you ever seen a dog chained to a tree in someone’s backyard for days or weeks on end, surrounded by nothing but dirt with a small bowl of water and little shelter? How about a horse in a pasture whose rib cage you can clearly see? Or how about a matted, flea-ridden tabby who you know belongs to your neighbors, but appears daily meowing at your front stoop?

While sometimes these signs can be symptomatic of animals who are sick and under the responsible medical care of their owners, each of these scenarios can also indicate these animals are being neglected or abused. Did you know that animal maltreatment, abuse or neglect can also be symptomatic of maltreatment, abuse or neglect of other vulnerable individuals in a household… including children?

For many years, law enforcement and child protection professionals have recognized a direct correlation between the mistreatment of animals and the maltreatment of children or other vulnerable individuals. That correlation is so strong, in fact, that in January 2016, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) officially declared animal maltreatment to be a crime against society and began charging those offenses as Class A Felonies.

From the FBI: “If somebody is harming an animal, there is a good chance they also are hurting a human,” said John Thompson, deputy executive director of the National Sheriffs’ Association. “If we see patterns of animal abuse, the odds are that something else is going on.”

Vulnerable Victims

This isn’t a new concept. In 2008, Michigan State University College of Law published an article about this abuse connection and says more than 80% of families being treated for child abuse were also involved in animal abuse. The report also cites: “Research in psychology and criminology indicates that people who commit acts of cruelty to animals often do not stop there — many of them later turn on humans.”

According to the MSU report, “When animals in a home are abused or neglected, it is a warning sign that others in the household may not be safe.” This article further states that, regarding domestic violence or abuse, the batterer/abuser often targets pets in the home first, then goes after other potential victims in the household (i.e., children, spouses, elderly parents, etc.). Other organizations including the Colorado Link Project recognize this connection and offer education and intervention resources to help.

The Cherryland Humane Society serves Grand Traverse and Leelanau Counties and sees far too many of these types of cases. “People may witness animals being neglected or maltreated, but often shy away from becoming involved in what they believe to be ‘family’ affairs,” shares Cherryland HS Executive Director Heidi Yates.  “Sadly, those people choose not to make a report which further endangers the animals, and possibly other vulnerable individuals in the household… including children.”

Pets Used as Pawns in Abuse

“This happens time and time again in cases of child abuse and domestic violence. Perpetrators often threaten to harm, injure or even kill pets in the home as a way of controlling their child or adult victims. The Michigan State University report cites, “In cases of child abuse, perpetrators often abuse animals to exert their power and control over children and other vulnerable family members. In some cases, abusers will force children to sexually abuse, hurt, or kill a pet. Threats of animal abuse may also be used to intimidate children to keep silent about being victims of abuse.”

This isn’t just a problem here in the United States. A study in UK published by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) cites that nearly half (46%) of female domestic violence victims reported their partner had threatened to harm their pets. Over half (53%) of the victims with physically abusive partners said their family pets were actually “hurt or killed” by their abusers. Of those whose pets were harmed, four (4) primary methods were used to inflict injury or death:

  • Kicking (33%)
  • Punching or hitting (15%)
  • Throwing the pet against a wall (10%)
  • Hitting the pet with an object (5%)

From the Council of State Governments here in the US:

“Michigan enacted domestic violence legislation May 3 that adds companion animals to personal protection orders, making it the latest state to acknowledge the role pets play in domestic violence situations. Currently, 29 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have laws with provisions that allow pets to be included in personal protection orders.”

Animal Abuse = Indicator of Future Violence

Animal abuse often starts in childhood. If a child is abusive to or harms animals, that behavior is a strong indicator of future violence towards people. The Michigan State University report says that violent criminals are five (5) times more likely to commit violent crimes against humans if they abused animals in childhood. Furthermore, There is a further correlation: the most aggressive criminals had committed the most severe acts of animal cruelty in childhood.”

Unfortunately, animals are often a perpetrator’s first victims, as animal abuse is often an entry into violence against people. “It is a matter of escalation: people who want to victimize start with something they can easily control, then they work their way up. A person who only feels powerful and in control while inflicting pain or death must continually sustain that ‘high’ by committing acts that are more heinous or morbid.” (Source: Michigan State University College of Law)

This same report also links animal abuse with school violence and shootings:

“Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who shot and killed 12 students at Columbine High School, spoke of mutilating animals to their classmates. Luke Woodham, who murdered his mother and two schoolmates, tortured and killed his own pet dog beforehand. High-school killer, Kip Kinkel, tortured animals before going on his shooting spree. He was reported to have blown up cows and decapitated cats. Andrew Golden is said to have shot dogs, even his own pet dog, with a .22 caliber rifle before attacking his classmates.”

