Together We Heal is for any who suffer from the trauma of childhood sexual abuse. We provide a safe forum for survivors of abuse to share, learn and heal. We work to expose sexual predators and their methods of getting into our lives.
Just a few days ago, we wrote about our concerns that the shelter in place orders, which are absolutely essential to prevent the spread of COVID-19, would potentially lead to more cases of abuse.
Yesterday, we heard from the President of RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network), Scott Berkowitz, that for the first time ever, a majority of their sexual abuse hotline users were minors.
According to Berkowitz, over half of the people who called RAINN’s hotline last month who identified their age, were under 18. Of those, 67%identified theirperpetrator as a family member and, within that group, 79% said they were living with that perpetrator.
Berkowitz said the reason for the increased calls from minors could be that children can’t access the safety net of other adults they usually see outside the home.
“So many minors are now locked at home with their abuser, in the same house,” Berkowitz said. “The safety net that they had ― the parents and teachers and coaches that they would see every day who were likely the first people to notice signs of abuse ― children no longer have contact with those people right now.”
To read more about this risk to children, click on The Huffington Post article link here.
If you or someone you know is feeling trapped at home with a perpetrator, please reach out to someone you trust. If you don’t feel as though there is someone you can trust, contact one of these hotlines. Or call us at Together We Heal.
As Linda and I stay sheltered in place to do our part to limit the spread of COVID-19, I can’t help but think about a recent article in the New York Times…
The title of the article read, “Coronavirus Roils Every Segment of US Child Welfare System”.
The crux of the story and focus of the concern is this; Many child welfare professionals and advocates worry the pandemic will fuel a rise in child abuse and neglect.
Schools are closed. Many of these kids are from unstable backgrounds. Possible mental health issues with parents/guardians and drug/alcohol abuse to boot.
And with the two groups of people who usually offer some semblance of a safeguard, Teachers and other school employees NOT being able to report signs of abuse due to the school closings…”That’s a recipe for disaster”, said Boston social worker, Adriana Zwick.
Not having their eyes and ears means WE are going to have to be theirs, now more than ever. You may be sheltered in place, but you can keep your eyes and ears open in YOUR neighborhood.
Since older people are more vulnerable to COVID-19, children have not been a focus of public health efforts.
“That’s a mistake”, according to University of Pennsylvania professor Marci Hamilton, also CEO of CHILD USA, a think tank seeking to prevent child abuse and neglect.
“Already some areas are reporting spikes in abuse,” she said. “If caseworkers don’t have that protective equipment, it’s likely we’ll have fewer home visits, and fewer home visits mean more kids at risk.”
I think the sheriff of Harris County, Ed Gonzalez, said it best in a recent tweet…
“We cannot let a health pandemic become a child abuse pandemic! The number one reporters of child abuse are teachers, but kids aren’t seeing them right now. Neighbors and other family members, PLEASE pay close attention.”
Please watch for signs. If you need to know the signs, just ask. We’ll show you places to find the information you need. And then we can find the help the kids need. Together we can keep all children safer during this crisis.
To read the NYT article in full, click on the link here.
This week Together We Heal, as an organization, and myself, David Pittman as an individual, have joined forces with Justice For Anne, For A Time Such As This & several fellow advocates. Together we have issued a statement that was most perfectly articulated by fellow advocate Ryan Ashton:
“If you please, read the joint statement myself and fellow abuse survivors and advocates delivered to the president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) yesterday regarding their announcement of a sexual abuse study group:
“We all have a decision—to become more polarized and distrustful of one another, hide, build barriers, and perpetuate numerous injustices. Or we can face this evil together, choosing to create a culture where healing and safety are the norm, where love and compassion dwell, where children and families flourish, and the hope of the gospel maintains its integrity. We sign with that hope, committed to a future where no one in the Church has to say “Me Too” ever again.”
Everything we do at Together We Heal and GRACE is because of the past and current failures of those within the church to better protect children and properly respond to those who’ve been harmed. It is our hope that the SBC will begin to live up to the call of Christ they espouse and not be just another one of those “cast to the bottom of the sea with a millstone around their neck”.
If not now, then when? If not us, then who?
The time is long overdue. The ball is in your court SBC leaders and church members. Do you truly believe the scripture you preach and teach? Then BE THE VOICE OF THE VOICELESS and quit giving lip service and protecting sexual predators.
