Together We Heal

Together We Heal is for any who suffer from the trauma of Childhood Sexual Abuse. We are here to provide a safe forum for survivors of abuse to share, learn and heal, give direction to those seeking guidance and to expose sexual predators for what they are and their methods of getting into our lives.


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The Sexual Exploitation of Children: What If Anything is The Church Going to Do About It?

The following was posted on August 30th, 2014 at our friend and colleague, Boz Tchividjian’s blog, “Rhymes With Religion”. Boz has been a consistent advocate for children from his time as a prosecutor to his current position as the founder of GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment),

Being a grandson of Billy Graham, one would reasonably assume the work he does would be welcomed at churches, especially Southern Baptist, whose numbers are an approximate 15.75 million among 46,000 congregations.

We are learning, quite tragically, most churches only do the work of eradicating sexual predators in their midst when forced to do so. And even then, seldom to never is there any acceptance of responsibility or “heaven” forbid an actual apology to the victims and their families. Even more egregious are the few times a conviction for sex crimes against a child are secured.

Thankfully there are groups like GRACE, SharedHope, Together We Heal and others doing what we would all expect and should demand of the Church – protect children and care for those who’ve fallen victim to this most heinous of crimes. But until that occurs, we will continue to do the work. Our children are worthy of and owed protection; and survivors of the trauma of childhood sexual abuse deserve to be cared for and shown compassion and love.

Thank you Boz and thank you SharedHope for the work you do to advocate for all children and those already harmed by the wickedness of sexual predators and those who protect and defend the indefensible.

In the past few years, a there has been a growing interest amongst many Americans in raising awareness and combatting the international commercial sexual exploitation of children. This is when an adult solicits or engages in a sexual act with a child in exchange for something of value. Many incredible individuals and organizations are focusing on this global horror and are beginning to make a real difference in the lives of untold numbers of vulnerable children around the world. Only recently are our eyes beginning to open to the ugly fact that this evil also permeates in the small towns and big cities of this nation. This has been clearly evidenced in a report released this past week by SharedHope, a Christian organization that is combating sex trafficking and serving abuse survivors. The Demanding Justice Report is one of the first comprehensive studies of its kind that examines the domestic commercial sexual exploitation of children. The heartbreaking and eye-opening findings of this study are a loud call to action to every American. Especially to those of us who call ourselves Christ followers.

Everyone should take the time to read this report. In this short post, I want to highlight just a small sample of its findings and what they mean for those of us who are a part of a faith community:

Who are the buyers? The age of those who commit these sexual offenses against children ranged from 18-89 years of age, with the average age being 42. Ninety-nine percent of these offenders were male. In the cases where the profession of the perpetrator was available, over 65 percent were in professions of authority such as attorneys, police officers, and ministers. Fifty-six percent were identified as working in occupations that had regular access to children, including teachers, coaches, and youth service organizations.

Who are the victims? Of the cases studied, almost 80 percent of the child victims were female. Approximately 10 percent of the victims were under the age of eleven, while almost 42 percent were between the ages of 11 and 15. The rest were between the ages of 16 and 18. In at least five of the cases reviewed during this study, children who were abused were actually charged with prostitution! Surprisingly, in only a small number of the cases were the young victims identified as being a runaway.

How do perpetrators access the child victims? The study found that the most common way those who engage in the commercial sexual exploitation of children access their prey is through direct contact in person, via text message, email, or phone. In almost 50 percent of the studied cases, the perpetrator was given access to the child through a third party such as a parent, older sibling, or a pimp.

What happens to buyers who get caught? This report studied four large urban locations and identified 134 cases of commercial sexual exploitation of children offenses. Of those cases, 118 were officially prosecuted.

Unfortunately, only 44 of those prosecuted cases resulted in convictions for offenses related to the commercial sexual exploitation of children. For example, 38 of the perpetrators arrested for paying to engage in sexual contact with a child were only convicted of a prostitution solicitation offense!