The report also cites some alarming statistics:

  • 100% of sexual homicide offenders examined had a history of cruelty towards animals
  • 70% of all animal abusers have committed at least one (1) other criminal offense
  • Nearly 40% of animal abusers have committed violent crimes against people

Signs of Animal Abuse or Neglect

Again, where there is animal abuse, there is often a child or family in danger. In addition to knowing the warning signs of child abuse, it is also important to keep an eye out for animals in your area that are maltreated or neglected. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals notes both physical and environmental signs to look for…

Physical Signs of Cruelty

  • Tight collar that has caused a neck wound or has become embedded in the pet’s neck
  • Open wounds, signs of multiple healed wounds or an ongoing injury or illness that isn’t being treated
  • Untreated skin conditions that have caused loss of hair, scaly skin, bumps or rashes
  • Extreme thinness or emaciation—bones may be visible
  • Fur infested with fleas, ticks or other parasites
  • Patches of bumpy, scaly skin rashes
  • Signs of inadequate grooming, such as extreme matting of fur, overgrown nails and dirty coat
  • Weakness, limping or the inability to stand or walk normally
  • Heavy discharge from eyes or nose
  • An owner striking or otherwise physically abusing an animal
  • Visible signs of confusion or extreme drowsiness

Environmental Signs of Cruelty

  • Pets are tied up alone outside for long periods of time without adequate food or water, or with food or water that is unsanitary
  • Pets are kept outside in inclement weather without access to adequate shelter
  • Pets are kept in an area littered with feces, garbage, broken glass or other objects that could harm them
  • Animals are housed in kennels or cages (very often crowded in with other animals) that are too small to allow them to stand, turn around and make normal movements

Some states and local municipalities have also enacted chaining and tethering laws, setting limits to the method and duration of animal restraint.

Protect Children and Families in Trouble… Report Animal Abuse!

If you know of an animal that is a victim of maltreatment or abuse, contact:

Help for Victims of Domestic Violence

If you are a victim of domestic violence, contact (caution: be aware computer activity may be monitored by your abuser, so take appropriate action):

 


About Sue ♥

Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center Executive Director Sue Bolde has a BA in psychology from the University of California Santa Barbara and an MA in art therapy from the University of Illinois. Her professional career includes clinical work with children and teens at the University of Chicago, graduate-level instruction with students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and certification as a Montessori teacher and yoga instructor. She is currently a teacher in training with Google’s Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute as well as a Michigan ACE Initiative trainer.

About Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center ♥

The nationally accredited Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center brings help, hope, and healing to child victims of sexual abuse, physical abuse, and violence. Our mission is to protect children by supporting multidisciplinary investigations into alleged cases of child abuse by conducting child forensic interviews in an environment that is child-sensitive, supportive and safe. We help heal child victims and their families through our in-house therapeutic services and offer prevention education throughout the region via our Team Zero program. As the Grand Traverse regional response center for the investigation of child abuse, we collaborate with multidisciplinary teams in six counties – Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Leelanau, and Wexford – in addition to the Sovereign Nation of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. More than 1,400 children have been referred to the Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center since our founding in 2010.


Doc Talk: Identifying Safe Adults

As part of a “Companion Series”, Dr. Amelia shares backstory information with parents and care givers about identifying Safe Adults in children’s lives, the importance of doing so and how to talk through who should be a Safe Adult for a child.

This video accompanies the “Believe Jeeves!” video for kids called, Who Are Safe Adults?

 

For more, visit the companion video lesson for kids:

Believe Jeeves: Who Are Safe Adults?”

Talking Points and Facts About Helping Your Child Identify Five (5) Safe Adults including a letter you can send to your child’s Safe Adults.