This year I have decided to provide something new to the Together We Heal blog. In addition to my own writings, I wanted to offer some new voices with their own survivor perspectives. With April being “Child Abuse Prevention Month” we are honored to have a fellow survivor contribute. She has taught me much about healing and I am grateful to call her my friend, Rachel Grant. Join me in reading her words of encouragement today!
But I’ve tried to get over this before!! Shouldn’t I be better already!? I know other people have healed, why can’t I?
Often the first hurdle to jump over in this journey is to put to rest (or a least put on mute for a while) your inner critic and doubter. I know you’ve been to therapy, I know you’ve read books, I know you’ve tried just about everything under the sun and you’re still running in circles. Don’t worry, I did, too! Or maybe you’re just for the first time ever admitting to yourself that the abuse happened and that you need to deal with it. Either way, there is likely a part of you that is wondering if you can get better! I invite you to allow yourself to embrace recovery as an adventure, an exploration. Be curious, check things out – and try to leave off stressing about end results. We each have to walk our own path of recovery. Sometimes, it takes just one thing to make things fall into place. Sometimes, it’s a variety of things.
For me, I tried all sorts of things before finally coming upon the ideas that I’ll share here that made the difference for me. I hope you can be open to the journey and remember there’s a lot to learn from turtles.
Lessons from a Turtle
“Adults are always asking kids what they want to be when they grow up, because they are looking for ideas.” ~Paula Poundstone
How fabulous is that! I know I’m still certainly wondering about what I’ll be when I grow up, and I know many of the folks around me are thinking about this, too.
For me, though, there are the added questions of, “Is it too late?” & “Shouldn’t I have accomplished more by now?” I took a bit more time to finish my undergraduate studies than usual; then I spent some time roaming the halls of an elementary school trying my hand at teaching and learning a lot about myself.
When I came to California, I focused on child development (and napping) as I nanny before turning my attention to psychology & coaching. Seems a bit schizophrenic, but each stage has in some way built upon the previous one. Now, most days, I appreciate my wiggly journey. Still, I do sometimes agonize about this, because I am many paces behind those who followed the straight and narrow.
When we feel the pressure to make our mark, crave the pride of achievement, desire to experience ourselves at our best, or want more than anything to be fully recovered, our first point of reference for measuring where we stand is often what others are doing or have done. Is there real value in this exercise of comparison? Well, I suppose it depends on what your ultimate goal is.
To my mind, I see two possible outcomes from engaging in this sort of reflection (to be sure, there may be others). If your goal (though possibly an unconscious one) is to reinforce negative ideas you have about yourself as being less than, incapable, flawed, etc. – comparing oneself to others is like a gateway drug to self-deprecation. There can be real value in seeing how you measure up to others, but if you can’t compare yourself to others without becoming depressed, self-critical, exasperated, defeated, pitiful, and chagrined then this is not a healthy choice for you.
However, if your goal is to do something about your current situation and to move forward despite time, age, circumstances then it might be possible to become inspired, motivated, encouraged, and educated as a result of comparing where you are with others who have acquired the same things you now desire but don’t have. In other words, through curiosity and studying their very straight journey, you may add some arrow-like qualities to your own path.
My point is, I can look to a coach who is my age, has my education but is much further along in building her business and making a living and think to myself, “Damn it, see, if only I hadn’t…” or I can look to see how this person got to where she is and learn – and, perhaps, learn fast! Likewise, we can keep ourselves in a loop of comparing where we are in our journey of recovery to others or lamenting that we aren’t there yet, or we can set about doing the work and learning from those who have gone before us.
We only have one life journey. Whether it be a wiggly one or a straight & narrow one – it’s ours. So, for all my wiggly friends out there – move, be active, learn and don’t allow yourself to be distracted by self-deprecating thoughts.
Just as we might discover who we want to be when we grow up from kids, we also do well to remember the age-old Aesop fable The Tortoise and the Hare. It’s not how quickly you can get to where you want to be – it’s whether you get there at all.
Rachel Grant is the owner and founder of Rachel Grant Coaching and is a Sexual Abuse Recovery Coach. She is also the author of Beyond Surviving: The Final Stage in Recovery from Sexual Abuse. She works with survivors of childhood sexual abuse who are beyond sick and tired of feeling broken, unfixable, and burdened by the past. She helps them let go of the pain of abuse and finally feel normal.
Her program, Beyond Surviving, has been specifically designed to change the way we think about and heal from abuse. Based on her educational training, study of neuroscience, and lessons learned from her own journey, she has successfully used this program since 2007 to help her clients break free from the past and move forward with their lives.