What does our society communicate to child sexual abuse offenders when they get caught and only get charged with a prostitution related offense? Even worse, what are we communicating to precious children when they learn that the adult who violated them merely got convicted of soliciting a prostitute?

Only five percent of the 118 prosecuted cases resulted in the defendant receiving a sentence that included incarceration. This means that 95 percent of the buyers who were prosecuted for some form of commercial sexual exploitation of a child never served a day behind bars!

This past week, I have spent a bit of time struggling with what these extremely disturbing results mean to those of us who identify ourselves as Christians? Though I am still struggling, here are just a few of my initial thoughts that I’d like to share:

We often think of the commercial sexual exploitation of children being perpetrated by large organized trafficking rings upon children who are almost exclusively runaways. Though that is tragically true in way too many cases, this report seems to indicate that this abuse is being perpetrated by the adults in our community that we least expect upon children that we so often assume are not at risk. This report opens our eyes to the grave reality that the commercial sexual exploitation of children has no boundaries. All children are at risk.

There is little doubt that those who will pay money to sexually victimize a child are not limited to just those whom they pay to abuse. For every lawyer, doctor, coach, teacher, or pastor who is paying for sexual contact with a child, one can only wonder how many are doing so without the need to pay anything. This tells me that the prevalence of this heinous crime is far greater than we can determine. Furthermore, this study reminds us of how it is very common for perpetrators to intentionally seek out professions of trust and that most make direct contact with their victims in person, or using some form of technology. Do we truly grasp these alarming realities about dangerous adults who are members of our faith communities? If so, what if anything is the Church going to do about it? Aren’t we the Church?

This report confirms the horror that no age is off limits to those who sexually assault children. We are also exposed to the lesser-known horror that a large number of these child victims are being delivered into the hands of offenders by their very own family members. Do we truly grasp these dark realities about the precious child victims who are members of our faith communities? Should we not be equally concerned about the children who are outside of our faith communities? If so, what if anything is the Church going to do about it? Aren’t we the Church?

As a former prosecutor, I was extremely bothered to learn that so few offenders are sent to prison for raping children in exchange for money. What does it say about a culture when an adult who pays to sexually victimize a child is only charged with prostitution solicitation? What does it say about a culture that actually prosecutes sexually victimized children as prostitutes? Do we truly grasp these dark realities that demonstrate such little concern about those who sexually exploit children? If so, what if anything is the Church going to do about it? Aren’t we the Church?

Questions are a certainly a good starting point. However, simply asking questions isn’t enough. It’s too easy for many of us to feel like we have sufficiently responded to these dark realities by simply asking tough questions. In my experience, questions that are not followed up by actions are nothing more than indifference hiding behind a pretty mask. As Christians, we embrace a different reality. A reality about a God who doesn’t simply respond to the dark realities with questions. He actually poured himself out to the point of death in order to bring light to that darkness. That is the beautiful redemption story. Our response to this mind-blowing truth is to follow Jesus into the dark realities as we pour our own lives out in actions that will make a difference. Actions that expose the dark deeds of offenders, protect and serve children, and help to transform a culture that all too often protects those who must be punished and punishes those who must be protected.

May each question propel us forward into action. It’s time to get moving.

This article can be viewed at its original location here:

http://boz.religionnews.com/2014/08/30/sexual-exploitation-children-anything-church-going/

Copyright © 2014 Together We Heal, Inc.


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Suicide Prevention Doesn’t End In September!

Although September was the official “Suicide Prevention Month”, I want to pass along some information I feel both compelled to share and do so in part as it relates to both survivors of childhood sexual abuse and any others who have been through trauma that has left them feeling as if there’s no hope.

At Together We Heal, one of our primary functions is to let fellow survivors know they are NOT ALONE. And since one of the many reasons leading to suicide is this feeling of hopelessness and/or abandonment, please read, take it to heart and share with others.