About Dr. Amelia ♥

Amelia Siders, Ph.D., LP, serves as the Clinical Director for TBCAC and has been working in the mental health field since 1994. She received a BA in psychology from the University of Michigan and completed her doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology at the California School of Professional Psychology, San Diego. A licensed psychologist, Dr. Amelia specializes in assessment, treatment, and advocacy for children, adolescents, and adults with emotional, behavioral, trauma, and substance use disorders. She has been trained in Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and EDMR, as well as several other trauma-informed interventions including Trauma Incident Reduction. In addition to overseeing counseling and therapeutic services at TBCAC, Dr. Amelia serves as an expert in child abuse prevention and intervention and provides testimony in court cases related to areas such as child abuse disclosure rates, false allegations, statistics, trauma symptoms and even grooming and offender behaviors. Additionally, she offers consultation for prosecutorial teams on psychological assessments conducted on both clients and alleged offenders that may be used in court. She and her team of onsite therapists also help prepare both families and children for the trial process by offering support and education about ways to feel more confident and less anxious when providing testimony. Dr. Amelia became passionate about working with children and families who have been affected by abuse when completing her internship at the Center for Child Protection in San Diego, California. Dr. Amelia lives in Traverse City with her canine companion and beloved TBCAC volunteer, Jeeves.

About Jeeves ♥

Jeeves serves as a loyal volunteer sidekick to Dr. Amelia, providing sweet, loving wags to hundreds of child victims and their caregivers for the past several years. A Havanese, Jeeves has hair instead of fur which helps people visiting the Center who may have allergies. As the TBCAC mascot, Jeeves welcomes any and all opportunities to receive belly rubs and hugs!


What Are ACEs All About?

By SUE BOLDE, Executive Director

Nearly 350 people gathered at the Milliken Auditorium in Traverse City, MI, at the end of April to learn how Adverse Childhood Experiences—otherwise known as ACEs—can eat at the very core of health and well being of both children and adults. A groundbreaking documentary, RESILIENCE: THE BIOLOGY OF STRESS AND THE SCIENCE OF HOPE, reveals research validating that trauma experienced in childhood can have significant, long-term effects on people throughout their lives.

“What the mind may not remember, the body never forgets.”

People who endure Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) can suffer a variety of detrimental life outcomes, including:

• Engaging in activity or behavior that can negatively impact health (e.g., smoking, addiction to alcohol or drugs, self-injurious behavior, etc.)

• Encountering physical health issues such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes and more

• Experiencing mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or even attempted suicide

• Enduring other negative life situations such as being at higher risk for domestic violence, poor performance at work or school, unintended pregnancies, financial stress and more

The ACE “Score” is a sum total of the different categories of ACE and is used to assess an individual’s level of childhood stress or trauma. Study findings repeatedly reveal that the higher a person’s ACE Score, the more likely that person is to experience one or more detrimental life outcomes (watch video below).

About the ACE Study

The ground-breaking ACE Study was initially conducted from 1995 to 1997 by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Kaiser Permanente surveying and conducting physical exams of over 17,000 health maintenance organization members from Southern California. This study found that ACEs are incredibly common with nearly 2/3 of the study participants reporting they had experienced at least one ACE (and among those, 87% experienced more than one ACE) and more than 1 in 5 reported experiencing 3 or more ACEs.

Three Types of ACEs

The CDC shares an infographic that explains the three (3) different types of ACEs: 1) Abuse; 2) Household Challenges; and 3) Neglect.

Take the ACE quiz.

To understand your ACE score, answer the “yes”/”no” questions below then tally your score… the higher the ACE score, the greater the likelihood of encountering detrimental life outcomes.

So, before you turned 18 years old…

  1. Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often… swear at you, insult you, put you down or humiliate you? Or, did that adult act in a way that made you afraid that you might be physically hurt?
    • Yes = 1
    • No = 0
  2. Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often… push, grab, slap or throw something at you? Or, did that adult ever hit you so hard that you had marks or were injured?
    • Yes = 1
    • No = 0
  3. Did an adult person at least 5 years older than you ever… touch or fondle you or have you touch their body in a sexual way? Or, did that person attempt or actually have oral, anal or vaginal intercourse with you?
    • Yes = 1
    • No = 0
  4. Did you often or very often feel that… no one in your family loved you or thought you were important or special? Or, did your family NOT look out for each other, feel close to each other or support each other?
    • Yes = 1
    • No = 0
  5. Did you often or very often feel that… you didn’t have enough to eat, had to wear dirty clothes and had no one to protect you? Or, were your parents too drunk or too high to take care of you or take you to the doctor if you needed it?
    • Yes = 1
    • No = 0
  6. Were your parents ever separated or divorced?
    • Yes = 1
    • No = 0
  7. Was your mother or stepmother: often or very often pushed, grabbed, slapped or had something thrown at her? Or, was she sometimes, often or very often kicked, bitten, hit with a fist or hit with something hard? Or, was she ever repeatedly hit at least a few minutes or threatened with a gun or knife?
    • Yes = 1
    • No = 0
  8. Did you live with anyone who was a problem drinker, an alcoholic or who used street drugs?
    • Yes = 1
    • No = 0
  9. Was a household member depressed or mentally ill? Or, did a household member attempt suicide?
    • Yes = 1
    • No = 0
  10. Did a household member go to prison?
    • Yes = 1
    • No = 0

