Speak up to Stop Sex Abuse of Kids

By Susan Campbell
Hartford Courant [Connecticut]
December 13, 2006,0,7999121.column?coll=hc-utility-features-life

Do you know why you're here? the nurses ask.

And then they wait quietly.

Sometimes - especially if the child is young - there's no answer. The child simply has no words for what happened. And sometimes the child will say, "Because my daddy [uncle, brother, teacher, pastor] touched me."

Do you know why you're here?

In June, Hartford pastor Modesto Reyes was charged with raping a then-11-year-old member of his church, who later gave birth. DNA tests say with 99 percent certainty that Reyes is the baby's father. But during a summer court appearance, Reyes pled not guilty; he's due back in court next week.

At the time of his arrest, Hartford police said they suspected Reyes had sexually assaulted other neighborhood children, and they asked people to come forward.

But a police spokeswoman says no one did.

No wonder so many children who've been sexually abused are silent. If the adults in their lives won't speak out, how do we expect the children to bear the pain of the abuse as well as the burden of exposure? All too rarely do people show the courage to come forward and call a stop to the scourge. Childhood sexual assault is too awful, too scary, too taboo. Adults involved in a child's life worry about getting too involved, jumping to an ugly conclusion, destroying a life or a family. And so there stands the child. Alone.

Since September, Connecticut Children's Medical Center, has had a team of 11 sexual-assault nurse examiners especially trained for just such a sad occasion. The CCMC nurses (known by their acronym as SANEs) ask questions and collect evidence as unobtrusively as possible. In the short time they've been around, they've served 12 patients. The youngest was 4.

According to the Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services, one in three girls and one in six boys will be sexually assaulted before they are 18. In the past, when an assault was reported within 72 hours, the child was taken to an emergency room, where she would usually wait for hours to be seen by medical personnel who knew they might, down the road, be called to court to testify. If the child was talking, she would repeat her story several times - something that counselors say only contributes to the trauma.

In the course of an exam at CCMC, SANEs collect scrapings from under fingernails (if the children wish, they can do this themselves), swap inside their mouth and collect the child's underwear. The nurses may bring out a plastic Fisher-Price dollhouse, with a plastic smiling family and a bed and a bathtub to encourage conversation.

Do you know why you're here? They ask the most open-ended questions imaginable, said Margo George, the program's co-coordinator. George, an emergency room nurse, began asking for a program like this in the late '90s. A U.S. Department of Justice report said most SANE programs around the country grew that way - organically, from emergency room nurses' concerns about the treatment of patients in dire circumstances. Programs began about 30 years ago in Texas and California.

Save for the huge chair with footrests in the middle of the room and a shower off to the side, the Hartford examination room hardly looks medicinal. There are pastels and a shelf of stuffed animals. In a drawer are church-donated clothes for the patients, because the clothes they were wearing must stay behind for evidence. One patient, a young girl, suggested that the room is too quiet. George and Jennifer Hiscoe, co-coordinators, say they may get a handheld DVD player. That would be a good way to distract the patients during the exam, said Hiscoe.

The stigma for children who are sexually abused is appalling. If someone has something to tell the police, now is the time, before Reyes comes back to court.

Set an example for your children. They need to learn they can trust the adults in their world, and that if someone is hurting them, they can tell an adult, and the abuse will stop.

The adults who are charged with their care need to do the same. They need to tell.



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