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Teach to Prevent: Children’s Advocacy Center Offers Free Training to Help Stop Child Sexual Abuse

Teach to Prevent: Children’s Advocacy Center Offers Free Training to Help Stop Child Sexual Abuse

by Traci Pitman

When it comes to child sexual abuse, the data is staggering—one in ten children will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday, and in the majority of cases the abuser is related to the victim. It’s tough to think about, but that’s what makes the Texarkana Children’s Advocacy Center‘s work so important.

“One of the things that surprises people the most is that the danger doesn’t necessarily come from strangers,” said Breanne Bradshaw, Educational Specialist. “Ninety to ninety-five percent of children are victimized by someone that the child and the family knows and trusts.”

To a child experiencing sexual abuse, making an outcry or talking to authorities about their abuse can be traumatic. Before Texarkana had the CAC the child often had to recount their experience multiple times in interviews with different law enforcement agencies, social workers, and other groups involved in an outcry of child sexual abuse.

At the CAC, children can give a single statement to a forensic investigator in a comfortable, private space outfitted with recording technology. Investigators can watch the interview from a separate viewing room, and they have the option to access the recording rather than submitting the child to additional interviews.

The CAC also features medical examination rooms where the child can receive a medical evaluation by a specially trained Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner at no cost to the family or law enforcement agency. In addition, victims and non-offending family members can access free trauma-focused therapy services at the CAC for as long as they are needed.

Bradshaw said more than 750 children benefited from CAC services in 2020.

“That is down quite a bit from years before,” Bradshaw said. “And we think that the reason is probably due to COVID-19. A lot of kids were stuck at home with their abusers. Because, as we know, family members are often the ones who perpetrate the abuse, and so maybe they just didn’t have anyone to tell.”

Bradshaw said she likes to reiterate that everything the CAC offers is free—not just to the families and children, but also to the agencies they work with.

“The stereotype is often that abuse happens to lower-income people,” she said. “That’s not necessarily true. People think, ‘That happens to other people’s kids,’ but it can happen to anybody’s kids regardless of socioeconomic status.”

Along with helping children experiencing sexual abuse, Bradshaw has another mission: to stop sexual abuse in its tracks through education and training.

“As adults, we need to educate ourselves in order to be able to protect children,” she said. “We need to teach kids personal body safety, just like when we teach them tornado safety drills in school.”

An important piece of the CAC’s work in the community is providing free education and awareness programs. Anyone who has a child or knows a child, said Bradshaw, should take their two-hour Darkness to Light’s Stewards of Children training, which consists of a documentary video featuring survivors and experts in the field along with a 30-minute group discussion.

“This is a prevention curriculum that focuses on educating adults, as ultimately it’s the responsibility of adults to keep children safe,” she said. “Sexual abuse is a tough topic. So some participants say it was hard to hear, but that they are glad they know and are aware of the dynamics surrounding sexual abuse.”

Anyone interested can register for a free training on August 24 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at texarkanacac.org. While anyone can sign up, 2.0 continuing education units are available for educators, counselors, dentists and dental hygienists.

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CAC education specialists are also teaming up with Jenna Quinn on July 13 to offer Teach to Prevent, a one-day conference for school counselors, nurses and resource officers to empower them to teach child sexual abuse prevention in their schools and to meet the requirements set out in “Jenna’s Law,” named after Quinn. Unanimously passed by the Texas State Senate and House, Jenna’s Law was the first child sexual abuse prevention law in the U.S. that mandates K-12 trainings for students and school staff.

The CAC also offers training curriculum for children and teens to learn safety rules and strategies to prevent, recognize and respond appropriately to bullying, cyberbullying, child abuse, exploitation and digital dangers.

Educational Specialist Ana Willis said that as a mother, the work she does at the CAC is particularly meaningful.

“I’m a new mother—I have a two-year-old—and I think there’s nothing else I should be doing, if that makes sense,” she said. “It means more to me because of that.”

Bradshaw and Willis both said burnout is real as part of a team dealing with such a heavy topic as child sexual abuse. But the outcome, according to Bradshaw? Worth it.

“To be able to see that healing process, though we don’t get to see it in all kids, is very rewarding,” she said. “They grow so much through therapy. Our therapists do assessments throughout their therapy, and you just see that trauma go down and down and down, and you just feel like, ‘That kid’s going to be okay.'”

Those interested in learning more about the CAC’s training can request information at texarkanacac.org/education-programs, contact Bradshaw at breannebradshaw@cactexarkana.org or (903) 792-2215, or contact Willis at anawillis@cactexarkana.org or (903) 792-1030.

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