Visit the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to find more extensive ACE questionnaires for men and women that specifically address family health history and a personal health appraisal (see “Study Questionnaires”). Also, visit the CDC’s ACE Infographic to learn more.

What’s Next?

Many of us in the Grand Traverse region are pulling our heads and hearts together to explore ways to address ACEs and help end the cyclical and often generational nature of ACEs…stay tuned for more! In the meantime, there are a host of regional services that can assist…

It’s never too late to seek help.

People come to terms with childhood trauma at different rates and at different times in their lives. Some survivors of childhood trauma are connected with counseling and support soon after trauma occurs… others aren’t able to begin their journeys of healing until much later in life. Regardless of when a trauma survivor begins this journey, it is important to connect with the proper professionals who can best help and counsel the survivor. There are several services here in the Grand Traverse region that can be of assistance—many thanks to the following organizations who participated in the RESILIENCE event in Traverse City on April 29, 2018… connect with them at the links below:

In addition to a host of local resources, here are a few other organizations that may be able to help:

MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving)
1-800-438-6233

National Alliance on Mental Illness
1-800-950-6264

National Center on Elder Abuse
1-800-677-1116

National Child Abuse Hotline: ChildHelp
1-800-422-4453

National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs,
National Advocacy for Local LGBT Communities

1-212-714-1141
[links to local programs]

National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence
1-800-622-2255

National Domestic Violence Hotline
1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY)

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1-800-273-TALK (8255)  [24/7 hotline] 1-888-628-9454 (Spanish)
1-800-799-4889 (TTY)

National Runaway Safeline
1-800-RUN-AWAY (786-2929)

National Sexual Assault Hotline: RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network)
1-800-656-4673 [24/7 hotline] 1-877-995-5247
[hosts an online hotline]

National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline
1-866-331-9474 or 1-866-331-8453 (TTY)

Teen Line
1-310-855-4673 or text 839863

VictimConnect
National Hotline for Crime Victims
1-855-4-VICTIM (1-855-484-2846)


About Sue ♥

Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center Executive Director Sue Bolde has a BA in psychology from the University of California Santa Barbara and an MA in art therapy from the University of Illinois. Her professional career includes clinical work with children and teens at the University of Chicago, graduate-level instruction with students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and certification as a Montessori teacher and yoga instructor. She is currently a teacher in training with Google’s Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute as well as a Michigan ACE Initiative trainer.

About Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center ♥

The nationally accredited Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center brings help, hope, and healing to child victims of sexual abuse, physical abuse, and violence. Our mission is to protect children by supporting multidisciplinary investigations into alleged cases of child abuse by conducting child forensic interviews in an environment that is child-sensitive, supportive and safe. We help heal child victims and their families through our in-house therapeutic services and offer prevention education throughout the region via our Team Zero program. As the Grand Traverse regional response center for the investigation of child abuse, we collaborate with multidisciplinary teams in six counties – Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Leelanau, and Wexford – in addition to the Sovereign Nation of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. More than 1,400 children have been referred to the Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center since our founding in 2010.


An Overlooked Child Vulnerability to Sexual Abuse

By SUE BOLDE, Executive Director

As we think about children who are most vulnerable to sexual abuse, we may immediately imagine children who are impoverished, living in rural areas, or even in single-parent homes. But there is another subset of children who many of us don’t readily recognize as being susceptible to sexual predators…

An Overlooked Vulnerability

An often overlooked or perhaps disregarded aspect of child vulnerability to sexual abuse is actually embedded in our culture—we may not recognize it in ourselves, but we pass it on to kids in our expectations. This vulnerability relates to children with a high drive to achieve or a strong desire to please others.

