Tag Archives: Advocacy

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Child Advocacy Center moves into our Farmington office

United Way Tri-Valley Offers Venture Grants, via SunJournal:

FARMINGTON — The United Way of the Tri-Valley Area has selected three organizations to receive a portion of $10,000 in funding to launch new and innovative programming in Greater Franklin County.

The organizations include HealthReach Community Health Centers, Western Maine Homeless Outreach and Androscoggin Children’s Advocacy Center.

HealthReach Community Health Centers was awarded funding to better manage diabetes at the Strong Area Health Center. Diabetes is a chronic disease affecting about 8 percent of the patient population.

The grant will allow the Health Center to purchase a glucose monitor that will help patients to continuously monitor their glucose profile. This monitoring will be part of an overall care management/education plan with the goal of facilitating self-management to improve glycemic control in challenging situations.

Western Maine Homeless Outreach shelter was awarded funds to expand its ability to provide emergency shelter to homeless individuals and families.

This includes help with organizational and infrastructure projects, such as website development and the creation of outreach materials to better inform donors and the general public about its services.

Androscoggin Children’s Advocacy Center was awarded funds to help minimize trauma among Franklin County’s children and those with cognitive impairments.

According to the Maine Children’s Alliance, approximately 6,100 children live in Franklin County. Current studies show that persons under 18 years of age account for 67 percent of all sexual assault victimizations reported to law enforcement agencies. Children under 12 years old account for 34 percent of those cases, and children under six years of age account for 14 percent.

In recent months, 40 children have been interviewed at the Farmington Police Department in a less-than-child-friendly interview room.

With increasing needs in Franklin County, the ACAC formed a multi-disciplinary team consisting of law enforcement, DHHS staff and mental health and sexual assault crisis professionals to develop and implement a child advocacy center where a child who has been abused is interviewed in a home-like atmosphere by a professionally trained forensic interviewer. The family is also given appropriate support.

With Venture Grant funding, this center has been established at the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services offices at 227 Main St.,

Resources for caregivers of abused children

Every Sunday throughout April, Sexual Assault Prevention & Response Services will have a guest column in the SunJournal. Each column will discuss a different aspect of sexual violence, as well as prevention and education efforts.

The third article is about child abuse, which was written by Keri Myrick, Coordinator of the Androscoggin Children’s Advocacy Center

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When child abuse is reported, parents often feel as if they are on a roller coaster of emotions. These are all very normal feelings, though they may affect a caregiver in many different ways.

Many times the first reaction may be disbelief, or the inability to accept the possibility that this really happened. Or, a caregiver may believe something happened but no harm was done. Many caregivers feel denial because it is very overwhelming to accept that the abuse occurred and that there will be after-effects.

At times caregivers feel angry at themselves for not protecting the child. They may feel angry at the perpetrator for what he/she did. They may even feel angry at or blame the child. Or, caregivers may feel that it is all their fault. But, it is the offender who is responsible, not the caregiver.

Helplessness is another emotion that caregivers may experience. They may not know what is going to happen and feel that they have no control over the process or the outcome. They may also feel invisible and think there is nothing they can do to help the situation get better.

Caregivers can also experience guilt, self-blame, hurt and betrayal.

It is normal for caregivers to feel hurt from the loss of the child’s innocence or hurt because their child is hurting. In some cases the perpetrator may be the caregiver’s spouse or partner, and the caregiver experiences overwhelming betrayal.

If a caregiver has their own history of being abused as a child, they may feel shock, numbness and even repulsion. It may be so difficult for that person to see their child in a situation that triggers their own memories and feelings.

In recent years, research on the psychosocial adjustment following a sexual abuse incident demonstrates that parental support is associated with better emotional and behavioral adjustment outcomes for children. While many non-offending caregivers respond to their child in a supportive manner following a disclosure of abuse, this support can be inconsistent or be somewhat hesitant based upon the level of distress the parent is also experiencing due to the disclosure.

Offering assistance and support greatly improves the intervention efforts of the parent or non-offending caregiver. At the Androscoggin Children’s Advocacy Center (ACAC), the Family Advocate Program provides these services for non-offending caregivers of children in cases where sexual abuse or severe physical abuse has been substantiated.