Rachel holds an M.A. in Counseling Psychology. She provides a compassionate and challenging approach for her clients while using coaching as opposed to therapeutic models. She is also a member of San Francisco Coaches.
What if I told you that the people who own the property where you live knowingly hired a convicted sexual predator and they don’t have to tell you?
What if I told you a convicted sex offender has the keys to your front door and you were powerless to know or stop them from having access?
Unbelievably, I may have just described your home if you rent in Florida, and many other homes across the USA.
Even though in Florida, as in most states, sex offenders are prohibited from living within a certain distance from schools, playgrounds and other places where children gather; what they CAN do, is work where your children play and live, without your knowledge. And that’s not the worst of it.
Under Florida law, owners of rental apartments and homes are NOT required to warn you or your family that an employee at the property is a pedophile or sex offender. Children in Florida have been raped by sex offenders who were literally provided the keys to rental units, where the owner knew that the employee was a convicted sex offender. You and your family have the right to make an informed choice of whether to live in housing that employs convicted
It is because of the irrational and dangerous law as written, that Linda and I ask for your support of “The Florida Sex Offender Rental Notification Act.”
Below you will find a link. Help us to set Florida Law requiring tenants be notified when property owners employ sex offenders.
This week I received a phone call from a grandmother in turmoil. It was evident in her voice just how scared and desperate she was for help.
Her dilemma was the same I’ve heard, tragically, too many times before. She said, “my son-in-law is sexually abusing my grandchildren but I have no proof, I just KNOW it.”
So I continued the conversation with her as I had done so many times before, by asking questions.
I asked, “Have you seen him touch them inappropriately? Have the children told you anything to alert you? Have you spoken to your daughter, their mother? Have you filed a police report?” And on and on we went.
And again, her responses were like ones I’ve heard countless times. “Yes, I’ve seen him touch one child in a way I knew was wrong and he smiled at me while he did it, knowing there was no way I could say anything. He was a cop so he knows people. They’ve stopped letting me see the kids. My daughter doesn’t believe me.”
As we went further, she said the following statement that made me want to cry. She said, “I’m scared that if I do something about this, if I go to the police, who I don’t think will help anyway, that I will lose the relationship with my daughter. I want to have a relationship with her. What do I do??”
So I paused…and I answered her question with a question. I asked her what I’ve asked of parents and guardians, churches and parishes, person after person…
What is your priority?
What is more important to you; the safety of a child, or a “relationship” with your child built on denial and the potential enabling of a sexual predator?
Because it’s more likely than not that one day you will have to choose…what is more important to you, what is more sacred to you. If what you believe in your heart of hearts is true, then you can’t have both if your child chooses to stay with and protect the one harming your grandchildren.
And let’s say, worst case scenario, you’re wrong. Then what? Will a child who truly loves you hold it against you forever that you were trying to protect their
child? I don’t believe so. And if so, then the relationship has many more
issues than this one.
Now, if you just don’t like your son-in-law and this is some sick, perverted way to drive a wedge, then you will be held accountable for that one day. But if not, if your intentions are pure, as are your concerns, then you really only have one choice.
Those babies have NO VOICE, NO DEFENSE, NO ONE TO PROTECT THEM. And you MUST be THEIR defender, THEIR voice. If not you, then who???
It’s what we all must ask ourselves…IF NOT US, THEN WHO?!?
God how I wish someone who had concerns back in 81 or 82 or 84 or 85 or 91 or 92 or, or, OR (and there were PLENTY of them) would’ve had the courage to stand up and say, what the hell is this man doing with these little boys at his house overnight?!?!
One of my favorite quotes is by Frederick Douglass who said,
“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
Please keep these two things in mind when you begin to think, “it’s just too hard to talk with my kids about sexual abuse”.
Here in the USA, 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be victims of childhood sexual abuse before they turn 18…don’t let your child be another statistic, don’t let them become another David, or Linda, or or or…
They need your strength and guidance…you CAN talk with them and they will be grateful you did!!
If you’re finding it challenging to talk with your kids, please read this post for some guidance:
Our great friend Boz Tchividjian’s latest blog post is a MUST READ for parents! After you read the interview, please see how the article we wrote in 2012, “How To Talk With Your Kids” brings up many of the same EXTREMELYimportant points and shares so many COMMON GOALS regarding talking with our children about sexual abuse. This just reaffirms to me the importance of all of us working together to protect our children from sexual predators. We simply cannot convey this message often enough, nor can we talk with our children too much about their safety.
