The Power of Prevention

The Power of Prevention

by Lynn Geiger

One of the powers that all of us have is the power to help prevent childhood sexual abuse. But how, you may be asking yourself?

As a supporter of the Traverse Bay CAC, I recently attended a prevention program offered to people in our community, including employees of the Traverse City Area Public Schools. I don’t have children. I don’t work with them on a daily basis. But I have friends with children who I care deeply about. So, I decided to attend and see what I could learn.

The program, Darkness to Light’s “Stewards of Children,” is a nationally-recognized, two-hour training that shares techniques for adults to protect children from abuse, discusses how to talk to them about abuse, and also how to report suspected abuse to authorities. Additionally, this training helps to protect adults from unwittingly creating situations where child abuse could occur. The training is free to our community thanks to funding from the Oleson Foundation, Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation, Schmuckal Family Foundation, Hagerty, Exchange Club of Traverse City, and Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians.

The program was led by the CAC’s Prevention Coordinator, Jourdan Dean, and Jayne Mohr, Chair of the CAC Board. It began with an anonymous short questionnaire asking each of us to rate our level of comfort and knowledge when it comes to the topic of child sexual abuse. I rated myself as pretty uncomfortable and pretty uninformed. The trainers then request you dedicate the training to a specific child in your life. I picked a friend’s nine-year-old daughter.

As far as the facts, this is the big one I took away: one in 10 children experience sexual abuse, and in nearly all of those situations the victim knows his or her abuser – either a family member or someone the family trusts. Remember the lesson about “stranger danger?”

Knowing that startling statistic, what can I do to help prevent it from happening? The best strategy, according to the trainers, is to minimize the opportunity. Since 80 percent of incidents happen in one-on-one situations, working to reduce or eliminate the possibility of intimate scenarios with adults and even older children is something any of us can try to do. I now know that where I least expect something inappropriate to be happening is where I need to be looking.

The next section of the training focused on how to talk about abuse – everything from using the proper name for all body parts starting when children are babies and toddlers to body safety discussions with young children on through the teenage years. The trainers stressed that offenders often use a child’s lack of knowledge about what is appropriate and what isn’t to keep them silent. It’s so important that kids become the bosses of their bodies.

So, what do I do if I suspect abuse – either by recognizing physical, emotional or behavioral signs – or a child discloses abuse to me? I trust my gut or I believe the child and I report it. Concerned about overreacting, or misunderstanding a situation? I learned I shouldn’t be. You are just making a report. Dial 1.855.444.3911 and a staff member of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services will help you in making a report. State what you have observed or suspect, and let the professionals take it from there.

At the end of the session, the trainers had us complete the same questionnaire we did at the beginning. This time around I felt more comfortable and informed, and ready to use my power of prevention.

Contact Jourdan Dean at jdean@traversebaycac.org for more info about upcoming prevention training.


The Power of 10

The Power of 10

It’s the year of 10 for the Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center. For 10 years, the Center has been shining a light on child abuse. That’s 10 years of justice, hope and healing for children and their families – for the one in 10 children who are sexually abused across this country.

As we reflect on our first 10 years and look ahead to the next decade, we are building momentum for all the power the number 10 holds. We hope you will use your positive powers by telling 10 people – your friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors – about our work to create a world without abuse. If just 10 of our supporters share our important work, then 100 more people could join our cause. Help us magnify our mission!

This month, to kick off our Power of 10 campaign, the CAC is highlighting 10 body safety essentials for children. We hope this will reinforce and support what you are already doing with the children in your lives, or encourage you to take the first step in discussing body safety with young ones in your care.

(Adapted from Body Safety Education by Jayneen Sanders.)

10 Body Safety Essentials

1. Head, shoulders, penis, and toes. Use proper names for all body parts, including genitals, as soon as children start to talk, or even before. It’s best not to use pet or code names because if a child does share information about something that happened, the adult may not understand due to confusion caused by the alternative name.