The ACAC is a community initiative that provides a safe, child-friendly environment for child abuse investigations, supports a multi-disciplinary process to work with child abuse victims, provides family advocacy for non-offending caregivers, and works with the community to develop and enhance services to child abuse victims and prevention programs.

At the ACAC, the role of the family advocate is to address the needs of the caregiver as a means of providing additional support to the child. This is done in several ways.

First, the family advocate sits with the non-offending caregiver(s) during the forensic interview of the child, offering emotional support. During that time, the family advocate helps family members understand the roles of the different agencies involved in the investigation and on-going process.

In addition, the family advocate is able to discuss with the family the dynamics of child sexual abuse, providing education to the caregiver and others involved with the family. The family advocate also helps identify the strengths and the needs of the family, and assists families in identifying and utilizing and connecting with available resources to help them cope with this new reality.

The family advocate provides information regarding the judicial system and process for those cases that will be moving through the legal system. The family advocate is able to offer support and assistance to the family during that often long judicial process. Finally, the family advocate provides a packet of resource materials that families can turn to for support and guidance.

Last year, the ACAC served 170 children and their families.

We know that children can thrive in spite of their traumas. Children can move beyond their abuse, show extreme resiliency and become stronger individuals. The ultimate goal of family advocacy is to help caregivers, who are often devastated and immobilized, become empowered to protect, nurture, support and guide their children through this journey.

Keri Myrick is coordinator of the Androscoggin Children’s Advocacy Center.

 

Talking is healing

One of the first steps towards healing and recovery is talking.

When you’re ready, we’ll be here. You are not alone: 1-800-871-7741.

(Please note, the number listed above is for the state of Maine only. If you need to talk to an advocate, and you live outside of Maine, you can reach the national sexual assault helpline number at: 1-800-656-HOPE[4673])

 

Just listen

An amazing quote on active listening:

“When I was younger, I thought listening was just about learning the contents of someone’s mind. I’d always try to finish their thoughts, just to show them that I knew what they were thinking. As I got older, I learned to listen better. I realized that by trying to anticipate their mind, I was ignoring their heart.”Humans of New York 

Tips for supporting survivors

Here is a fantastic blog post from Feministe about what NOT to say when someone discloses a sexual assault to you. (At the bottom, we have added in a list of appropriate things you can say to a survivor you may be supporting):

 

“20 Things Never to Say to a Friend Who Confides in You That They’ve Been Sexually Assaulted”

This list is by no means exhaustive. Unfortunately, many people will know or do know someone who’s a survivor of a sexual assault or rape. If you find yourself in the position of confidant, please choose your words carefully. They can make the world of difference. (This list is heteronormative because it’s an account of personal experiences. However, sexual violence is by no means just male-on-female. People of all genders commit sexual violence against people of the same or a different gender.)

1. “Are you sure that happened?”

I know you’re shocked. But asking me if I’m sure if I was assaulted is a HUGE slap in the face. Yes, I know what happened to me. I remember every detail because it plays over and over in my head.

2. “Was he DRUNK?”

The emphasis on the “drunk” part comes off as though you believe there is no way this person could do something like this unless he were under the influence (which still doesn’t make his actions excusable). If you are friends with him, it will be even harder for you to imagine your friend committing an act of sexual violence. If you don’t believe the person is that “type” to do such a thing, don’t let me know you’re skeptical, because that weakens the trust and safety I feel confiding in you.

3. “Tell me EXACTLY what happened.”

I know you’re experiencing some denial that this has happened to someone you know. But you have to understand that it is extremely triggering for someone to recount every detail of a traumatic experience. And when you persist, it seems as though you’re looking for details to “validate” that this was in fact an assault, especially if you know who did this (see #2).

4. “Why didn’t you tell me before?”

Regardless of how close we are, it’s not easy for someone who’s been through a traumatic experience to bare their soul right away. Just because I didn’t tell you immediately after it happened doesn’t mean I don’t trust you. It’s hard to put words to an incident that I wish had never happened in the first place.

5. “Are you okay now?”

No, I’m not. But, I know you want me to say “yes” so you can stop worrying about me and we can go back to the happy BFFs we were before. Eventually I just give up and say “yes” so you’ll stop asking so many times.