One of the many challenges parents and guardians have in protecting those in their care is how to educate younger children about sexual abuse. Not only can the topic be incredibly uncomfortable to bring up with 5-year-old, but most of us simply don’t know how to do it in an effective and non-traumatizing way. As a result, oftentimes these critically important conversations never take place. My dear friends, Justin and Lindsey Holcomb, have written a beautifully illustrated book that gives parents and caregivers the tools to have these necessary conversations in a manner that will effectively empower little ones without fear. I am thrilled to be able to post this interview with Justin and Lindsey as this God Made All of Me is released on Monday. I hope that this interview will be an encouragement and help to parents and caregivers as they seek ways to protect their little ones from abuse. Enjoy. – Boz Boz: Thank you both for joining us for this important conversation about God Made All of Me. Who should read this book and why?
Justin & Lindsey: We highly recommend that parents and caregivers of 2 to 8 year-old children should read this book. We wrote it as a tool so they can explain to their children that God made their bodies. Because private parts are private, there can be lots of questions, curiosity, or shame regarding them. For their protection, children need to know about private parts and understand that God made their body and made it special.
Boz: Why was it important for the two of you to write a book about empowering children against abuse?
Justin & Lindsey: Parents need tools to help talk with their kids about their bodies and to help them understand the difference between appropriate and inappropriate touch. It allows families to build a first line of defense against sexual abuse in the safety of their own homes.
Justin & Lindsey Holcomb
Our hope is that parents and caregivers will use this book as a tool to help protect their child from sexual abuse in a way that is not frightening. We want parents and caregivers to be smarter and better prepared than those who would want to harm children. While we know that actions by adults can be more effective than expecting children to protect themselves from sexual abuse, children still need accurate, age-appropriate information about child sexual abuse and have the confidence that parents and caregivers will support them. That is why we used the storybook approach.
Boz: What are your respective backgrounds and how did they prepare and qualify you to write this book?
Justin & Lindsey: We have two young children and wrote the book we needed for them. Lindsey was a victims’ advocate at a sexual assault crisis agency and a case manager at a domestic violence shelter. In both settings, she dealt with the issue of child sexual abuse. Lindsey also earned a Master in Public Health.
Justin is a minister and teaches courses on recognizing, preventing, and responding to abuse for seminaries. Also, when Justin was younger he was abused by an extended family member. So, this topic is not just professional but also personal.
Boz: What do the statistics about child sexual abuse tell us about the importance of tackling this topic with our kids?
Justin & Lindsey: Child sexual abuse is much more prevalent than most people realize. Also, offenders are usually not strangers. They are often people who are known and trusted by both parents and children. For example, one research study found that 34 percent of assailants were family members, 58 percent were acquaintances, and only 7 percent of the perpetrators were strangers to the victim.
Approximately 1 in 5 children will be sexually abused by their eighteenth birthday. Of child sexual abuse victims, approximately 10 percent of victims are age three and under, 28 percent are between ages four and seven, 26 percent are between ages eight and eleven, and 36 percent are twelve and older.
Boz: I have found that many parents want to have this conversation with their children, but are too uncomfortable to talk with them about specific body parts, etc. Others are apprehensive about frightening their child. How can parents address these concerns in order to have this critically important conversation with their children?
Justin & Lindsey: We are convinced that a major reason why parents don’t have these conversations is the “embarrassment factor.” They feel awkward talking about private parts to their kids so they avoid the conversations.
However, to teach children about sexual abuse it is important to explain about private parts. Clearly identify for your child which parts of their anatomy are private. Explain to your child that “some places on your body should never be touched by other people—except when you need help in the bathroom, or are getting dressed, or when you go to the doctor.” You can do this with young children during bath time or have your child dress in a bathing suit and show them that all areas covered by a bathing suit are “private.” The bathing suit analogy can be a bit misleading because it fails to mention that other parts of the body can be touched inappropriately (like mouth, legs, neck, arms), but it is a good start for little ones to understand the concept of private parts.
To teach about sexual abuse offenders, it is important to teach your kids about “tricky people.” Tricky people are grown-ups who ask kids for help or tell kids to keep a secret from their parents. It is really important to let your children know that even adults that they know and love can hurt them. Repeatedly encourage them to talk to you if any adult ever hurts them or makes them feel bad or uncomfortable, regardless of whether that adult is a family member or dad’s best friend. Also, teach your kids not to do anything or go anywhere with any adult at all, unless they ask for permission first.
