Sexual abusers often “groom” their victims by giving gifts, attention, and/or special privileges. This grooming process insures continued access and secrecy with the victim. The abuser may also be a close friend, member of the family, or someone else that the victim loves or looks up to.
Caregivers of victims also have a variety of emotions following a disclosure of abuse. Common emotions experienced by caregivers are guilt, sadness, shock, anger, and even depression. If the abuser is also a caregiver, there may be worries about housing and economic issues that must be considered. Although the caregiver’s emotions may be strong, it is important that the child believes that the caregiver can handle the disclosure or the results. The child, if he/she feels that the emotions created by the disclosure are too intense, may withdraw thinking that this will lessen the strain on the caregiver. It is vital that the caregiver speak to another competent adult, NOT the child, about their complex and strong feelings. It may be helpful for the parent to seek treatment with a counselor who is experienced in working with the families of victims.
Caregivers also must separate their own emotions from those of the victim. Caregivers can help the victim express his/her own feelings about the abuse. This can be especially difficult for caregivers who experienced abuse themselves as a child. Watching a loved one go through abuse may bring up old emotions. It is important that the caregiver resolves these feelings with a competent adult or counselor and NOT the child.
Support groups with other caregivers of victims can also be very helpful during this time. Information on groups is available at your local children’s advocacy center.
No. Because of age, size and/or the nature of the relationship, adults have power and authority over children. Children, therefore, do not have the maturity to equally consent to a sexual act with an adult or much older child. Each state has laws that define the legal age at which a child can consent to a sexual activity.
Sexual abuse can take on many forms such as fondling, penetration, exposure of private parts, participation and/or viewing of pornography, and communicating with a child in a sexualized manner. All forms are serious and must be addressed by law enforcement, child protective services, and/or medical professionals.
Sex offenders are required to register with law enforcement when they move or after their release from prison/jail. A list of sex offenders registered in Kentucky can be accessed via the internet at kspsor.state.ky.us. This information can be obtained by calling toll free 1-866-564-5652. At this number, an individual can register up to 3 zip codes to monitor and a phone number. When a registered sex offender moves into and/or within that three zip code area, the Kentucky State Police willnotify the phone number provided.
Although the registration, phone notification, and website system is helpful, it is not 100% accurate. Even though there is a punishment if a convicted sex offender does not register, some offenders do not register. Also, some offenders “plead out” of their cases and therefore may not have to register, if their plea agreement does not include a registerable offense. Persons convicted of sex crimes before July 15, 1994 are not required to register for those crimes. Offenders who are not reported, charged, and convicted are not required to register.
Children disclose sexual abuse in different ways, depending on their age, developmental capacity, and many other factors. Young children may not always realize that what they are experiencing is abuse or have the words to describe it, and may, therefore, disclose accidentally, through their behaviors
or in conversation. As children grow older, their desire for the abuse to end may encourage them to tell a person outside of the family, such as a best friend, teacher, or sports coach. No matter how or when the child discloses, it is essential that professionals are able to investigate and assess the situation.
All adults in the state of Kentucky have a duty to report suspicions of child abuse (KRS 620.030). Individuals who fail to report a child’s disclosure or a reasonablesuspicion of abuse may be subject to criminal charges. As a reporter, your identity will not be shared with the subject(s) of the report and will only be known to individuals investigating the allegations. To report child abuse or neglect in Kentucky, please call: 877-597-2331 or 877-KYSAFE1.
Child protective services or your local children’s advocacy center will often be able to recommend a counselor, who is specially trained and has experience in child sexual abuse treatment, for your child. The recommended treatment for a child who has experienced abuse is Evidenced Based Trauma Focused Mental Health Treatment and is often called Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TFCBT). Evidence based treatment means that there is research that has been donethat shows that this model of treatment is effective when working with children who are victims of trauma. Trauma focused mental health treatment is recommended when a child experiences abuse, neglect, witnesses domestic violence, traumatic loss, and other events that are traumatic in their lives. In order to do TFCBT or Trauma Focused Treatment, a therapist must be specially trained in it. Caregivers should ask any counselor they are taking their child to important questions to insure the quality of care for the child.
Some of these questions could be:
• Does the counselor have training in the area trauma focused therapy treatment models (like TFCBT)?
• Does the counselor have experience with children who have been sexually abused? Access to supervision and/or consultation?
• How long has this counselor specialized in trauma focused treatment? • Does the counselor have access to supervision and/or consultation regarding their clients?