The most recent and glaring example of this can be found in the conviction of USA Gymnastics Team physician Larry Nassar who sexually abused more than 150 young athletes, many in the presence of their parents.

Competition and a desire to be the best can place children in a position of succumbing to predators in positions of authority; predators who use those positions to target, exploit and abuse child victims. Parents sometimes unwittingly place their children in harm’s way by trusting people who can help their children succeed, but who may also have ulterior motives.

“My parents, who had my best interest at heart, will forever have to live with the fact that they continually brought their daughter to a sexual predator, and were in the room as he assaulted me.” ~Marie Anderson, swimmer

According to news reports, gymnast and two-time Olympic medalist McKayla Maroney underscored the very issue so many children face as they put themselves in positions of vulnerability while trying to attain specific goals or ambitions. “I had a dream to go to the Olympics,” she shared, “… and the things that I had to endure to get there were unnecessary and disgusting.”

Making Children Less Vulnerable

Is it possible to help children pursue their dreams and still keep them safe? Here are two important and relatively straightforward ways to start:

1. Educate children about body safety and the basics of sexual abuse prevention. Starting at a very young age, parents and caregivers can instill body safety rules in kids in ways that are not scary and actually empower children. For tips about teaching kids basic safety rules, as well as how to foster conversations with your kids about sexual health and safety, visit our blog, Dr. Amelia’s vlog or my “Sue Says…” video vignettes for parents.

2. Know the child protection rules and guidelines for organizations in which your child is involved. Any organization, club, church or school in which your child participates should have rules about sexual abuse prevention as well as basic child protection and safety guidelines. Ask to see those guidelines and talk with officials in the organization about how those rules are practiced. We recommend that all staff and volunteers of youth-serving organizations attend Darkness to Light’s “Stewards of Children” training which helps adults understand the issue of child sexual abuse, learn how to identify and respond to allegations of abuse, and establish policies and best practices to ensure the safety of children in their care. Here at TBCAC, we offer this training for FREE—contact our Prevention Coordinator, Elizabeth Pine at epine@traversebaycac.org if you are interested in learning more.


About Sue ♥

Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center Executive Director Sue Bolde has a BA in psychology from the University of California Santa Barbara and an MA in art therapy from the University of Illinois. Her professional career includes clinical work with children and teens at the University of Chicago, graduate-level instruction with students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and certification as a Montessori teacher and yoga instructor. She is currently a teacher in training with Google’s Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute as well as a Michigan ACE Initiative trainer.

About Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center ♥

The nationally accredited Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center brings help, hope, and healing to child victims of sexual abuse, physical abuse, and violence. Our mission is to protect children by supporting multidisciplinary investigations into alleged cases of child abuse by conducting child forensic interviews in an environment that is child-sensitive, supportive and safe. We help heal child victims and their families through our in-house therapeutic services and offer prevention education throughout the region via our Team Zero program. As the Grand Traverse regional response center for the investigation of child abuse, we collaborate with multidisciplinary teams in six counties – Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Leelanau, and Wexford – in addition to the Sovereign Nation of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. More than 1,400 children have been referred to the Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center since our founding in 2010.


Doc Talk: Abnormal Sexual Behaviors in Children

Dr. Amelia addresses normal vs. abnormal sexual behaviors in children in this episode of “Doc Talk”. She answers questions including:

  • “If my child has been sexually abused, will s/he go on to sexually abuse others?”
  • “What resources are available to my child to help him/her heal from being sexually abused?”
  • “My child has exhibited abnormal sexual behavior towards other children… what do I do?”

