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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God Made All Of Me: Empowering Children Against Sexual Abuse

Our great friend Boz Tchividjian’s latest blog post is a MUST READ for parents! After you read the interview, please see how the article we wrote in 2012, “How To Talk With Your Kids” brings up many of the same EXTREMELY important points and shares so many COMMON GOALS regarding talking with our children about sexual abuse. This just reaffirms to me the importance of all of us working together to protect our children from sexual predators. We simply cannot convey this message often enough, nor can we talk with our children too much about their safety.

 

From Boz:

One of the many challenges parents and guardians have in protecting those in their care is how to educate younger children about sexual abuse. Not only can the topic be incredibly uncomfortable to bring up with 5-year-old, but most of us simply don’t know how to do it in an effective and non-traumatizing way. As a result, oftentimes these critically important conversations never take place. My dear friends, Justin and Lindsey Holcomb, have written a beautifully illustrated book that gives parents and caregivers the tools to have these necessary conversations in a manner that will effectively empower little ones without fear. I am thrilled to be able to post this interview with Justin and Lindsey as this God Made All of Me is released on Monday. I hope that this interview will be an encouragement and help to parents and caregivers as they seek ways to protect their little ones from abuse. Enjoy. – Boz
Boz: Thank you both for joining us for this important conversation about God Made All of Me. Who should read this book and why?

Justin & Lindsey: We highly recommend that parents and caregivers of 2 to 8 year-old children should read this book. We wrote it as a tool so they can explain to their children that God made their bodies. Because private parts are private, there can be lots of questions, curiosity, or shame regarding them. For their protection, children need to know about private parts and understand that God made their body and made it special.

Boz: Why was it important for the two of you to write a book about empowering children against abuse?

Justin & Lindsey: Parents need tools to help talk with their kids about their bodies and to help them understand the difference between appropriate and inappropriate touch. It allows families to build a first line of defense against sexual abuse in the safety of their own homes.

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Justin & Lindsey Holcomb

Our hope is that parents and caregivers will use this book as a tool to help protect their child from sexual abuse in a way that is not frightening. We want parents and caregivers to be smarter and better prepared than those who would want to harm children. While we know that actions by adults can be more effective than expecting children to protect themselves from sexual abuse, children still need accurate, age-appropriate information about child sexual abuse and have the confidence that parents and caregivers will support them. That is why we used the storybook approach.

Boz: What are your respective backgrounds and how did they prepare and qualify you to write this book?

Justin & Lindsey: We have two young children and wrote the book we needed for them. Lindsey was a victims’ advocate at a sexual assault crisis agency and a case manager at a domestic violence shelter. In both settings, she dealt with the issue of child sexual abuse. Lindsey also earned a Master in Public Health.

Justin is a minister and teaches courses on recognizing, preventing, and responding to abuse for seminaries. Also, when Justin was younger he was abused by an extended family member. So, this topic is not just professional but also personal.

Boz: What do the statistics about child sexual abuse tell us about the importance of tackling this topic with our kids?

Justin & Lindsey: Child sexual abuse is much more prevalent than most people realize. Also, offenders are usually not strangers. They are often people who are known and trusted by both parents and children. For example, one research study found that 34 percent of assailants were family members, 58 percent were acquaintances, and only 7 percent of the perpetrators were strangers to the victim.

Approximately 1 in 5 children will be sexually abused by their eighteenth birthday. Of child sexual abuse victims, approximately 10 percent of victims are age three and under, 28 percent are between ages four and seven, 26 percent are between ages eight and eleven, and 36 percent are twelve and older.

Boz: I have found that many parents want to have this conversation with their children, but are too uncomfortable to talk with them about specific body parts, etc. Others are apprehensive about frightening their child. How can parents address these concerns in order to have this critically important conversation with their children?

Justin & Lindsey: We are convinced that a major reason why parents don’t have these conversations is the “embarrassment factor.” They feel awkward talking about private parts to their kids so they avoid the conversations.

However, to teach children about sexual abuse it is important to explain about private parts. Clearly identify for your child which parts of their anatomy are private. Explain to your child that “some places on your body should never be touched by other people—except when you need help in the bathroom, or are getting dressed, or when you go to the doctor.” You can do this with young children during bath time or have your child dress in a bathing suit and show them that all areas covered by a bathing suit are “private.” The bathing suit analogy can be a bit misleading because it fails to mention that other parts of the body can be touched inappropriately (like mouth, legs, neck, arms), but it is a good start for little ones to understand the concept of private parts.