2. A bubble of personal space. Teach children about boundaries and consent from a young age. Describe a bubble the size of a hula hoop as their personal space. No one has the right to enter the bubble. If someone wants to give a hug or a kiss, he or she should ask first, or the child can tell them to ask. And it’s okay to say “no.” High-fives and fist bumps can be good alternatives.

3. Private parts are private. No one has the right to touch or ask to see a child’s private parts. Additionally, the mouth is considered a private zone since things can be put in a mouth. When children are young and need assistance with bathing always use a washcloth, never a bare hand.

4. Five trusted adults. Have children identify five trusted adults who they can tell if they feel uncomfortable about something, are touched inappropriately or are shown inappropriate images. These should be adults in all the different settings a child experiences regularly. Important: if a child goes to an adult and doesn’t feel heard, it’s important to keep telling until he or she does feel heard.

5. Feeling safe and unsafe. Talk to children about being able to identify what it feels like to be safe as well as unsafe. Questions such as, “How did you feel when you were pushed down the slide and you weren’t ready?” and “How does it feel when we are snuggling together and reading a book?” help children to begin to understand the different feelings that go along with these concepts.

6. Pay attention to warning signs. In an unsafe situation, physical symptoms occur: hearts beat faster, nausea can occur, one might feel like crying. Tell children to pay attention to these early warning signs indicating they may be in an unsafe situation. It doesn’t necessarily mean, of course, that something bad is definitely going to happen.

7. Say no to secrets. Explain to children that while surprises are okay and can be really fun, secrets are not okay and can be dangerous. Tell a child that if someone asks him or her to keep a secret, it’s very important to tell one of those five trusted adults. Secrets are a critical part of a perpetrator’s grooming process.

8. Appropriate touch. Discuss with children when it is appropriate to touch private parts. For example, a doctor may need to for a health issue. It is important to stress that they still have a right to say “no.” They also can ask for a safe person to be with them. With bathing, talk about when it’s appropriate for them to take over that task.

9. Body safety talk is everyday talk. It’s important to talk about body safety in normal, everyday conversations and not make it some big deal or special discussion. For example, when watching TV, you can say, “That didn’t look like Johnny liked it when Grandpa pinched his cheek.” Take everyday things and reinforce safety and boundary issues.

10. Keep the conversation going. As children grow, keep talking. Social media and other places children hang out online bring new safety issues to the forefront. They should understand that safety also has to do with seeing things or being shown images that are not appropriate. Teenagers need to understand why it’s not a good idea to take photos and send them to someone, and that consent doesn’t just involve adults. Consent also applies to other children, including friends. It also doesn’t necessarily mean something bad; it could be that they just don’t know about boundaries.


Leading the Way

Shining the spotlight on CAC leadership

Behind many successful nonprofits is a volunteer board – a team of individuals who bring a diversity of skills and a passion for the mission. This month, the CAC is shining the spotlight on four individuals who serve as officers of its 14 member board: Jayne Mohr, Pat Warner, Vernon LaLone and Regina Jaeger.

They all share a critical goal of sustaining the financial health of the organization, as well as strengthening it in order to expand services and meet increasing demand. But read on to learn how and why they got involved with the CAC and what they wish everyone knew about its work covering the six-county area and the Sovereign Nation of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians.

JAYNE MOHR, CHAIR

As a retired educator, Jayne Mohr understands the long-lasting trauma a child suffers from an abuse situation.

“It deeply impairs their ability to learn, thrive and grow,” says Mohr, who retired from the Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) in 2012 after 20 years as associate superintendent and capping a 38-year career in education. “Our CAC offers hope and healing!”

She first became involved with the CAC during its development more than a decade ago through her role with TCAPS. Now on the board for almost seven years, she is beginning the second year of her second term as chair.

“One in ten children will experience sexual abuse before their 18th birthday, and in our region, 99.6% of the perpetrators are someone the child knows and trusts,” says Mohr.

One thing she wishes everyone knew? “That our CAC is child-focused and family-friendly, offering free intervention programs and services that give hope and healing to those in need.”

Mohr and her husband, Cal Karr, have lived in Traverse City for 25 years and have a son, daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren in Traverse City and another son who lives in Marquette.