References and tools for parents and professionals mentioned in this video:


About Dr. Amelia ♥

Amelia Siders, Ph.D., LP, serves as the Clinical Director for TBCAC and has been working in the mental health field since 1994. She received a BA in psychology from the University of Michigan and completed her doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology at the California School of Professional Psychology, San Diego. A licensed psychologist, Dr. Amelia specializes in assessment, treatment, and advocacy for children, adolescents, and adults with emotional, behavioral, trauma, and substance use disorders. She has been trained in Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and EDMR, as well as several other trauma-informed interventions including Trauma Incident Reduction. In addition to overseeing counseling and therapeutic services at TBCAC, Dr. Amelia serves as an expert in child abuse prevention and intervention and provides testimony in court cases related to areas such as child abuse disclosure rates, false allegations, statistics, trauma symptoms and even grooming and offender behaviors. Additionally, she offers consultation for prosecutorial teams on psychological assessments conducted on both clients and alleged offenders that may be used in court. She and her team of onsite therapists also help prepare both families and children for the trial process by offering support and education about ways to feel more confident and less anxious when providing testimony. Dr. Amelia became passionate about working with children and families who have been affected by abuse when completing her internship at the Center for Child Protection in San Diego, California. Dr. Amelia lives in Traverse City with her canine companion and beloved TBCAC volunteer, Jeeves.

About Jeeves ♥

Jeeves serves as a loyal volunteer sidekick to Dr. Amelia, providing sweet, loving wags to hundreds of child victims and their caregivers for the past several years. A Havanese, Jeeves has hair instead of fur which helps people visiting the Center who may have allergies. As the TBCAC mascot, Jeeves welcomes any and all opportunities to receive belly rubs and hugs!


7-Step Response to Child Abuse Disclosure

The 7-Steps & Commonly Asked Questions About Reporting Suspected Child Abuse

By SUE BOLDE, Executive Director

Have you ever taken a moment to consider, “What would I do if a child told me he/she was being abused?” Well, there are helpful ways to respond if a child discloses abuse to you as well as things to avoid. Follow these 7-steps to help protect that child from further abuse and begin the healing process

1) If you are unsure, but suspect a child is being abused, talk with that child in a comfortable setting.  Do not directly ask the child if s/he is being abused, but rather inquire if s/he is worried, if something is bothering the child or if s/he feels unsafe in some way. Keep your questions open-ended… you can ask if something has happened but DO NOT ask the child directly if s/he is being abused. Allow the child to offer that information to you, but do not berate or lead the child to that conclusion. This becomes vitally important in the course of any subsequent investigations that may be conducted by law enforcement.

2) If a child confirms s/he is being abused, do 2 things:

  1. Take a deep breath and remain calm; and
  2. BELIEVE the child! The truth will come out in the end, but this is an IMPORTANT POINT. Tremendous damage can be done to children when they disclose abuse to a trusted party and that person reacts with doubt, suspicion or defiance. This often becomes difficult because most abusers are KNOWN to the child or to the child’s family… only about 10% of sexual predators are strangers.

3) Collect some details from the child, but avoid having him/her share too many specifics with you — that should be explored later, ideally with a trained child forensic interviewer. Do, though, ask the child to tell you:

  1. Who did it?
  2. What happened? (Again, gather general detail, but DO NOT have the child share with you too many specifics. The reason for this is in the event the case goes to trial, you may be called as a witness.)
  3. Where did it happen?
  4. When did it happen?
  5. NOTE: The younger the child, the more difficult it may be to pinpoint some of these details but do the best you can without further traumatizing the child.

4) Make sure the accused perpetrator has NO access to the child! If the accused perpetrator is in the same location as the child (e.g., at home, school, etc.), immediately remove the child from the premises.

5) Immediately contact your local Child Protective Services Department or law enforcement. Ideally, the child would be interviewed about the alleged abuse in a safe, neutral, child-friendly environment, such as the Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center. Here in Northern Michigan, you can make a report any time, day or night, by calling 1-855-444-3911. You will reach the Centralized Intake Line operated by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS). A staff member will assist you in making a report.

6) Insist on a “wellness medical exam” for the child. Specially trained doctors and nurses conduct physical exams of children who are alleged victims of sexual or physical abuse in a non-threatening, child-friendly manner and environment. They are uniquely trained to conduct forensic examinations and determine the presence or absence of signs of abuse. These professionals should meet one of three standards:

a.  Child Abuse Pediatrics Sub-board eligibility or certification;

b.  Physicians without board certification or board eligibility in the field of Child Abuse Pediatrics, Advanced Practice Nurses, and Physician Assistants should have a minimum of 16 hours of formal didactic training in the medical evaluation of child sexual abuse; or

c.  SANEs (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners) without advanced practitioner training should have a minimum of 40-hours of coursework specific to the CRITERIA – Essential Components National Children’s Alliance • Standards for Accredited Members • 2017 Edition | 315 medical evaluation of child sexual abuse followed by a competency based clinical preceptorship. This means a preceptorship with an experienced provider in a clinical setting where the SANE can demonstrate competency in performing exams.

