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‘We are still a victim-blaming culture’

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Molested at age four by her babysitter’s cousin, Karen was later raped by a drunk stranger at age ten. She was raped again at age 15 at a holiday party; This time by a boy she knew.

Karen slowly detailed her trauma and its impact. Before you go on, please note she is now a survivor who has come out of the depths of post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) to grow into a strong young woman.

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“My babysitter took me out of the bath and left me to dress myself. That’s when he came in and touched me all over,” Karen remembered.”But I really didn’t know what was going on, just that I didn’t want it.”

She didn’t know it then, but more trauma was coming. At age 10, while playing in the woods with friends at night — she had been told by her mother not to go there —  Karen was physically picked up by a stranger, taken further into the woods and violently raped.

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“I could smell the alcohol on his breath. He never said a word,” she recalled, and “I was in shock, but afraid to tell my parents for several months because I had gone against their rules.”

Fortunately, when told, her parents called the school counselor who referred her to River Bridge Regional Center in Glenwood Springs which requires referrals from school counselors or law enforcement before providing assistance. River Bridge, a child advocacy center, is a nationally accredited nonprofit child advocacy center, utilizing a child-centered, multidisciplinary approach to the prevention, assessment, treatment, and investigation of child abuse. The center serves Pitkin, Garfield, Eagle and Rio Blanco counties. Also in Glenwood Springs, the Advocate Safehouse provides crisis intervention for adults and their families.

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But Karen wasn’t ready to talk. In fact, she didn’t speak at all to the counselor, but when offered a marker and a paper, she drew pictures of what happened.

Meghan Hurley is a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), mental health therapist with the Garfield County Department of Human Services and mental health coordinator working at River Bridge Regional Center.

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She met with Karen regularly for several years.

Hurley explained, “My goal in therapy is to help children and teens speak the unspeakable. The most traumatizing part of being a child victim is the stigma and shame that causes a child to keep the abuse secret. I am so honored when a kid opens up to me.”

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But Karen’s emotional and physical challenges were far from over.

When she was 15, she attended an underage holiday party where alcohol flowed freely, and parents were absent. Most of the teenagers drank way too much, including Karen. She thought they would just be hanging out with friends. But the evening turned very dark.

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“I got very sleepy and went into a bedroom to rest,” she said. “And the next thing I knew a boy came in intending to assault me. His buddies egged him on. He raped me.”

That was almost the last straw for Karen. She attempted suicide and was hospitalized for two weeks. “The hospital promised they wouldn’t tell my parents that I tried to kill myself; They only knew I had been injured.”

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She realized serious crisis therapy was her only option. Karen returned to River Bridge. After long months she was well on her way to recovery, both emotionally and physically.

Now, Karen, a high school senior, is planning to attend college to study psychology and social sciences saying, ”I feel that my traumatic experiences at different ages can help me to connect with survivors and encourage assault prevention.”

Resources

Besides professional staff, River Bridge has Frasier, a sweet loving dog from Canine Companions for Independence(CCI). CCI unites people with dogs in a powerful program that leads to greater independence and confidence.

If you have questions, call River Bridge 945-5195  for more information.

River Bridge works closely with Mountain West Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) Program and has provided it with a permament home. On call 24/7, the nurses confidentially and quickly respond to crisis situations, and provide sexual assault examinations and forensic evaulations. Contact at 625-8095 for a call back from SANE.

Advocate Safehouse Community Education Advocate Sarah Buckley explained that they respond to adult and family crises including sexual assault. They can offer temporary housing for anyone who needs safe, secret emergency shelter.

“We offer crisis assistance, education and empowerment,” Buckley added. “Victims find us online or through a counselor as well as law enforcement.”

“Our focus is to let people know they’re not alone, that we will go through the official channels and the healing process with them,” said Buckley. “Everything we do is confidential.”

Advocate Safehouse Project provides services to Garfield County residents, visitors and workers, even if they’re just travelling through the area.

According to statewide statistics, 90 percent of victims know their attacker. The United States Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports nearly one in five women have been raped or experienced attempted rape,

Fortunately, the rate of sexual assault and rape has fallen 63 percent since 1993, from a rate of 4.3 assaults per 1,000 people in 1993, to 1.2 per 1000 in 2016. While this may sound promising, each victim feels the statistics are still too high; They are a statistic too.

And one in 71 men have also experienced assault. Yes, men too. About 3 percent of American men—or one in 33—have experienced an attempted or completed rape.

Buckley explained that men report assault even less frequently than women because they feel ashamed or are afraid someone will think they’re homosexual. Transgender people are even more reluctant to come forward if attacked.

“We are still in a victim-blaming culture,” Buckley noted.

Law enforcement agencies place sexual crimes as a top priority. Recently, River Bridge Executive Director Blythe Chapman presented an overview to the Garfield County Police Academy students.

She spoke about how police can utilize their services which extend to Summit, Eagle, Garfield, Pitkin and Routt counties. She explained victims often don’t report the assault as they are scared and feel shame and blame.

Sometimes, the crime happened in their homes or was perpetrated by a person in a position of trust who may insist that this is “our secret.” or “don’t tell your parents.”

Chapman said, “Keeping this secret will not make the child safe.”

While so many agencies work tirelessly to counsel, advocate and support sexual assault victims, the staff can also become trouboled by the often continuous stream of horrible crimes and take on the trauma.

Buckley said that “We are counseled ourselves and learn how to cope while empathizing with victims.”

Theirs is not an easy job, but their dedication to helping assault victims heal is incredible and makes a huge difference in their lives for years and years. Please don’t hesitate to get help.

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