• Is there a plan for the counselor to update caregivers on progress without telling them what the child is saying in counseling?
• Where does the counselor place all of the blame for the abuse—on your child?
On the caregiver? Or on the offender?
Finding the right counselor for the victim is very important, so do not be afraid to ask these questions—a qualified counselor will be happy and able to answer them. If the child does not connect with the counselor after numerous sessions, it is ok to find another trauma informed counselor who your child may be more comfortable with.
The majority of children who are sexually abused do not disclose their abuse immediately. It is very common for children to not tell about abuse for days, months, and even years. Abusers often use threats and manipulation to keep their victims silent about the abuse. Children may also fear that their families will be broken apart, that there will be negative consequences for the abuser (who is most often someone the child knows), or that he/she did something wrong and will be in trouble for the abuse. Very young children may not know that what they are experiencing is abuse so they may not tell until they get older. Older children are often given privileges, attention, or gifts by the abuser and may not want to lose these special things. Also, they may love or like the person abusing them, even if they don’t like the abuse. There are many reasons that a child may not disclose abuse, but that does not mean that the disclosure is not truthful when the child does tell.
ABSOLUTELY NOT. Children are never responsible for sexual abuse—no matter what. Child abuse is a crime that the abuser makes the choice to commit despite the wishes of the child. Children are never responsible for the actions of an adult or someone larger and more powerful than they are.
Although many adults would be more comfortable not talking about sexual abuse with the children in their lives, it is essential that they do. By not talking, the adult is sending the message that the abuse should be secret and that the emotions surrounding it should be kept inside. By talking about the abuse calmly and openly, the adult can let the child know that they are not alone, that the adult can care for the child, and that the abuse was not the child’s fault.
The purpose of forensic interviews is to obtain the most accurate and complete information as possible from an alleged victim to assess if abuse has occurred. A forensic interviewer employed by the CAC may conduct the interview or a trained law enforcement or social service worker may use the CAC to conduct their own interview. CACs provide the technology for the investigative team to participate in the interview through closed circuit television and wireless audio equipment. The interview is recorded, thus reducing the number of times the children must be interviewed. Forensic Interviewers employed at CACs are specially trained to talk and interact with children while assessing their capabilities and gathering legally sound facts regarding abuse allegations. The information gathered during the forensic interview aids with criminal and child welfare investigations.
The legal process is complex, and can be confusing at times. To help guide you through it, advocates are available through the prosecutor’s office, children’sadvocacy centers, rape crisis centers, and some law enforcement agencies, depending on individual community resources. These advocates can help to guide victims and families through the legal process. These advocates may help victims and their caregivers prepare to testify, meet with the prosecutor, and become more comfortable with the entire legal process. Preparing the child for court and establishing a relationship with the child is important. If the family of the victim is not allowed in the court room during the victim’s testimony the advocate can be a friendly and supportive face in the crowd for the child.
It is also important to let the child know that they are supported, believed, and that telling the truth was the right thing to do. The advocates can arrange appointments to see the courtroom before the victim has to testify. Regardless of the outcome of the court case, it is important that the victim has the opportunity to celebrate his or her success in telling the truth.
A Children’s Advocacy Center provides a comfortable, private, child-friendly setting that is both physically and psychologically safe for the child.
A Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) is a child-focused facility where representatives from many disciplines—law enforcement, child protection, prosecution, mental health, medical and victim advocacy—work together, conducting joint forensic interviews, and making team decisions, about the investigations, treatment, management and prosecution of child abuse cases. CACs are designed to promote the well-being of children while facilitating the most effective investigation and prosecution of child sexual abuse cases. CACs are community-based programs designed to meet the unique needs of a community, so no two CACs look exactly alike. Victims of child abuse require a multifaceted community response and no single agency, individual or discipline has the necessary knowledge, skills or resources, to serve the needs of all children and their families. The combined wisdom and knowledge of professionals from different disciplines results in a more complete understanding of case issues and the most effective, child- and family-focused system response. In addition to focusing on the best interest of children, CACs also provide an opportunity to give support to professionals who dedicate themselves to the protection of children including social workers, advocates, law enforcement officers and prosecutors. CACs are defined in the child protection act of Kentucky law (KRS 620.020).