PAT WARNER, VICE CHAIR

With a career committed to public health, Pat Warner sees her involvement on the CAC’s board as helping a population that can’t speak for themselves.

“It’s a silent public health issue that we need to make public,” says Warner, who joined the board three years ago and serves as its vice chair.

For Warner, the one in ten statistic about abuse says it all. “To me, that constitutes a public health crisis,” she says.

After growing up in Traverse City, Warner went on to spend her career in public health in Ann Arbor. She was with the University of Michigan health system for 35 years, the last 20 as executive director of the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital.

She first connected with the CAC after moving back north and had a friend who was on the board. She also chairs the CAC’s prevention council.

“I’m passionate about helping communities to own the issue of childhood sexual abuse,” she says. “We are talking about social change here.”

Warner touts the CAC’s forensic interviewers as a critical piece of its care model. With that expertise, it means that a child is interviewed once about an alleged incident instead of multiple times by multiple agencies.

“The level of expertise of the CAC staff and leadership is amazing,” she says. “Our care model is a model for the state.”

VERNON LALONE, TREASURER

As a retired CPA, Vernon LaLone is well suited for his role as treasurer on the board. He joined the organization after learning the CAC was looking for someone with his background to serve.

He immediately set up a financial reporting system for the organization that was simple and accountable. “That’s what I love to do,” says LaLone who with his wife raised a family in Elk Rapids and was an accountant for 35 years. “It was a nice, natural fit for me.”

While he wasn’t familiar with the organization previously, LaLone says he’s learned the incredible importance it has for families dealing with abuse.

“This organization specifically coordinates everything so well,” he said, of the services and support offered, “with the least amount of impact on the families as possible.”

Though he describes the pervasiveness of the issue as “mind-boggling,” he is hopeful the increasing publicity about the organization’s work and presence in the region may be a deterrent for would-be offenders.

When LaLone isn’t working with numbers, he and his wife are preparing for their new project in retirement: a bed & breakfast operation north of Elk Rapids.

REGINA JAEGER, SECRETARY

“The CAC has done a great job of raising awareness of child abuse in our region so since their beginning, I have followed the organization,” says Regina Jaeger, who joined the board two years ago and has served as secretary this past year.

Jaeger is vice president / senior trust relationship officer for Greenleaf Trust in Traverse City.  She became directly involved with the CAC after attending its annual fundraiser, Circle of Friends.

“I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for any issue that impacts children,” she says. “The CAC provides help, hope, and healing with an avenue to overcome hardship, pain, and stress from toxic experiences of sexual abuse, physical abuse and violence.”

Jaeger also served on the board for Child and Family Services of Northwestern Michigan for nine years so becoming involved with the CAC was a natural transition, she says.

She would like to continue to educate the community on issues of child abuse “so that the root of the problem is addressed and we’re not just focusing on symptoms of the root cause.”

She adds, “Of course, our ultimate goal is a community (and world) without abuse. If we achieved that goal, the CAC wouldn’t be needed and that would be an amazing thing.”

Jaeger lives with her husband Kevin in Traverse City and has a son who lives in Detroit.

BOARD WORK IS TEAMWORK

The CAC executive committee is charged with tending to tasks in between board meetings, but it takes a team of dedicated individuals to build the kind of momentum that the CAC has experienced during the last decade.

The full board includes Karen Browne, James Bussell, Betsy Evans, Matthew Feil, Holly Hack, Ginger Kadlec, Annelle Kaspor, Michael Long, Noelle Moeggenberg, and executive director Sue Bolde. All members serve on committees and contribute financially to the CAC on an annual basis.


SafeTeam

“Give me an S, give me an A … Go SafeTeam!”

With August comes prep for back to school (gulp!) and the start of practice for fall sports. The CAC is also ramping up for the season, with its SafeTeam sexual abuse prevention training for coaches and athletes.

Who’s eligible? Any school within the six-county area (Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Leelanau, Kalkaska, and Wexford) as well as the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians

How long does it take? Approximately one hour

How much does it cost? It’s free! Better yet, coaches and athletes who complete the training receive money either for their athletic department or a specific sports team to spend on equipment, uniforms or other needs.