To teach about sexual abuse offenders, it is important to teach your kids about “tricky people.” Tricky people are grown-ups who ask kids for help or tell kids to keep a secret from their parents. It is really important to let your children know that even adults that they know and love can hurt them. Repeatedly encourage them to talk to you if any adult ever hurts them or makes them feel bad or uncomfortable, regardless of whether that adult is a family member or dad’s best friend. Also, teach your kids not to do anything or go anywhere with any adult at all, unless they ask for permission first.

Boz: What are some of the mistakes parents make when talking to their children about their bodies?

Justin & Lindsey: A common mistake parents make is not taking with their children about their bodies and body parts. Parents cannot afford to wait on this conversation with their children and the conversation needs to be often. Use the correct words for your children’s genitalia so that they can identify if something happens as well as not have confusion over their bodies and the parts that God created. Promise them that they will never be in trouble and can talk with you about anything anytime. It is so important for us to remember to listen to our children when they tell us things even if it is something small so they will feel comfortable telling us the big things that happen in their lives. Check in with your kids often about people in their life. Ask them how their babysitter or teacher or coach makes them feel so you can gather if they feel safe around them or worried.

Boz: Some parents may believe that it is enough to simply read this book and tell their children to let them know if anyone ever touches their private parts? Do you agree? Why or why not?

Justin & Lindsey: This book is a great start, but it is not enough to read it once and tell children to inform parents if they are touched inappropriately. Talking about private parts and appropriate/inappropriate touch is not a one-time conversation that you get done so you can move on to something else. This book is a tool for the larger responsibilities that parents have. Instead of having “THE talk” and being done, parents need to keep the conversation going, invite questions, and keep lines of communication open.

In addition to personal safety training, parents must become vigilant, educated, and aware of potential risks and threats to their children’s safety.

Boz: What are some facts parents need to know about child sexual offenders? Also, what and how much should they tell their children about offenders?

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Justin & Lindsey: Although strangers are stereotyped as perpetrators of sexual assault, the evidence indicates that a high percentage of offenders are acquaintances of the victim. Also, most child sexual abuse offenders describe themselves as religious and some studies suggest the most egregious offenders tend to be actively involved with their faith community.

Dr. Anna Salter, a psychologist who has been studying sexual offenders for decades, states it is important for parents and child-serving organizations such as churches to avoid “high risk situations.” This is because “we cannot detect child molesters or rapists with any consistency” and thus “must pay attention to ways of deflecting any potential offenders from getting access to our children.”
Many youth organizations have prevented the abuse of children in their care simply by limiting the access of potential offenders to boys and girls. Child abusers count on privacy to avoid detection of their criminal behavior. When churches or other faith institutions remove this privacy it becomes more difficult for the offender to succeed.

Boz: What advice do either of you have for parents who want to create an open environment in their home, so children always feel comfortable talking to them about issues related to their sexuality or body?

Justin & Lindsey: We remind parents that some people are out their looking to prey on our children. We have a duty to protect and prepare them for the world and to fight for them. By talking with them candidly (and again developmentally appropriate) about their bodies, we are setting up safe guards around them.

Boz: As you both write and speak about child sexual abuse, what are some of the unique challenges facing the Christian community about how to better understand and respond to this issue?

Justin & Lindsey: Too often the churches ignore physical, sexual, emotional, and even spiritual child abuse, despite the prevalence of abuse within faith communities. Even worse, Christians have often unwittingly contributed to the suffering of victims because of a failure to protect children and adequately respond to disclosures of sexual abuse. Too many don’t do background checks or have effective child-centered safeguarding policies and procedures.

Additionally, clergy and lay leaders often overlook the many needs of those within their congregations who are adult survivors of child sexual abuse. Pastors don’t discuss the issue of abuse and how the Gospel can bring hope and healing to those who have suffered sexual abuse. Even worse, some blame victims for the sin done against them.

Boz: Where can parents turn if they have any questions regarding this topic or if they simply want additional resources on issues related to sexual abuse or on how to most appropriately address this subject with their children?

Justin & Lindsey: GRACE has helpful material available on the site as does the Gundersen National Child Protection Training Center.

Boz: What a thrill it was for me to learn that you both dedicated this book to GRACE. Thank you!

