Another voice: Victims of child abuse have a caring place to turn

Abused children have a safe and comforting place right here in Hood River to disclose what happened to them.

Founded in 2009, the Columbia Gorge Children’s Advocacy Center (CGCAC) minimizes the added trauma and stress to child abuse victims and their families during the reporting process. Using a compassionate and multidisciplinary approach, the CGCAC provides an environment where child victims can disclose abuse to specially-trained child interviewers, medical personnel, law enforcement and child protective workers in privacy and safety. Services are not just limited to interviews, but also include full medical evaluations, mental health treatment referrals, and provision or coordination of other support services.

The parents are never charged for any of these services. Sometimes the CGCAC can rule out abuse, which can also help avoid further trauma to families. Beatriz Lynch, CGCAC’s executive director, said, “We work really hard to provide a welcoming place. I believe that coming here is the first step in the healing process.”

Since its opening, the center has served 479 children, primarily in Hood River County. Late last year, the CGCAC began to also serve children from Wasco County. As in Hood River, Wasco County community partners also include law enforcement, schools, and social service agencies. According to Senior Deputy District Attorney Carrie Rasmussen, the prosecution of these difficult cases has dramatically improved since 2009.

“Before the CGCAC opened, I would have two or three cases go to trial on a yearly basis. Since 2009, only three cases have gone to trial because defendants usually plead guilty now. This means that children are not further traumatized by testifying in court and tens of thousands of tax dollars have been saved by avoiding costly court trials,” said Rasmussen.

Child abuse is a serious crime that negatively impacts the entire family. It includes physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, exploitation, and neglect. These acts result in imminent risk or serious harm to a child’s health and welfare, and are most-often committed by a parent or caregiver who is responsible for that child’s welfare. While these crimes are sometimes committed by strangers, the vast majority of child abuse crimes are perpetrated by people known to the child.

As many as one in three girls and one in six boys will experience some form of child abuse by the time they reach the age of 18. The public plays a key role in reporting suspected child abuse or neglect by reporting to law enforcement or child welfare.

People in certain professions are designated as mandatory reporters and, by law, must make a report if they suspect child abuse. Policemen, teachers, doctors, firefighters, paramedics, counselors, ministers are all mandatory reporters.

Even if you are not a mandatory reporter, you should call law enforcement or child welfare if you suspect a child is the victim of abuse. You need only to suspect abuse to make a report.

What should you do if a child tells you that something has happened to them?

DO: Tell the child that you believe them — it is rare for children to lie about it.

DO: Tell the child you are going to contact people who can help.

DO: Respect the privacy of the child.

DON’T: Display horror, shock, or disapproval of parents, child, or the situation.

DON’T: Place blame or make judgments about the parent or child.

If you suspect child abuse, call the police as soon as possible.

Elke Geiger Towey of Hood River is a board member with Columbia Gorge Children’s Advocacy Center.

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