Work through your local Child Advocacy Center or law enforcement to connect with a specially trained medical professional who meets these standards.

7) Ensure the child has the proper professional follow-up with a victim advocate or therapist. This is essential! Abuse can leave lifelong scars and impact the child’s emotional and psychological development. It’s imperative to ensure s/he has access to the professional support and counseling for as long as the child needs it. At TBCAC, we think this is so important that we offer on-site counseling and therapy services to child victims who visit the Center, as well as to their non-offending family members, at NO COST to them.

Commonly Asked Questions About Reporting Suspected Child Abuse

While it can rattle even the strongest person to the core, responding responsibly when a child discloses abuse is crucial. Common types of reports made to MDHHS include:

  • A caller reports that a child disclosed that they were sexually abused by a family member or acquaintance.
  • A caller reports that there is suspicious behavior on the part of a neighbor where children go to play or spend time.
  • A caller reports that they’ve discovered child pornography on a computer or smartphone. (THIS IS A CRIME and indicates that the person in possession of the images is a predator.)

People put in the position of making a report often have similar questions or reservations, which can include:

Q: “Do I need proof before I call?”

A: No. Most child sexual abuse is not witnessed, and no one expects you to be the investigator. Ask only open-ended questions if and when a child discloses to you such as, “What happened next?” and “Can you tell me more?” without getting into too much detail.

Q: “Can I report my suspicions about someone or about an organization where abuse may be occurring?”

A: Yes. Adults often experience a “gut feeling” that perhaps things are not safe or appropriate when abuse is occurring. It is important to trust that instinct and think about the behavior that caused those feelings in the first place when reporting.

Q: “What happens after I make a report?”

A: Every report is unique and when a report is made, the investigating party determines next steps. In the Grand Traverse Region, child protection and law enforcement have the option of using the Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center to assist in the investigation and to provide follow-up services.

Q: “Can I make an anonymous report?”

A: Yes. You may give your name or you don’t have to… The identity of a reporting person is confidential under the law. The alleged perpetrator could possibly infer from the information in the report who made the complaint, however, MDHHS will NOT disclose the identity of a reporting person. The important thing is that when you make the report, whether you choose to remain anonymous or not, you are playing an important role in protecting a child.

The Michigan Child Protection Law mandates that persons who interact with children professionally in Michigan report suspected or possible child sexual abuse to MDHHS. So, if you work in schools, childcare settings, hospitals and healthcare, social work, counseling, law enforcement or with faith-based organizations and you suspect the abuse or neglect of a child or minor with which you have interacted, or have come to learn of an incident through your work, you are mandated to report.

While others who do not directly work with children are not mandated by law to report suspected abuse, both the child in question and possibly other children may need help. I hope that as caring, responsible citizens, each of us would be compelled by virtue of basic humanity to make a report.

You can do it! ♥

Be there for the child, regardless of who the alleged perpetrator is, and absolutely 100% of the time, report alleged or suspected abuse following the steps above. Your action (or inaction) will reinforce with that child whether or not s/he is worthy of protection.

For more information about reporting suspected child abuse, visit our Team Zero website.


About Sue ♥

Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center Executive Director Sue Bolde has a BA in psychology from the University of California Santa Barbara and an MA in art therapy from the University of Illinois. Her professional career includes clinical work with children and teens at the University of Chicago, graduate-level instruction with students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and certification as a Montessori teacher and yoga instructor. She is currently a teacher in training with Google’s Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute as well as a Michigan ACE Initiative trainer.

About Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center ♥

The nationally accredited Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center brings help, hope, and healing to child victims of sexual abuse, physical abuse, and violence. Our mission is to protect children by supporting multidisciplinary investigations into alleged cases of child abuse by conducting child forensic interviews in an environment that is child-sensitive, supportive and safe. We help heal child victims and their families through our in-house therapeutic services and offer prevention education throughout the region via our Team Zero program. As the Grand Traverse regional response center for the investigation of child abuse, we collaborate with multidisciplinary teams in six counties – Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Leelanau, and Wexford – in addition to the Sovereign Nation of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. More than 1,400 children have been referred to the Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center since our founding in 2010.