A theme of awareness emerged as the central message during a presentation on the prevention of sex abuse against children on Monday night at Valley Fourth Memorial Church sponsored by the University branch of the Sheriff’s Community Oriented Policing Effort.
Detective Dave Bentley of the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office addressed the importance of being aware of those who could cause threats to kids, from registered sex offenders to relatives, neighbors and family friends. Bentley told the gathering on Sept. 19 that in the vast majority of sex abuse cases, perpetrators are not strangers to assault victims.
“Be careful with your kids,” Bentley said. “Be careful who you bring into your homes or allow around your children. Don’t put them in harm’s way.”
Bentley referred attendees to the sheriff’s office Web site – www.spokanecounty.org/sheriff – which includes safety information and listings of sex offenders in the area. There are currently 1,300 registered sex offenders living in Spokane County. The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs site – www.waspc.org – includes listings of sex offenders throughout the state.
Dan Fox, clinical manager for Lutheran Community Services, a nonprofit agency that specializes in counseling for those who have been sexually abused, said “good communication” is a key to safeguarding kids. Children should know to leave immediately and go tell a safe adult when someone makes contact with their private parts or has any other inappropriate interaction.
Suspected incidents of abuse should be reported to Child Protective Services at 363-3333 or by calling the Sheriff’s office at 477-2240. Victims of abuse or other crimes can call a local toll-free, 24-hour confidential helpline sponsored by Crime Victim Service Centers at 1-866-751-7119.
Bentley noted that neighborhood flyers notify residents when Level 2 and Level 3 sex offenders have moved into a community. Law enforcement makes it clear that the notices are provided to generate awareness not to stigmatize offenders.
In response to various reports about offender recidivism, Bentley referred to a recent state study that showed only 6 percent of those listed in the Level 3 category reoffend while the numbers are lower (3 percent) in the Level 2 classification.
Carl McConnell, a counselor with Spokane Mental Health, another local agency that counsels victims, said sexual abuse against children features a number of symptoms including general anxiety, conflict in school and withdrawal.
“The main thing to notice is some sort of change,” McConnell said. “These kids are dealing with trauma.”
Abuse by a parent or relative presents a different series of challenges for the victim, Fox noted
“They are supposed to be there to protect their child,” he said.
Fox said the aftermath of abuse emphasizes the treatment of issues like depression and post traumatic stress disorder.
“The first thing we need to do is believe them and then get them in for treatment,” he said. “The PTSD suffered by victims of sexual abuse is comparable to that of military veterans. They don’t feel safe, they can’t relax.”
Trained counselors help victims work through the repercussions of abuse by creating a “trauma narrative” in which the ordeal and its effect are discussed in a supportive manner.
“No one has ever gotten over anything they’ve been scared of by avoiding it,” Fox said. “So, we talk about it. Our job is to help people get better.”
A trauma symptom checklist is reviewed at different points of the treatment to determine progress. Fox said the goal is to bring healing and restored self-confidence to victims.
“We want them to reach a point where they say, ‘This is not going to defeat me,’” he said.
Want to find out more?
Lutheran Community Services (www.lcsnw.org) can be reached at 747-8224. The Spokane Valley office of Spokane Mental Health (www.smhca.org) is located at 12213 E. Broadway and can be reached at 458-7479. To learn more about the Spokane County Court Appointed Special Advocate program, which represents children who are alleged to have been abused or neglected, call 477-4742.