6. “Why are you still upset?”

I didn’t know there was an expiration date on pain, depression, confusion, and the myriad of other emotions I’m experiencing.

7. “How long will it take for you to get better?”

I don’t know how long it will take. Trust me, I’m doing everything I can.

8. “But you look fine.”

Just because I don’t walk around with my head down and an unkempt appearance, and I don’t communicate in grunts instead of English, doesn’t mean I’m not hurting inside. Sometimes, I don’t want to talk about it. Sometimes, I don’t have the energy to mentally take myself to that traumatic place.

9. “Just don’t think about it.”

Because that’s so easy, right? We all know what eventually happens to bottled-up emotions.

10. “You need to be strong.”

Telling me to just be strong is like telling me to lift myself up from my bootstraps.

11. “In X years you won’t really care about this.”

This isn’t some embarrassing fall in the middle of the dining hall. The recovery process is a long and rocky road, and I don’t need anyone, especially a close friend, brushing the incident off as “something that we’ll all laugh about in X years”.

12. “It could’ve been worse.”

Very true. That doesn’t make what happened to me any less severe. That doesn’t mean I’ll say, “Gee, you’re right. What am I even upset about?” The fact that it could’ve been worse doesn’t make me feel better in the slightest.

13. “You can always come to me whenever you need me.”

It’s okay to let me know that you don’t think you’re someone who can provide the support I need, because this is a delicate and traumatic situation to deal with. Suggesting I reach out to a counselor or other resources is perfectly okay. I promise I won’t be offended.

14. “I understand how you feel.”

Yes, you know how it feels to cry, to be hurt, scared, and confused. But unless you have been through a sexual assault or rape yourself, do not tell me you understand how I feel. You and I both know that you don’t, and you saying this makes me more angry than comforted. Being close to a survivor and being a survivor yourself are two completely separate things.

15. “This is about me, too.”

It is never, ever about you. Yes, you’re upset that something awful has happened to me. Yes, you may know the person who hurt me, and now you’re in this position to “choose” between us. Nonetheless, what you’re feeling as the friend of a survivor is no match for what a survivor feels.

16. “You could be fabricating this whole thing.”

Never do so much as to even insinuate that I am or could be lying. I promise you, I’m not faking the depression, the tears, and “I want to kill myself”’s that you see and hear.

17. “This isn’t fair to me to be in this position. I wish you never told me.”

Do you even hear yourself? I know it’s tough to be hit with cold, hard reality. But for you to tell me that it’s not fair for YOU to know what I’ve been through is selfishness and immaturity at its finest.

18. “Why didn’t you ______?”

Never, ever, EVER, ask me why I didn’t act differently. Survivors always blame themselves first for what happened, and the fact that you’re asking me why I didn’t do ____, which may have caused a different chain of events, strengthens the internal blame, guilt, and self-loathing that I’m struggling with.

19. “Does he know how this has affected you? Maybe he’d be sorry if he knew.”

Whether or not he would be “sorry” if he knew how upset I am after the incident, don’t ever try to paint said perpetrator in a sensitive, caring light. That doesn’t mean you need to bash him. But don’t try to reassure me that he’d be eternally remorseful if he knew how hurt I am.

20. “Girls always say ‘no’ because they’re scared. It’s happened before; they eventually give in… It would be beneficial to you to keep this between us.”

This last one doesn’t follow the trend, but was said to me by the guy himself. I didn’t know where to begin: the fact that you just looked me in the eyes and told me this after I found the courage to confront you about the incident afterwards? The fact that you (and countless others) believe it’s okay to force someone against their will to engage in sexual activities because you know they’re “just scared”? The fact that I wasn’t the first one you “strongly encouraged”? Or, the fact that you’re trying to save face by attempting to convince me that it would be beneficial to ME to not tell anyone what YOU did? Out of this entire list, this one had the most impact on me, and I know I’ll remember these words for the rest of my life. Because sexual violence has existed, still exists, and will continue to exist on this earth, please, PLEASE choose your words carefully if you ever find yourself in the position of confidant. When in doubt, it’s okay to say, “I don’t know what to say”. And remember, no matter how upset, confused, frustrated you are, what you’re feeling is NOWHERE near how your friend is feeling. If you know someone who is a survivor of sexual assault or rape, do not hesitate to reach out to resources, either for your friend or for yourself. If you are a survivor of sexual assault or rape, please reach out. I know it’s hard. I know you may feel embarrassed to talk about it. But no matter how alone you feel, please know that you aren’t.