The CAC-developed training is designed to “educate coaches and athletes on the affect sexual abuse can have and how to prevent it in an athletic setting,” said Jourdan Dean, CAC prevention coordinator.

The CAC piloted the training with about 40 coaches at Traverse City Central High School in February, after community member Jen Dutmers first brought the idea to the CAC. They decided to start with adults who spend considerable time outside school hours with children – coaches.

Additional training sessions were held this past spring and now close to 200 area coaches and athletes have completed the training, said Dean, with a goal of reaching hundreds more in the coming months.

Mitch Miggenburg, athletic director for Kingsley Area Schools, participated in the training with about a dozen of the district’s spring sports coaches and volunteers before the season kicked off.

“I got a lot of positive feedback,” Miggenburg said. “It was invaluable for them to hear that info.”

He said sexual abuse cases such as those involving athletes at Michigan State University and USA Swimming drive home the importance of doing something like this at the small, local level.

In addition to knowing how to recognize the signs of abuse and understand the proper protocol to follow if abuse is suspected, the coaches learned about situations to try to avoid. For example, limiting one-on-one time between athletes and coaches, such as offering a student a ride home or waiting with him or her after practice until a ride shows up, and how to handle these situations differently.

Miggenburg plans to continue the training with the fall and winter sports.

“I highly recommend it to local area schools,” he said.

While the training is tailored to the audience, the objectives are the same – how to protect the athletic community from the risk of abuse, how to recognize the signs of abuse, and how to respond responsibly.

“The goal is that all who attend become vigilant advocates for those on their team,” said Dean.

Being able to give money to typically cash-strapped athletic programs is another positive outcome of the prevention program, she added.

Anne Morrison Perry, a former CAC board member and former teacher and coach at Traverse City Area Public Schools, donated the initial $5,000 to get the training program off the ground. The CAC also recently received $5,000 from Cherryland Cares, a charitable fund of Cherryland Electric, and $5,000 from the Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation to continue to fund the financial incentive for area schools.

Any school interested in learning more or scheduling training can contact Jourdan Dean.


REWIND

Sasha Joseph Neulinger’s portrait of healing explores how abuse affects children and reframes their world.

Old home movies can be funny, sweet, and sometimes even a little cringe-worthy. But imagine if they showed a heartbreaking and devastating past?

It’s in those home movies that filmmaker Sasha Joseph Neulinger saw a typical, happy-go-lucky child turn into an angry and withdrawn little boy. That four-year-old boy was him.

Rewind, Neulinger’s autobiographical documentary about surviving multi-generational child sexual abuse, is coming to the Traverse City Film Festival after its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year. Neulinger will also be in attendance.

Neulinger was 23 when he started work on the documentary – his first feature-length film and directorial debut.

“Six years ago I was at a crossroads,” said Neulinger, 29. Though he was doing well, he said – having finished college and working at National Geographic – “things from my past, that I didn’t understand, were affecting my present day life. I had unanswered questions about my childhood and what had happened to me. Questions I felt could be answered through the home videos.”

So he asked his father to send him the recordings – some 200 hours worth.

“Basically, from the time I was born, cameras were in my life,” said Neulinger, whose father, also a filmmaker, spent countless hours recording his family’s daily life and helped inspire his son’s interest in film.

Neulinger digitized the home videos and “re-watched his childhood,” he said. He watched his abusers interacting with him at family events. But he also watched some good moments.

“It was an incredible experience,” he said of the process – allowing him to understand his past and create a new context, but also to reclaim beautiful memories.

When Neulinger was four years old he was sexually abused for the first time by his uncle. The abuse continued for several more years and included other family members. He disclosed the abuse when he was eight.

He said for every question he got answered by the watching the videos, more would surface – and through interviews with his mother, father and therapist got the answers he needed.

“There’s a difference between surviving something and understanding something so you can overcome it,” Neulinger said. “My personal philosophy is if a memory is too painful to touch with your mind or your heart, it’s asking to be explored. This film became that exploration.”

