Children's Advocacy Centers:
Making a Difference in the Lives of Child Abuse Victims
Advocacy Centers of Texas, Inc.
Just the other day someone asked me, as they often do, how and why I
continue to work in the child abuse field. "It must be so depressing
to hear all those awful stories about what happens to kids," they said.
This time I immediately thought of a photograph I'd received in the mail
a week or so earlier. The photo was that of a young mother with three beautiful
young children - two girls, ages 6 and 4, and a newborn baby boy. The mom
was beaming. The dad was apparently the one taking the photo. Everyone was
laughing. The background was a small but homey living room.
I have never met the children in the photo in person, but I knew the young
mother, and the tiny faces reminded me of when I first met her. It was more
than a decade ago, and she had just turned 12. Back then she was defiant, angry,
and despite her valiant attempts to hide it, scared to death. The allegations
- something she'd reportedly shared with a 7th grade classmate - were that
her step-father was molesting her, and has been doing so since she was 8. She
was the 10th child who had come to our local children's advocacy center (CAC)
back in 1992. Since then there have been thousands more.
Not wanting to disclose her real name, I'll call her Sharon. She is a special
and unique young woman, but her story is not unique at all.
She was learning-disabled and the daughter of a frightened, overly medicated,
submissive and dependent mother. Her stepfather was a monster. He used her
to fulfill his own sexual fantasies and then permitted his teenage sons to
do the same. When she tried to talk to her mother about what was happening,
her mother would threaten to kill herself. Sharon would then back off her allegations,
saying she had made it all up. And so, for years, she endured horrific things,
believing she was simply not worthy of better treatment, that somehow this
was what she should expect in life.
But, as she tells me today, once she came to the CAC, things began to look
different in her eyes. She suddenly knew she was not the only kid who had endured
this nightmare. She wasn’t sure she was ready to tell the police what
had happened or to have her step-father and her step-brothers put in jail.
But she was ready to stand up and say this would NEVER happen to her again.
Today when Sharon calls to tell me, one of the professionals who held her
hand and talked to her at the children's advocacy center back in 1992, what
costumes her children are wearing for Halloween this year or which one has
lost a tooth, she's also quick to remind me that - but for the people at the
CAC who helped her - she would never be the mother she is today. She often
says that was the worst time of her life but also the best, because it was
the first time in her young life that anyone cared what she said or what she
felt or what she needed. Suddenly, she recalls, she felt worthy and important
and valued. Suddenly she felt her life did, indeed, hold the promise of a happy
Sharon had made allegations and recanted them repeatedly over the two year
period the investigation of her case went on. There never was a criminal or
civil prosecution of her stepfather or stepbrothers. In some ways the system
failed her - as it has so many child victims of abuse. However, the children’s
advocacy center had somehow empowered her to believe in and protect herself.
She grew up to be a healthy, protective and powerful mother who would ensure
there would be no cycle of abuse for her children. She had felt the support
of people who believed in her and who would support her if and when she could
tell what had happened and even when she could not.
The note - scribbled in the Sharon's still-child-like handwriting and accompanying
the photo of her beautiful family - said, "If you weren't there for me
back then I could never be here for my kids now. Thank you. I love you."
Why do I, like countless other professionals involved in the children's advocacy
center movement in Texas, continue to work in the child abuse field? Because
of kids like Sharon who remind us each and every day that we are making a difference
and, even when we think we may have failed them, they assure us we have not.
We never know what difference we might make for them - perhaps a difference
that is not measurable by whether or not the perpetrator in their case was
arrested or prosecuted, but rather by whether we listened to them, whether
we believed in them.
There are currently 61 children's advocacy centers in Texas, more than in
any other state in the nation. Cathy Crabtree, the former founding director
of a local CAC in north central Texas, is the executive director of Children's
Advocacy Centers of Texas, Inc., the statewide membership association for CACs
in our state. For more information about Children's Advocacy Centers in Texas
go to www.cactx.org.