_____________________


Helpful Things You Can Say When Supporting a Sexual Assault Survivor: 

1. Begin by believing. Even if you experience some doubt, keep it to yourself. It is not your job to decide what is real and what isn’t. Hearing the words “I believe you” can be so empowering.
2. Listen actively… be present in the moment. Say things such as “I’m listening” and “take all the time you need,” but REALLY listen… don’t just say that.
3. Allow the individual to experience any emotions that may arise… it’s healthy. Saying the words “it’s okay, you’re allowed to feel what you need to feel” can be really helpful.
4. Offer to be a support person if you feel comfortable, for example: accompanying him/her to a rape crisis center for more information, and possible next steps. You can say something like, “I will help and support you in any way that I can if you would like me to,” but only if you truly mean it.
5. Let the person know that it was NOT their fault by actually saying “it was not your fault.” This is one of the most important things you can ever say. Regardless of clothing, alcohol consumption, physical location…no one deserves to raped, ever.

Maine (only) Sexual Assault Helpline: 1-800-871-7741
National Sexual Assault Helpline: 1-800-656-HOPE(4673)

 

Listen.

One of the most important pieces of advocacy is listening.  Active listening includes: being present in the moment, hearing without judgment, not interrupting, not planning what to say in response, and not comparing your story/experiences with the one you are hearing.  Ears, mind, and heart must all be open at the same time.

Learning to listen actively can take some time and practice, and that’s okay…it is a wonderful tool to have in every aspect of our lives.

 

Responsibility of the community to keep children safe

Every Sunday throughout April, Sexual Assault Prevention & Response Services will have a guest column in the SunJournal. Each column will discuss a different aspect of sexual violence, as well as prevention & education efforts.

Here is the 4th and final article from one of our our Education Coordinators!

I walk into a first-grade classroom with an armload of 30 makeshift hula hoops shaped like a raindrop rather than a circle. They are blue and have a mass of silver duct tape at the point of the raindrop shape.

The students in the class are smiling and quietly say to each other and to me “Space Ships!”

These “space ships” are one of the tools that we have been using since 2007 to teach the self-empowerment and personal space to children in elementary school. In some schools, by the spring of first grade, a child will have “played” with these space ships three times.

Teaching children about personal body safety and sexual abuse prevention is a careful endeavor. At Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services, we approach the issue by teaching different concepts that build on one another and create a firm foundation before we even start talking specifically about sexual harassment or sexual assault.

The first concept we teach is that of personal body space.

By using the “spaceships,” we take a theoretical concept and make it visual, so all the children can “see” it and understand it.

They can see that we move through our day and our need for personal body space might change depending on circumstance, or on which person we are interacting with.

The space ships allow the children to experience the concept of their own personal body space and respect the right of each other to maintain that space. This activity also helps children to understand and learn about healthy boundaries and consent — key concepts in sexual assault prevention.

By third grade, we focus our presentations on team work and interdependence. Using games designed to encourage the students to maintain their own individual personal space while being part of a group, we explore concepts of leadership, group dynamics and how to problem-solve in a fair and positive way so that all members of a team feel included and are safe.

We also talk about their responsibility to one another, which lays the groundwork for conversations about how to be a proactive bystander and help other students when it looks like they are being hurt.

Our presentations in fourth grade explicitly focus on gossip, rumors and bystander behaviors.

Again, using games to explore these concepts, the students are able to meet and address these potentially scary concepts in a developmentally appropriate and fun fashion.

We give the students a tube of toothpaste and ask them to squeeze it out onto a paper plate. We can then talk about what a mess it made. Then we ask them to put the toothpaste back in the tube. Of course they cannot get more than a dab back in the tube.

We can then begin the discussion about how words can make a mess and that, once said, they cannot be taken back. This helps us to talk with the students about bullying and what a mess it can create and how it cannot be undone.That lays a solid foundation for later presentations about appropriate Internet/social media use.