I’ve had the privilege to serve on the board of GRACE for a few years. We admire the work GRACE does in empowering the Christian community through education and training to recognize, prevent, and respond to child abuse. The ministry of GRACE is important and has helped so many.

Justin is a minister and teaches at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Lindsey now works at home, but previously served as a case manager at a sexual assault crisis center and a domestic violence shelter. Learn more about Justin at http://www.justinholcomb.com and follow him at @justinholcomb. Follow Lindsey at @lindseyholcomb.

Learn more about God Made All of Me at http://www.godmadeallofme.com.

 

 

Copyright © 2015 Together We Heal, Inc.

 


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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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Cooperation Or Competition – What Will Our Legacy Be?

“Its amazing what you can accomplish when you do not care who gets the credit.” – Harry S. Truman

I have been working with survivors of childhood sexual abuse in a professional setting for a few years now and I’ve noticed something that worries me. There seems to be some sort of inability for all of us to work together as groups of survivors. It’s almost as if there is a competition, rather than working together in a spirt of cooperation.

I don’t have any explanation or understanding of it, but there’s one thing I do know – we need to be working together any way we can, to pool our resources for the benefit of all survivors of CSA everywhere and for the benefit of protecting children all over the world. This is much too important, our children are in too much danger and survivors need our cooperation.

I understand these are tough economic times. And I also understand the challenges each and every 501(c)(3) non-profit, public charity, and private foundation faces in times like these. I lead one, so I know it first hand. But what I also know is the very reason we formed Together We Heal was to help our fellow survivors. That’s why I am honored to work with people and organizations like SNAP, Ark of Hope for Children, The Lamplighters, Voice Found, Survivors Chat, Maryland Children’s Alliance, Victim Services Departments from Palm Beach County to Utah, Marci A. Hamilton of SOL-Reform, Rachel Grant, Jim McKenzie, Svava Brooks and soon to be working with GRACE, just to name a few. (Please forgive me for those I’ve not listed as it would take up the entire article.)

I believe with all my heart, if we join forces, we can and will see real, long-term and measurable change in the protection of children and prosecution of sexual predators.

There’s an old saying, “a rising tide lifts all boats”. And if we are to defeat the evils of childhood sexual abuse, we must work cooperatively.

The reason being: The forces that oppose us are larger, stronger and more well-funded than what we have in our smaller joint alliances. Even the largest of our groups receiving the most donations have bank accounts and organizational structures that pale in comparison to those we are fighting against. In order to take down these Goliath’s, we need the combined talents of all our efforts to be the “David” that slays this monster called Childhood Sexual Abuse.

The reason I’m reaching out and asking that we all work together is simple:

Our common foes – the sexual predators, pedophiles and those that protect them have most certainly “circled their wagons.” You can’t open a newspaper, turn on the TV, radio or open a web browser and not see or hear of ANOTHER case of these monsters being moved, freed of prosecution, given promotions to move them away from the threat of prosecution, given reduced sentences or flat out being given immunity from all wrong doing. The only way we can ever hope to make real, substantial change is for us to become as one, united in our efforts, and not wavering one iota.

We must be as zealous in defense of those wronged and in the protection of all children from potential crime as the Roman Catholic Church, Southern Baptists and Penn State, (just as examples) either were or currently still are in defending these monsters hiding within their walls as a haven for hunting.

And that’s the sad thing, they aren’t even hiding anymore. Once upon a time the powers that be would send them from one location to another. Long enough to destroy a number of lives before sending them onto the next location for more destruction. Now they just deny and/or defend. They are so well funded that they will sacrifice whomever it takes, pay whatever it costs, knowing they still have more in reserves and they don’t care how many children go down the tubes or how many lives are destroyed.

So I’m sending out an S.O.S. Please, let us all unite together. Put down the chains of competition and take on the yoke of cooperation. If we aren’t willing to take the steps necessary to be bound together, our children and the adult survivors of CSA don’t stand a chance. Together we have the talent, means and will to make our collective dream a reality, to make it so there would be no need for what we do.

How much greater a legacy would it be to say, we all had to find a new line of work because we had eradicated Childhood Sexual Abuse, just like we’ve eradicated other evils of society. But…

“Remember that, wherever there’s a will, there’s usually someone that’s in the way.”

Please don’t let that last quote be our legacy…

Copyright © 2014 Together We Heal, Inc.