Giving Tuesday is a global generosity movement unleashing the power of radical generosity. This year our staff is sharing a series of stories that highlight hard truths of child abuse and the work happening at the CACSC to protect children from abuse or further victimization. This page will be updated as stories post to our social media accounts leading up to Tuesday, November30th, 2021.
Not many would want to know the youngest trafficking client I’ve met. Or how many sex abuse or physical abuse cases we see. It’s tough, but every day I show up for them. Working with trafficking victims is very challenging because they often struggle so badly to leave the situation, but each and every one of these girls has changed me for the better. There have been times people have asked ‘Why? Why is it so hard to help them?’ Early on in this journey I had the same thought. But then I realized something.
Most of the time these kids have nowhere to go. Can you imagine being 14 years old and feeling like the world has shown you that you are unwanted, unlovable or disposable? That it’s just you against the world? Their pimps offer them a false sense of security and belonging. They convince these girls this is what love looks like, that they are the only ones who love, provide, or ‘protect’ these girls. Every vulnerability these girls have is exploited by the pimp.
I have girls that have aged out of the child welfare system, meaning after age 18 they no longer have to have contact with me or their case worker, but they still reach out and ask for help or just call to talk to me to get advice or let me know they are alive and well. The most gratifying part of my job, is being with my families and teens at their lowest and hardest time, and being there to watch as that family learns to live and grow again. It is a beautiful thing to witness, as these families become stronger and better than they ever envisioned they could be after this kind of trauma. Or seeing these teens who have the odds stacked against them learn how to live as young adults, manage a job, go to school, take control of their lives.
My heart and soul call me to do this work. As staff at the CACSC, we have all cried with the families or for the families. Each day I’m thankful to be the one to hold the hands of families, wipe the tears, attend court and hope for justice alongside them. I hope they see me as a safe person, I hope I am part of the good they look back on as they overcome challenges. I hope they know that they are not what has happened to them, and that who they are changes me for the better.
The majority of the things I’ve learned from the work I do, most people wouldn’t believe are true. There are a lot of good people in the world, and I think it’s hard to comprehend the fact that children are being severely abused in our very own communities. Beginning my day with a cup of coffee and a team meeting about yet another child who was abused so badly that they required life-saving medical intervention is a challenging way to start a morning, to say the least. But this type of information fuels my desire even more to seek out and exhaust every last option available to support this child as they get to start their journey toward health and healing.
It makes me thankful for my coworkers who show up every day to fight alongside me.
I will never forget sitting against a wall with a teen as they cried and tried to process the realization that their life was about to change in a big way. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my professional career. What do you say to a child who believes that their parents chose addiction over a life with them? How do you convince a teen that there ARE caring adults around them that want the best for them even as they can’t maintain stable placement because the trauma they’re carrying is too much for their bodies and brains to be able to cope with? In that moment I felt helpless in knowing I couldn’t change it. Children living these experiences need intensive therapeutic services for an extended amount of time in order to process through these traumas. And this is just one of many stories I have.
I realized it was up to me to support this child in a positive manner, to help them break cycles and make an impact on their future. These children are so much more than a case number to me. They are humans deserving of love and opportunities to thrive. They’re the future of our community.
I was one month into my new job as the first therapist at the CACSC when I met her. She was a survivor of sexual abuse and had been victimized for nearly 8 years before she was finally able to disclose her abuse. I had just begun building my caseload and was spending hours getting protocols, forms and processes developed in a way that made sense to me, but ultimately best benefitted the clients served by the agency. I knew the work ahead of me would be heavy and difficult to hear at times, but truthfully I had already been hearing these stories in a different light and a different environment for years.
I never felt like I was able to make a difference when I heard those stories before – so me coming here was a change I needed desperately in my life both personally and professionally. My heart and brain were energized for a new place of work and a new means of helping others. What made it different as a therapist at the CACSC was the freedom to “just be” with clients in whatever fashion they needed.
This became more clear to me the day she and I were introduced to each other. One of the first things she said to me was “I haven’t been able to talk for 8 years, so I just need a place to do that.” And my heart broke. Not because I had never heard these words before, but because I now had the opportunity to meet that simple (yet very complex) need for her. She came to therapy for nearly 2 years – sometimes needing to be very vulnerable in her feelings as she divulged the awful truth about her abuse, and then sometimes needing to be a teenager and talk about her friend drama and her boyfriend. And I had the privilege of hearing her story in her own way and in her own time, and of being a safe space for her to “just be.”
I listened to the heartache of her 8 years of silence, as she quickly became unsilenced in the first 6 months of therapy. I heard her discover triggers that she would only come to realize were present after finally being “free” from the years of abuse. Even though the abuse was over, the trauma was not. The beautiful thing about this girl was that she was just so damn resilient from day one. She found strength in places such as school, where she could actually be safe for hours instead of being abused. She found strength in her hypervigilance and her dissociation, both trauma symptoms, but with some therapeutic reframing becoming resourceful ways of coping with the aftermath. She found strength in her ability to push through fears of rejection by auditioning for school musicals and in realizing she didn’t have to hide behind baggy clothes and heavy makeup.
One day she told me, “I don’t want pity from others because of this. I’m not going to be someone who is defined by this my whole life.” There were a lot of heavy sessions throughout the 2 years of therapy and there were moments where even though she knew she didn’t want to be defined by this trauma, she felt that she was. It was hard to escape it even when it was over, which as we know is the harsh reality of abuse, especially within a family system. It isn’t always comfortable to “just be” especially when the feelings or memories or thoughts are so intense that it actually hurts you and exhausts you. But being given the space to “just be” can open up doors of trust and respect and freedom for anyone.
