014 has been a very busy year at CALICO. This year alone, we have provided services to over 700 children, supported over 500 parents and caregivers, and conducted over 25 trainings for community members and professionals. We are honored to be an active part of the efforts to respond to and end child abuse.
We would like to tell you about Gabriella, who was only four years old when we met her. Gabriella’s parents noticed that instead of being her normal happy self, she had become fearful and was starting to show sexual behaviors in her play. When they asked her about it, Gabriella cried and revealed that her Uncle Dan had hurt her. Her parents called the police immediately. The police scheduled an appointment at CALICO where Gabriella was interviewed. Gabriella was nervous before going into the interview room and did not want to talk about anything. The interviewer was patient with Gabriella and engaged her in conversations about other topics until she was ready to talk about her uncle. Through tears, Gabriella told the interviewer that her Uncle Dan would touch her “privates” whenever he would babysit her, and he told her if she ever told anyone he would hurt her parents.
While Gabriella was interviewed, her parents met with CALICO’s Family Resource Specialist (FRS). The parents were concerned about their daughter and did not understand how a close family member could harm her, especially when he had showed their daughter so much special attention over the past few years. The FRS helped Gabriella’s parents work through their feelings of concern and confusion. She explained to them that adults who sexually abuse children are usually people who are close to the family and known by the child, and it is not uncommon for it to be a family member. She also explained that perpetrators are often overly attentive to their victims in order to gain trust and access to the child. This technique is a common “grooming” strategy. Before leaving CALICO, the FRS gave the parents referrals so that Gabriella could start talking to a counselor right away to address her fears and start the healing process. When the FRS followed up with the family a few weeks later, the parents reported that Gabriella was less fearful and withdrawn. Although we know healing will take time, we are told Gabriella is acting more like her happy self every day.
This year we are helping the parents of more children like Gabriella than ever before. Gabriella's situation and the reaction of her parents are similar to many of the accounts we have heard. Many caregivers at CALICO share that they mistook an adult paying special attention to their child as being helpful when in fact that adult was not. In 2013, CALICO launched a Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Initiative to help parents learn the truth about child abuse and ways to keep their children safe. Through community workshops, we help adults recognize situations that put children at risk of sexual abuse and help parents and caregivers identify behaviors of adults and older youth that suggest that they intend to sexually offend against a child. We are continuing these prevention efforts in 2015, and hope to ensure the safety of more children this year.