He hopes the film helps to “transcend the gap between the mainstream audience and people affected by childhood sexual abuse.”

Neulinger works and lives in Montana, but has family connections to Michigan and is thrilled to be able to bring his film here.

Read more about him and his work in support of other survivors of childhood sexual abuse here.


BELIEVED

Lindsey Smith, co-host of the NPR podcast Believed about the Larry Nassar sexual abuse case, to speak at CAC event in October.

How did he get away with it? And, for so long?

That is the question asked – and answered – over and again in the podcast Believed, an intimate telling of how former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar was able to sexually abuse girls and women for more than two decades.

Listen and you’ll hear survivors telling specific details of their abuse. You’ll hear parents telling how they failed to believe their children. You’ll hear how Nassar fooled police, and you’ll hear from Nassar himself.

You’ll also learn – how the abuse went on for so long, how survivors found their voices even in the face of doubt, and how they were finally believed.

Lindsey Smith, one of the reporter duo who co-hosted Believed, will share the lessons learned from interviewing Nassar survivors when she comes to Traverse City for the CAC’s annual Circle of Friends luncheon in October.

Smith, the investigative reporter for Michigan Radio, teamed up with fellow reporter Kate Wells on the podcast that was released last fall by Michigan Radio and NPR. Not only are people tuning in to what is admittedly not an easy listen, but Smith and Wells have received national recognition for the storytelling project – including a Livingston Award, which recognizes the work of journalists under the age of 35.

Smith said the goal with the podcast was that it be relatable to anyone with kids in their lives – people who think they would be able to spot a predator from a mile away, hope they could recognize abuse, or believe the seemingly unbelievable.

But as the hosts say in the podcast’s introduction, serial sexual predators “get away because we let them.” The subsequent episodes tell exactly how.

Wells had been the lead reporter on the Nassar case for Michigan Radio since 2016. Smith said that even after Wells’ extensive reporting, she felt strongly there was more to be told and she pushed for it. And after more than 150 women showed up in a Michigan courtroom in January 2018 to speak at Nassar’s sentencing for multiple sex crimes, push came to shove. There was more to learn from these survivors.

“I think the first episode sells it, and that’s on purpose,” Smith said. “There are other Larry Nassars out there … and their weapons are not guns, their weapons are not knives, their weapon is trust.”

She hopes others can learn, just as she and Wells did, about how Nassar and other serial sexual predators like him operate.

“Yes, by the end I know how he got away,” said Smith. “He was able to portray himself as someone more trustable than anyone else.”

Find the Believed podcast here or wherever you listen to podcasts.


NCVRW 2017 Virtual Art Show at TBCAC

At the Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center, we are excited for our plans for National Crime Victims’ Rights Week!

National Crime Victims’ Rights Week (NCVRW), is April 2nd–8th and this year’s theme is “Strength. Resilience. Justice.” NCVRW is celebrated throughout the country and is a week in which we are reminded of the strength and courage victims have. We are reminded to meet victims where they are, listen to what their needs are and understand how we might be able to help them in recovery and through justice. It is important that we are all aware that crime victims have rights and that we, as a community, come together to show our support to each victim where they are at. Victims of crime are all in different places in their healing process and cannot all be treated the same. This week also reminds us to keep fighting for victims everyday, as they are fighting a lifetime of pain and suffering.

We will be hosting a Virtual Art Show April 2nd-8th displaying artwork created by victims while they are at our Center for a forensic interview, counseling or ongoing supports.

At the TBCAC, therapists often use art with their clients to help them express feelings and ideas that may be hard to articulate with words. Art expression is a powerful way to safely contain, and create separation from, the terrifying experience of trauma without relying on verbal language to share one’s story. We asked some of the children and adolescents who come through our doors to contribute a piece of their art drawing for our show to be on display for the week. They were encouraged to express feelings they had about themselves, others in their lives, and activities that make them feel safe and strong. Pride and excitement were seen on their faces as they handed over their creations. Resilience exists within every child. It is built and supported by caregivers, therapists, and community members who encourage that light to shine brighter every day.