In fifth and sixth grades, we actively engage the students in conversations about Internet safety and harassment issues.

Because they have had all of the concept and skill-building presentations in prior years, they have the ability to apply those lessons to these very important topics and understand them in a more fundamental way.

Throughout these presentations, we talk with the students about the importance of getting help from a grownup when they or someone else is being hurt or in danger of being hurt. We help them to identify who those grownups might be, and what they should expect in the way of help from those adults.

All of our presentations can be presented as stand-alone material, but we find that they work best all together. Our presentations build upon each other, creating a framework of understanding, built year after year.

We believe it is the responsibility of the community to help keep our children safe from harm.

While it is the adults who should be responsible for sexual abuse prevention, our programs provide our children with the concepts and skills necessary to help keep themselves safe. And, they teach children lifelong skills that will help them each to understand and seek out safe, healthy relationships.

Bridget McAlonan is the SACC Education Coordinator for the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services.

Be aware: It is never OK to rape someone

Every Sunday throughout April, Sexual Assault Prevention & Response Services will have a guest column in the SunJournal. Each column will discuss a different aspect of sexual violence, as well as prevention & education efforts.

Here is the first one from our Executive Director!

 

I don’t know where to start.

A 16-year-old girl is raped by two high school boys at a “drunken” party in Steubenville, Ohio. Other students stood by recording the rape on their cell phones. That video was then widely distributed via the Internet, with resulting text message “chatter” about the assault.

The victim, who witnesses testified appeared too drunk to know what was happening, learned the details of the assault from those text messages and videos, along with everyone else who saw them.

The head coach of the football team and parents of other students may have known about the assault, but did not report it.

Following the trial, the victim has received death threats from people who say she ruined the lives of those young men who raped her. Media attention has focused on the distribution of the videos and raises the alarm about the dangers of posting such things on the Internet.

Really? Is that what that case is about?

There is so much to learn from that crime in Steubenville. The most important lesson is that parents, coaches, teachers, other community members, you and I, need to teach our children that IT IS NOT OK TO RAPE SOMEONE. It is never OK to engage in sexual acts with a person unless that person has given their free and informed consent, and is clearly, rationally, able to do so.

We need to teach children they can intervene when someone is in trouble. For so many reasons, they should intervene when another young person is drinking, or certainly when that person is obviously drunk.

They can intervene when they see a person being treated badly by another person. If a person is drunk and passed out, they can get help for that person, get them to a safe location and make sure they remain safe from harm.

And, if they see a person or persons sexually assaulting another person, the proper response is not to take out their cell phones and record the assault; the proper response is to stop the assault.

The right thing to do is to get between the assailants and the victim, and keep that victim safe from further harm. Then, the assault needs to be reported to an adult or to the police directly. The victim will need help, and the assailants could use some help as well.

Clearly, the students’ sharing of the video and the text messages about the assault should not have happened. That was a gross violation of privacy for the victim, who now goes to school every day wondering who has seen the naked pictures of her. Imagine the horror of that reality.

We must teach our children about the responsible use of text messages, video sharing and social media, and that they must not spread that kind of harmful material.

And then there is the victim blaming.

This victim has been threatened for bringing forward this assault and seeking justice. Other students are blaming her for “ruining the lives” of the defendants.

We must teach our children that people are accountable for their behavior and it is the person who does the hurting who should suffer the consequence, not the person who was hurt or the person who does the telling.

And we should not let our children shift responsibility for a rape to the victim of that rape. It was the choices and the actions of the defendants in this case that caused the harm and will affect their lives. And it is their choices and actions that will affect the life of the victim.

It is alarming that many adults, including those in positions of authority or influence at the school, knew about the rape and did not report it. A child was raped, and those mandated reporters should have done their jobs and reported the crime to the police. It is unconscionable that they did not.

I cannot sidestep the issue of “drunken” parties attended by teenagers. That should not have happened.

And although liquor does not cause sexual assault, it certainly can impair judgment and increase the perceived and actual vulnerability of people who are under the influence.

Parents need to be more vigilant about the activities of their teenagers and ensure that liquor is not part of their social interactions.

The only good that can come from this tragic incident is that we learn these lessons. Unfortunately, rape will continue to happen until we do.

Marty McIntyre is executive director of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services.