Let your friends, family and loved ones TRULY KNOW they are loved, appreciated and above all…they are NOT alone and help IS available.

Need help? In the U.S., call 800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

I read an article the other day from Ross Szaba, CEO of the Human Power Project. In it, he made some articulate points on this issue:

“Yesterday, the White House had a briefing on mental health and suicide prevention in honor of Suicide Prevention month. Advocates, professionals and organizations often use the words, “mental health,” in a way that assumes everyone knows what mental health is. Unfortunately, that’s not true. If we’re going to decrease stigma and have an honest conversation about mental health, then we need to take a step back and make sure all of us are on the same page.

Here are three things to clear up the confusion.

1. Mental Health is not having a mental illness.
Oftentimes when people hear the words mental health they only think of mental illnesses, celebrity breakdowns or worst-case scenarios. They do not think of healthy images. The word mental has a stigma attached to it that can immediately trigger scenes from horror movies, school shootings and epic celebrity breakdowns like Charlie Sheen, Britney Spears, Amanda Bynes or Lindsey Lohan.

However, mental health is not having a problem. It’s how you address all of the challenges in your life. It’s how you handle stress, break-ups, rejection, lack of sleep, loss and everything else. We need a clear definition of mental health as a baseline. The World Health Organization defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”

2. Mental health is as important as physical health.
Teaching people solely about mental illnesses isn’t the best way to be preventative or proactive in preparing them for their lives. We need to teach mental health the same way we teach physical health. The education needs to start at the youngest age possible and carry through all levels of school.

When people are asked to describe physical health they use words like diet, exercise, muscles, CrossFit, yoga, Pilates, gluten-free, the Bar Method etc., (I live in LA) or any other description that implies taking care of yourself. Again, when people are asked to describe mental health they rarely use words that have a positive connotation.

Your brain is one of the most important parts of your body. You can exercise, develop and strengthen your brain as much as you do your body. There are obvious exercises like memory, crosswords and puzzles. Another thing you can do is to evaluate your coping mechanisms. People strengthen their muscles with exercise and stretching. You can strengthen your mental health by creating effective coping mechanisms.

3. Mental health is for everyone.
I give a lot of presentations about mental health. Not surprisingly, most of the presentations I give are mandatory, because what college student is sitting in his dorm room thinking, “I wish there were more mental health speakers coming to campus. I’m tired of going to parties and having fun.”

My favorite person in my audiences is the person who upon learning he is at a mental health presentation rationalizes it by thinking, “I’ll listen to this, so I know what to do for other people.” Balanced mental health is something all of us should have. I have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder with anger control problems and psychotic features. Someone else may only experience small levels of stress. In both of these cases our goal should be to have balanced mental health.

So in the immortal words of Oprah. You get mental health. You get mental health. You get mental health…”

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Additionally, a colleague of ours, Claire Quiney, forwarded the following showing the warning signs, impact of, and putting in an easily understandable graphic why it’s so important for us to pay attention to this challenge faced by so many.

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The graphic can be seen at its original location here:

http://www.socialworkdegreecenter.com/suicide-notes/

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But above and beyond all we’ve covered today, take home this point made by all the previous authors and contributors…If we will take just a moment to talk WITH those around us, we might be the one who stands between them and making this fateful decision. Please reach out to those you know and love! And as I say all the time…Together We Can Truly Heal!

Copyright © 2014 Together We Heal, Inc.


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September 11, 2014 – Big Changes on a Big Day in Our Collective History

Once again, we were given the honor of speaking out on behalf of both drug addicts and survivors of childhood sexual abuse in recovery. We discuss the struggles of both, the ability to find a healing path and what to do in those moments of feeling “stuck“.

When you have a moment, please take some time to listen in on this invaluable information that I know can help begin a transformative time in your life if you have challenges with one or both.

The dialogue between myself and Misa Leonessa Garavaglia brought up some great points toward finding a healing path. Please do listen and let us know if we can help.