A guardian ad litem (GAL) is an attorney appointed by the courts to represent the best interests of the child and to provide legal representation for the child. The GAL does not work for the local authority or the court involved in the case, but helps the courts make informed decisions about the welfare of the child. The GAL should interview all parties concerned, study the relevant case files, and get to know
the child or children involved. Once the necessary inquiries are made, the GAL represents the child at hearings, writes reports to the court, and makes advisory recommendations regarding the child best interest.
The court shall appoint a GAL for the child in dependency court proceedings (KRS 620.100) and in termination of parental rights proceedings (KRS 625.041 and KRS 625.080).
Child abuse is an action, or lack of action in the case of neglect, that creates a risk of physical and/or emotional harm for the child. Sexual abuse is a form of child abuse. Sexual abuse can include manipulation and threatening of the victim, by the abuser, to engage in sexual acts and/or contact. Human Sex Trafficking occurs when anything of value is given to or received by a person in exchange for a sex act. KRS 600.020 provides the legal definition of child abuse, neglect, and dependency in Kentucky.
Once your child has been seen at the CAC your child’s case will be reviewed using a multidisciplinary approach that is critical to ensure the immediate and future safety of the child victim, minimize further trauma or re-victimization, assist in the healing of the child, increase the quality of sexual abuse investigations, and to facilitate efficient and appropriate disposition of cases through the criminal justice system (KRS 620.040 (7) (c).
Multidisciplinary Team Members include:
· Commonwealth and County Attorneys
· Law Enforcement (local law enforcement and Kentucky State Police)
· Child Protective Workers (Cabinet for Health and Family Service Workers)
· Medical Professionals
· Mental Health Therapists
· Victim Advocates/ Family Advocates
· Children’s Advocacy Center Staff
Throughout this time the family deals with many stressful issues. CAC staff members are available to help your family during this time. Staff will provide support, information, education, crisis counseling and assistance in completing Crime Victims Compensation applications. Advocates and/or therapists at the CAC continue to follow your child’s case until a resolution is reached.
When you arrive at the CAC for security reasons, you will ring the doorbell to be admitted into the center. At the front desk, you will be greeted by an intake specialist. You will be asked your child’s name, and you will be asked to complete paperwork that will include general information and consent for services. To complete the paperwork, you must be the guardian of the children you have brought to the center. The center is child-focused and child-friendly and, most important, a safe place for children. It is important to us that you and your child feel protected during your visits.
CAC staff will welcome you and help you during your visit. Depending on the services you receive, you could meet with BRACAC staff (child advocate, forensic interviewer, nurse, physician, therapist), law enforcement personnel and social service workers. You will be asked questions about your child, particularly regarding the statements, behaviors and other signs that have raised concerns that your child may be a victim of sexual or physical abuse.
If your child receives a forensic interview or a medical examination, BRACAC staff will meet with you to discuss the services provided, including any medical findings and what the next steps will be in the investigation.
Disclosures of sexual abuse can often plunge a family into chaos and turmoil. The child who disclosed may believe that his/her disclosure, not the abuse, caused this turmoil or that their family does not believe them. There may be pressure from those around the victim to “get back to normal” and so they may recant. Feels of shame, embarrassment, and guilt often accompany sexual abuse and the victim may believe that, by taking back the disclosure, these feelings will be lessened. Recanting does not necessarily mean that the disclosure was false or that the child was lying, just that the victim may feel some emotional or physical pressure.
There are many factors that can cause adults to not believe children’s disclosures of sexual abuse. Some adults simply do not want to believe that sexual abuse and all of the pain that it causes exists. Others may depend on the abuser economically, emotionally, or physically and would suffer if that individual was incarcerated. When the abuser is a family member/friend, the non-abusing adult may risk losing support systems such as other friends, family, or religious groups. The non-abusing adult may also fear that if action is taken on behalf of the child, the abuser may physically harm the victim and/or the non-abuser.
Each child will react to abuse in a different way. A child’s development, relationship to the offender, nature and duration of the abuse, level of support felt, and level of responsibility the child feels for the abuse are all factors that affect how the child will process the abuse and the events after disclosure. Because of all of these and other factors, it is suggested that each victim is individually assessed by a professional who will consider each of her/his needs carefully. The scope and length of treatment will depend on the needs of the child, assessment by the professional, and the opinion of the therapist. It is extremely important that the victim understands that the actions of the abuser were wrong and not the fault of the victim. The recommended treatment for a child who has experienced abuse is Evidenced Based Trauma Focused Mental Health Treatment and is often called Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TFCBT).