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Kids abuse counseling helps children ‘make sense of it all’

By RAELYNN RICARTE

Hood River News

May 3, 2006

Three recent child sexual abuse cases have led Hood River County experts to remind parents about the importance of closely monitoring their child’s daily activities.

“This has been a not-so-gentle reminder that we need to be talking to our kids and asking them who they are spending time with,” said Gloria Needham, director of the local crime victim’s advocacy program.

“Unfortunately, some pedophiles have very sophisticated ways of preying on children, who can’t think at that level. So parents need to be very watchful,” said Deputy District Attorney Carrie Rasmussen.

She said many predators use “forbidden fruits,” such as a privilege that would otherwise be prohibited, as a “tool” for manipulation.

Therefore, she said families should be alert to any changes in the child’s behavior that could signal a problem.

If sexual abuse does take place, Rasmussen’s role is to bring the offender to justice. Needham takes on the support challenge of helping the family cope with the emotional devastation.

She said the state Department of Justice banks funds to pay up to $20,000 toward the victim’s counseling. However, because of budget shortfalls, these dollars are no longer available to other family members.

However, Needham said many times parents, and even siblings, need to overcome their feelings of helplessness. So, she recommends they find a counselor that they feel comfortable with to “get empowered again.”

She said the victim can appear to be fine so, many times, his/her guardians don’t sign up for the state funding — which cannot be accessed even six months later. She advises families to apply right away to reserve the money for future access if necessary.

Rasmussen said some parents feel better about taking advantage of the victim’s compensation program once they learn how it operates. She said people who commit sexual and domestic violence crimes pay into the fund as part of their court penalties.

“When victims understand that it’s paid by criminals there’s often a different attitude about using it,” she said.

Needham said there can be many lingering issues for a child to work through after being abused. For example, the predator gave them access to a certain video game as a “reward,” so the sound of that background music can trigger a host of bad memories.

Needham said a trained counselor can help the child learn coping skills, as well as work through any residual victims’ impacts.

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