I come back to the concept of “just be” and I think about the impact of these two little words. Providing therapy to others, being able to sit with them in whatever is brought to you each session, and encouraging clients to sit in it as well has so much power behind it. It reminds us that we each have a story, we have different conditioning, experiences and even biases. The more we can remind ourselves of this, the more free we are to give ourselves and others a chance to be fully expressed. It takes time, love, patience, understanding, education, and it takes recognition that it is a process that is different for every single person.
It has been almost 8 years since this client completed therapy and every so often I get the privilege of receiving updates about her life. She is happily married to her high school sweetheart and has beautiful children. She is as strong today as she was the first day I met her, but she knows it herself now. She is truly amazing and I am so humbled by her continued strength, perseverance, and resilience.
STORY FOUR – A WISH LIST
• I wish I didn’t see the darkest and ugliest side of humanity every day.• I wish I hadn’t been begged by an 11 year old to adopt them because I had been their only safe person, for years. YEARS.• I wish the community had a better understanding of how frequently child sexual abuse occurs and how underreported it still is despite the statistic that 1 child is sexually abused every 9 minutes.• I wish I couldn’t rattle off statistics at the top of my head.• I wish I didn’t lose sleep because I can’t stop thinking about that child’s last thoughts and feelings before they died, or how scared they must have been when someone who is supposed to love, care for, and protect them is the one hurting them.
• I wish I didn’t know about how many infant deaths there are due to physical abuse or neglect. • I wish every child felt physically and emotionally safe going home at night.• I wish I didn’t have to watch or hold children as they cry, asking for their parent as they are getting into the back of a police car, all while wondering what they did wrong…when in fact they were the victim but they feel like this is all their fault.• I wish I didn’t have to help caregivers grieve not only the loss of innocence of their child(ren) but also grieve the loss of their family unit as they become a single parent as a result of their partner being arrested for abuse. • I wish kids didn’t label themselves and value themselves based on what has happened to them. • I wish every kid knew where they were going to sleep each night.• I wish I didn’t know how common incest abuse occurs in our community. • I wish I didn’t have to watch children go into police protective custody. My last wish would be that all children are safe and loved as they should be, without abuse. Until that wish comes true I’ll show up each day continuing to find strength to do the very best that I can, because I know how badly we are needed.
When people ask me what I do for a living and I tell them “I’m a therapist that works with abused children and children with sexualized behaviors.” They just stare at me and say “Wow. I can’t imagine how tough that is. I could never do that.”. And to be honest- most people could NEVER do the work that we do here at the CAC. Doing this very emotional, raw, and difficult work is one of the things that makes this amazing group of individuals here so special. When I got hired at the CAC to build a program that worked with children who have engaged in sexualized behaviors, I knew it would be a challenging task.
. A task that would sometimes wear me down and make me feel defeated. And yes, it has been all of those things at times but it has been one of the most rewarding things I have ever done in my life. When these youth enter into my office they feel crushed, isolated and lonely. But when they successfully complete the program– I see a youth who is brave, confident and strong. And that’s when tears of happiness and success fall from my eyes.
The reason I became a therapist was to help instill hope when people need it the most. If I can be a glimmer of hope when someone is struggling, and that glimmer helps pull them up and grow- then I have done my job. One of my greatest moments of my career so far has been when a youth told me that I was one of the reasons he is the person he is today. That me, his therapist he see’s weekly, is a crucial part of his success and his life now. Wow- I gave him a glimmer of hope. It’s incredible what happens when we have someone who believes in us.
He was in the most difficult and vulnerable time of his life when I met him. He was only a young child, but was being told he was a monster, was ripped away from his family and treated as though he was worthless. He told me that without me believing in him, encouraging him and supporting him when he needed it the most, he would not be where he is today. Those words mean everything to me. Those words will carry me through my career with the knowledge that I am doing great things and exactly where I need to be.
When I came to the CAC, I knew the work that I would be doing. I knew my job title. I knew what was expected of me. I was excited to work for an organization that was changing the lives of so many children and giving them a chance to heal from their trauma. What I didn’t know was the impact that it would have on my life. I came to the CAC very green in my knowledge of child abuse. Before I came here, I knew abuse happened and I had accepted that it was all around us, but I wasn’t aware of the severity of it. I didn’t realize how often it occurred.
My first week at the CAC was spent alongside the advocate team. My role here isn’t in direct client services, but in order to perform my job to its fullest potential I needed to experience first-hand what happened when a child or family came through our door. On day 2, there was a little girl who came to the CAC. She was maybe 8-9 months old. She was in a diaper that was heavily soiled and her clothes looked as if they hadn’t ever been washed. Despite all of this, she had beautiful, curly hair and the most contagious smile. When I held that little girl in my arms, she looked up at me with a yearning. She giggled as I tickled her and played with her. She had dark circles under her eyes and looked like she hadn’t slept in a long time. After a clean diaper and some food, I sang to her and rocked her until she passed out. She slept and slept and slept while investigators tried to determine what she had experienced. I held her so long my arm started to hurt but I didn’t dare move it for fear of waking her. When I held that baby in my arms, I knew I was in the right place.
A few days later, I learned that the little girl had broken ribs. She had been severely neglected by her caregivers. When she cried, her caregivers had squeezed her extremely tight to make her stop. My heart ached. Babies cry because they have a need. They are hungry, need a clean diaper, or want affection. Why had this child been hurt because she was trying to communicate to her caregivers? She was so sweet and innocent.
At that moment, the fire in my heart grew stronger and I knew that this organization was the right fit for me. Meeting that little girl, not only influenced my life that day, but it changed my future. It changed how I now looked at kids. It changed my outlook on parenting. This little girl affected the lives of my children today. I like to think that I have always had a soft spot for children, but it got even softer because of one little girl. I still think of her years later and how she impacted my daily purpose. This one little life changed me forever.