EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fourth in a series on child sexual abuse. The topic may be too sensitive for some readers.

Employees at the Saville Center work closely with law enforcement and child welfare workers when children disclose abuse allegations and help kids navigate the justice system.

The center opened 23 years ago, and is an asset to the community, Stillwater Police Capt. Kyle Gibbs said. He said prior to the Saville Center, officers and welfare workers did joint interviews.

“We basically interviewed child victims the same as we did with every other crime. If there’s a child victim, you go and interview the victim and try to attempt to get some information like you would an adult,” he said.

Brandi Watts, a Nurse Practitioner at the Saville Center, said abused children are often fearful.

“Keep in mind, children who are being abused in their homes are often told not to talk to DHS or law enforcement; they are raised to fear them and often told they will take you away from your families or take mom and dad to jail,” she said.

The Saville Center gets involved if an investigation is opened by law enforcement or the Department of Human Services.

Pediatric sexual assault exams

Watts has been a Pediatric Sexual Assault Nurse for 10 years. In most cases, she said there aren’t injuries to the genitalia, which isn’t commonly known.

“Simply put, the parts of the body that are victimized in sexual abuse are made to heal very quickly; that’s why women are able to deliver children at home and heal without medical intervention,” she said. “Also, the manner in which younger children are victimized. Most perpetrators of children know their victims well and want to have access to them long-term. “

Even though she knows there typically aren’t injuries, she still does an exam on the child.

“The No. 1 reason we offer and do an exam is to ensure a child that their body is normal. That any pain or bleeding they experienced did not leave lasting injury to their body,” she said. “Children who do not have the opportunity to hear these words, often grow to be adults who believe they are ‘damaged goods.’” Watts has performed roughly 1,000 exams at the Saville Center for a variety of abuse.

Forensic interviews

Holly Chandler is a forensic interviewer and has conducted 2,286 interviews for various agencies over the last 14 years.

It is important to know that if a child discloses abuse, all minor children in the household are interviewed.

“The first part of the interview is just building rapport with the child. So that’s about five to seven minutes of finding out what they like to do,” Chandler said.

To see if a child can narrate abuse, she uses a technique called narrate practice and has them narrate a non-abusive situation.

“That just preps them later for my questions when I ask about the event, ‘tell me everything from beginning to end.’ So, they’re kind of used to that format,” she said.

Chandler uses anatomical drawings to aid with some of her exams. She said the anatomical drawings differ between the gender and ethnicity of the child. But each drawing shows a front and back view of either a boy or girl.

“Anatomical diagrams look like real people that include facial and age-appropriate body features,” she said. “With young children the diagrams are often invaluable to obtain names for body parts or questions regarding sexual touch.”

Chandler said sometimes children don’t open up about the abuse out of fear.

“Often, the abuser will convince the child that they will not be believed or that they are somehow responsible for the abuse and will be punished for it,” she said.

Advocacy

Shannon Hiner is the Victim and Family Advocate and has been for six years. She offers crisis intervention and support to families and children.

Hiner is tasked with providing referrals for mental health treatment and other services such as housing, food, protective orders, domestic violence intervention, public assistance and transportation.

“I provide information about victim rights as outlined by law. I also provide assistance in obtaining victims compensation,” Hiner said. “Court school is another service I provide for victim’s who testify in court.”

Prevention tips

Hiner said prevention is the main way parents and guardians want to protect their children from being sexually abused. She said parents should learn as much as possible about child sexual abuse, who commits the crime and why they commit them.

Teaching kids boundary rules about their body will also be helpful in preventing child sexual abuse, she said.

She said, “start early with your children (in an age appropriate way) and set clear safety boundary rules for your children.”

The following list gives the five personal safety boundary rules:

• No one should look at the private parts of your body.

• No one should ask you to look at the private parts of their body.

• No one should touch the private parts of your body.

• No one should ask you to touch the private parts of their body.

• No one should show you pictures of private parts on the TV, in magazines, on the computer or on a cellphone.

“Communication is the most important principle in keeping your kids safe from sexual abuse,” she said. “Create a climate in your home where kids are not afraid to share information about things they may be embarrassed or afraid about.”

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