Since 2010, the Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center has reached over 1,200 children, 300 during last year alone. The TBCAC works with six counties in our region, each with its own particular team of organizations and resources working to help crime victims. We take pride in our teamwork and know that together, we are creating communities to provide the Strength, Resilience, and Justice that NCVRW embodies.

CLICK HERE to view our NCVRW Virtual Art Show on Facebook.


Shedding Light on Sex Trafficking

Screen Shot 2016-05-16 at 10.39.14 AMShedding Light on Sex Trafficking

A new publication has been released from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs’ Luskin Center for Innovation entitled “Shedding Light on Sex Trafficking: Research, Data and Technologies with the Greatest Impact.”

The value of the report lies not in the novelty of its content but rather in the way it can be used to help communities organize their efforts to combat human trafficking, with resources for technology to assist in those efforts.

According to the report, childhood sexual abuse is the most commonly identified antecedent to commercial sexual exploitation and sexual victimization. Between 70 percent and 90 percent of child sexual exploitation cases have a history of child sexual abuse, physical abuse, neglect, and/or trauma. Furthermore, in their lifetime these children are 28 times more likely to be detained on “prostitution charges” than their non-sexually abused counterparts.

Child Advocacy Centers (CACs) have an important role to play as we interview children to assess for high-risk and/or current commercial sexual exploitation. CACs are also a critical part of the healing and recovery process for these victims, as with any other victims of child abuse. The report specifically points to the CAC model as the best practice for provision of services.

“Currently, there is no standard of care for human trafficked survivors. Children’s Advocacy Centers (CAC) serve as a model of how service providers can mitigate re-traumatization for child abuse victims. Developed in the 1980s, CACs have positively transformed services for and treatment of child victims of suspected maltreatment (e.g. sexual abuse) through a centralized and comprehensive approach.”

Click here for a complete version of the report.


TBCAC Local Council: Request for Safe Sleep Proposals

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As a recipient of grant dollars from the Michigan Children’s Trust Fund, the Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center and its local council must commit to raising awareness and providing support around the issue of safe sleep in Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, and Leelanau counties. In accordance with this requirement, the Local Council for this region is requesting proposals from nonprofit organizations that wish to purchase and distribute safe sleep materials in their area as well as educate community members about safe sleep practices.

The purpose of this project is to grant safe sleep funds to nonprofit organizations with the capacity to carry out safe sleep education and distribution of resources to infant caregivers within Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, and Leelanau counties. Successful proposals should include plans for purchasing materials (i.e. safe sleep sacks, pack and plays, etc), as well as delivering face to face education to those receiving materials.

Nonprofit organizations serving Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, or Leelanau counties that provide safe sleep programming to infant caregivers may apply for these funds. Proof of 501(c)(3) status must be included with proposals. Proposals are to be submitted by Friday, March 11th at 5pm. Please review the full 2016 Safe Sleep RFP for more details. For questions regarding the process, or to submit a proposal, contact Hannah Rodriguez at hrodriguez@traversebaycac.org or at (231) 929-4250. Thank you for your support in spreading Safe Sleep awareness throughout our region and please feel free to share within your networks!

2016 Safe Sleep RFP


You’re pretty special. Just saying.

Andy Schmitt 2

There’s no TECHY on staff at TBCAC.

We are a flock of empathic, sensitive, diligent individuals committed to protecting children and promoting their wellbeing. We are strategic-thinkers and do-gooders who aim to change the world.

We don’t know much about building databases. We don’t know much about hooking up audio visual stuff. We understand that WiFi exists, but we have no idea how.

 

 

And yet, we utilize sophisticated technology every day in the investigation of child abuse cases.

We just turn on a switch. Thanks to Andy Schmitt.

Andy is a well-respected IT Guru in the Grand Traverse Region. He is also a TBCAC volunteer who donates his time and talent to hear our concerns, ask thoughtful questions, and create brilliant solutions so that our technology runs efficiently and effectively. For the benefit of the children.

You’re pretty special, Andy.  Just saying.