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What to Expect
Your child is here because of concerns about possible abuse. Our goals are to:
- Do the best job possible in finding out what happened
- Work with the legal system to help the child
- Help you understand the child protective and legal systems
- Help make the process as comfortable as possible for you
- Help your children and family begin to heal
We hope this section will help you understand more about child sexual abuse. We also hope it will help you understand the system we use to respond to a report of abuse. Please call us at Athens County Child Advocacy Center at 740-566-4847 if you have questions.
At times, you may be asked to wait while your child is being questioned. Being left out of some of the proceedings can
The CAC Interview Room
make you feel as if you are not very important to the process or to your child. Please be assured that you are very important. In fact, you may be the key to understanding what has happened. Many interviewers, however, prefer that the parents not be present during the interview because they believe that more accurate information can be obtained if you are not there. In your presence, your child may be unwilling to tell important details because he/she wants to spare you from hearing them. And sometimes parents can't control their emotions at what they hear, or they may place pressure on the child to tell in a way that can complicate the legal process.
Most interviewers will take the time to make sure your child is comfortable without you. This means letting your child see you with the interviewer and making sure that your child knows where you will be during the interview. It should be made clear to the child that you are available, if necessary.
Following are the basic steps to an investigation of child sexual abuse:
- Someone reports suspicion of abuse to authorities, either law enforcement or Athens County Children Services (ACCS).
- Interviews with the child are conducted, usually at the Child Advocacy Center. Interviews are conducted by specially-trained forensic interviewers, with the
The CAC Waiting Room
- Medical exams are conducted, if necessary.
- Law Enforcement and ACCS will continue the investigation, which will include an interview with the alleged offender, if possible.
- A team of professionals will meet to discuss the case and decide how to manage it. The team consists of medical professionals, prosecutors, law enforcement officers, social workers and mental health professionals. Meeting participants agree to abide by the Athens County CAC’s confidentiality agreement to keep all information from meetings private.
- The case may be referred to the Prosecuting Attorney and/or Juvenile or Criminal Court, or another plan may be made for managing the case.
In Athens County, we are fortunate to have a highly trained team of professionals which meets every month to respond to child abuse reports. The roles of the team members are described below:
The Prosecutor: Leader of the team who has the final decision as to whether charges will be filed. In order to make decision, the age and maturity of the child, the child’s ability to testify are some of the factors considered on the likelihood of success in the court.
The Victim Assistance Advocate: Main duties include coordinating court preparation and helping the victims and families understand the legal process.
The Law Enforcement Officer: The Athens County CAC team includes investigators from all local law enforcement agencies. They interview children, non-offending parents, suspects and other witnesses, and gather evidence from the scene of the alleged event.
The Case Worker: The role of Athens County Children Services (ACCS) is to help protect your child. The ACCS case workers conduct interviews and develop safety plans. They may refer you and/or your child to counseling.
The Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE)/Physician: Experiences nurses examine the child for sexual abuse by conducting a regular check-up with magnification of the genitalia. Magnification is done with an instrument called a culposcope, which is a big magnifying glass with a good light source.
The Therapist: Mental health professionals (therapists) on the team help decide how the abuse has affected the child and family and what can be done to assist them in healing from the experience.
The Special Advocate: The Court-Appointed Special Advocate may be involved in the process if he/she is already assigned to the child. This person is a trained professional whose role is to help the child.
- Be calm and reassuring to your child. Don't coach your child on what to say. It is important for the story to come out in your child's words and in your child's own time.
- When you are asked for information, try to provide as many facts as you can. Cases are built on the four W's: who, what, when and where. Don't try to guess if you don't know the answer to a question— it is much better to say you don't know.
- On the other hand, your feelings are important. Feelings are valuable in giving investigators insight, so tell how you feel and why you feel that way. Although only facts are allowed in court, feelings ca help give investigators ideas for how to proceed.
- Always be honest, even though the truth may not seem favorable to yourself or others. In the long run, you will be much better off.