Healing Addiction, Part 1- Addiction and Child Sexual Abuse

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/beyondabuseradio/2014/09/12/healing-addiction-part-1-child-sexual-abuse-and-addiction


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What Are You Scared Of?

Aristotle taught us that “Fear is pain arising from the anticipation of evil”.

So why do I bring up fear? Because it’s a universal human emotion. And it’s one that survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse (CSA) either still experience, or did at the time when we were being abused. I remember the pain of my fear. I remember with brutal clarity the shaking of my body, the angst, the sadness, the torture in my heart knowing as nighttime got closer, so also came “that time”. Aristotle’s words ring loud and clear to me. It was the anticipation of the abuse, the anticipation of Frankie Wiley‘s evil ways that I knew were coming that scared me to death. Me, an undersized, little 12 year old who knew the man I trusted as my spiritual leader and male role model, was about to torture me in ways I could never have conceived in my wildest nightmares. I would make excuses to stay up, to avoid the bed at all costs. But in the end, the result was always the same. And no matter which bed I was in, he would get what he wanted.

We’re told as children, “there’s no such thing as monsters”. But survivors of CSA know monsters are all too real, and they are cloaked in the skin of kindness, relatives, teachers, clergy and all manner of those we knew, trusted and loved. That’s what tears apart the lives of those who manage to make it through to adulthood. That’s why so many turn to narcotics, alcohol, promiscuity, or anything else to make us feel loved, or safe or that will give us some level of peace, if only for a moment.

That’s why if we seem, at times, disgusted and angered beyond control, by the disbelief or inaction of those who can do something about it and choose not to, understand this…”To attempt seeing Truth without knowing Falsehood. It is the attempt to see the Light without knowing Darkness. It cannot be.” You see, as children we have seen falsehood at its worst and therefore know truth beyond what we should. So we have little tolerance for those who don’t or won’t see the same truth, the only truth, that the monsters are real and we MUST do something to prevent them from hurting more children.

Frank Herbert, the author of Dune, penned these words, “A world is supported by four things … the learning of the wise, the justice of the great, the prayers of the righteous and the valor of the brave. But all of these are as nothing … without a ruler who knows the art of ruling.”

Right now we don’t see rulers, or should I say leaders, who have the learning, justice, righteousness or bravery to do what should be done. To step up and fight for these children now or for those of us then.

I was reminded not long ago about an animal trick. You’ve heard of animals chewing off a leg to escape a trap? This same person said the difference between animals and humans is that a human would remain in the trap, endure the pain, feigning death that he might evade the trapper and remove a threat to his kind.

And survivors of CSA know about this maneuver. You know what I’m talking about, that trick we would play to be able to endure the torture of sexual abuse. We would lay as still as we could, as quiet as we could, and wait until our “captor” was gone in the hopes of it never happening again, but it always did. And this is where our fear is rooted.

So when we begin to feel fear coming over us, remember this, “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

I cited Herbert again to remind my fellow survivors of the strength we all have. That we have survived this long is amazing. This proves how much inner strength we have and what we are capable of achieving. Or as an unknown author stated, “On particularly rough days when I’m sure I can’t possibly endure, I like to remind myself that my track record for getting through bad days so far is 100%…and that’s pretty good.”

To quote one of my favorite shows, Downton Abbey, a character named Miss Baxter says to her new found friend Mr. Molseley, “There are things in my past that made me afraid, but I’m not afraid any more. I’m not sure what will happen, but whatever it is, it’s better than being afraid.”

And to those who’ve never been through what we have, we sigh a collective “thank God”. But now we need you to join us in this fight. Those who oppose us are many and powerful and without your help and numbers we won’t be able to get the results needed to protect the children of today and tomorrow.

So be the Dad, the Mom, the parent and the leaders you are all capable of being and help us to protect all children.

As Helen Keller said, “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”

Copyright © 2014 Together We Heal, Inc.