Boz: What are some of the mistakes parents make when talking to their children about their bodies?
Justin & Lindsey: A common mistake parents make is not taking with their children about their bodies and body parts. Parents cannot afford to wait on this conversation with their children and the conversation needs to be often. Use the correct words for your children’s genitalia so that they can identify if something happens as well as not have confusion over their bodies and the parts that God created. Promise them that they will never be in trouble and can talk with you about anything anytime. It is so important for us to remember to listen to our children when they tell us things even if it is something small so they will feel comfortable telling us the big things that happen in their lives. Check in with your kids often about people in their life. Ask them how their babysitter or teacher or coach makes them feel so you can gather if they feel safe around them or worried.
Boz: Some parents may believe that it is enough to simply read this book and tell their children to let them know if anyone ever touches their private parts? Do you agree? Why or why not?
Justin & Lindsey: This book is a great start, but it is not enough to read it once and tell children to inform parents if they are touched inappropriately. Talking about private parts and appropriate/inappropriate touch is not a one-time conversation that you get done so you can move on to something else. This book is a tool for the larger responsibilities that parents have. Instead of having “THE talk” and being done, parents need to keep the conversation going, invite questions, and keep lines of communication open.
In addition to personal safety training, parents must become vigilant, educated, and aware of potential risks and threats to their children’s safety.
Boz: What are some facts parents need to know about child sexual offenders? Also, what and how much should they tell their children about offenders?
Justin & Lindsey: Although strangers are stereotyped as perpetrators of sexual assault, the evidence indicates that a high percentage of offenders are acquaintances of the victim. Also, most child sexual abuse offenders describe themselves as religious and some studies suggest the most egregious offenders tend to be actively involved with their faith community.
Dr. Anna Salter, a psychologist who has been studying sexual offenders for decades, states it is important for parents and child-serving organizations such as churches to avoid “high risk situations.” This is because “we cannot detect child molesters or rapists with any consistency” and thus “must pay attention to ways of deflecting any potential offenders from getting access to our children.”
Many youth organizations have prevented the abuse of children in their care simply by limiting the access of potential offenders to boys and girls. Child abusers count on privacy to avoid detection of their criminal behavior. When churches or other faith institutions remove this privacy it becomes more difficult for the offender to succeed.
Boz: What advice do either of you have for parents who want to create an open environment in their home, so children always feel comfortable talking to them about issues related to their sexuality or body?
Justin & Lindsey: We remind parents that some people are out their looking to prey on our children. We have a duty to protect and prepare them for the world and to fight for them. By talking with them candidly (and again developmentally appropriate) about their bodies, we are setting up safe guards around them.
Boz: As you both write and speak about child sexual abuse, what are some of the unique challenges facing the Christian community about how to better understand and respond to this issue?
Justin & Lindsey: Too often the churches ignore physical, sexual, emotional, and even spiritual child abuse, despite the prevalence of abuse within faith communities. Even worse, Christians have often unwittingly contributed to the suffering of victims because of a failure to protect children and adequately respond to disclosures of sexual abuse. Too many don’t do background checks or have effective child-centered safeguarding policies and procedures.
Additionally, clergy and lay leaders often overlook the many needs of those within their congregations who are adult survivors of child sexual abuse. Pastors don’t discuss the issue of abuse and how the Gospel can bring hope and healing to those who have suffered sexual abuse. Even worse, some blame victims for the sin done against them.
Boz: Where can parents turn if they have any questions regarding this topic or if they simply want additional resources on issues related to sexual abuse or on how to most appropriately address this subject with their children?
Justin & Lindsey: GRACE has helpful material available on the site as does the Gundersen National Child Protection Training Center.
Boz: What a thrill it was for me to learn that you both dedicated this book to GRACE. Thank you!
I’ve had the privilege to serve on the board of GRACE for a few years. We admire the work GRACE does in empowering the Christian community through education and training to recognize, prevent, and respond to child abuse. The ministry of GRACE is important and has helped so many.
Justin is a minister and teaches at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Lindsey now works at home, but previously served as a case manager at a sexual assault crisis center and a domestic violence shelter. Learn more about Justin at http://www.justinholcomb.com and follow him at @justinholcomb. Follow Lindsey at @lindseyholcomb.