- Try not to overreact. It is a difficult time and emotions are probably running high. Losing control can hurt the case and over-shadow the needs of the innocent victim, your child.
- Cooperate. You will probably feel as if investigators are prying into your personal life, but this is necessary and vital to the case and to your child's welfare. The sooner the facts come out, the sooner the case can be resolved and you can return to a more normal life.
- You may feel that investigators do not care because they avoid showing emotions. In fact, investigators do care, and part of that caring involves remaining objective and calm in the face of extremely emotional situations.
- Love, support and protect your child at all costs. If the alleged offender is a significant person to you, it can be very difficult to balance your feelings for him with the need to protect your child. Remember that your child has only you to make healthy, protective decisions.
One challenge your family will face will be what to say to others about the abuse. Your child may feel embarrassed and/or responsible. If there is no publicity or public awareness, you can decide whom you will tell. Let your child know with which relatives or friends you will be discussing it and let your child have some choice about who is told.
Sometimes an extended family member is the first person to learn of the abuse. You may feel hurt that someone knew before you. However, understand that your child may have been trying to protect your feelings by telling someone else. Your child may have felt that person could tell you in a less upsetting way than he or she could.
If you are especially close to your family, you will probably want to talk with them about your child's abuse and how it has affected the family. It is important to keep in mind how these relatives usually react to stressful situations. Their reactions may include hysteria, horror, obvious distress, sincere concern, embarrassment, disgust, disinterest or unnecessary questioning for intimate details. If you know they will react in a negative way, you may not want to share the information with them unless it becomes necessary. It is important to maintain your child's sense of privacy. On the other hand, be careful not to make it a dirty secret, as this could cause more shame in your child.
Reference: When Your Child Has Been Molested, by Kathryn B. Hagans & Joyce Case
Provide safety, love and support. Let them know it is okay to cry or be mad. Make sure your child understands it is not his or her fault. Don't coach or pressure your child to talk about things.
Some things you can say that will really help your child:
- I believe you.
- I know it's not your fault.
- I'm glad I know about it.
- I'm sorry this happened to you.
- I will take care of you.
- I'm not sure what will happen next.
- Nothing about YOU made this happen. It has happened to other children, too.
- You don't need to take care of me.
- I am upset, but not with you.
- I'm angry at the person who did this.
- I'm sad. You may see me cry. That's all right. I will be able to take care of you. I'm not mad at you.
- I don't know why he/she did it. He/she has a problem.
- You can still love someone but hate what they did to you
- Return to a normal routine as soon as possible.
- See that your child receives therapy as soon as possible. Trying to sweep the problem under the rug usually causes more problems because it will not go away.
- Find help for yourself. You don't have to do it all yourself. Contact the Athens CAC for assistance.
- Teach your child the rules of personal safety. Tell them what to do if someone tries to touch them in an uncomfortable way.
- Be careful not to question your child about the abuse. If you do, you can jeopardize the case in court against your child's abuser. Specially trained professionals at the Children's Center will interview your child to obtain the necessary information without harming the case or further traumatizing him/her. If your child wants to talk about it, listen supportively, but do not probe.
- Keep your child away from the person suspected of the abuse. This is to protect you, that person and the child.
- Avoid discussing the case with other victims or their families.
- Never coach or advise your child on how to act or what to say to professionals or investigators. This could seriously damage the case.
- Avoid the suspect.
- Your child may need an extra sense of physical security. Stay close, and assure your child you will keep him/her safe.
- Remember to give attention to your other children.
It is recommended that children who have been sexually abused receive mental health counseling. If you decide not to pursue counseling, you should be attentive for the following issues which might arise in your child after he/she has been sexually abused, even if he/she seems “fine” after the abuse:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Depression or mood swings
- Eating disorders
- Sleep disorders
- Anxiety disorders
- Participation in unsafe sexual activities or inappropriately sexualized behavior.
Those who have been abused as children have an increased risk of becoming abusers themselves when they reach adulthood. Constant supervision and vigilance by adults is essential to preventing further child abuse.