Center works to help stop abuse
By By Kerry Whipple Bean
Her first memory of abuse is from the age of 7.
Jennifer — not her real name — withstood the abuse until she was 12, but she kept it a secret for two more years — when she realized the same relative was trying to groom her sister for a similar relationship. That’s when she told police.
It’s been years since Jennifer told the truth, but stories like hers still happen every day — and law enforcement agents and social services team with the Kathy Hill Child Advocacy Center to try to bring justice and spread awareness about child abuse, whether physical or sexual.
Jackson has spent much of this month — April is Child Abuse Prevention Month — talking to third graders about abuse and how to recognize it and talk about it to someone they trust.
Blue pinwheels decorate the lawn outside the child advocacy center this month, a reminder of the number of interviews Jackson has conducted over the past year with children who are suspected to have been abused. The blue of the pinwheels represents the color of bruises, Jackson said.
While sexual abuse often makes headlines, Jackson said she does not necessarily believe sexual abuse is more prevalent than it used to be — it’s simply reported more now. “Kids are learning more that they can talk and tell,” she said.
Jackson said, she has seen more incidents lately of physical abuse, which she said could be a result of the stresses of the economy.
Jackson urged parents to seek advice from organizations like Hope Place, which offers parenting and money management classes that can ease some of that stress.
At the child advocacy center, children are referred either by the Department of Human Resources or by law enforcement. Jackson said she interviews children in a child-friendly environment, allowing them to play with toys while she talks to them. The neutral territory helps children trust her, she said.
Grants and donations help support the center, which also serves Conecuh and Monroe counties. Jackson said she appreciates the support of those community donations. “Not only do we have buy-in from our partner agencies, we have buy-in from the community,” she said.
In 2009, Jackson said, she interviewed 79 children for various cases, with 51 of those children from Escambia County.
She said she hopes awareness campaigns like Child Abuse Prevention Month will keep the issue top of mind for adults as well as for children.
For Jennifer, who lived for five years in an abusive situation, the key to survival is not acting like a victim. “If you allow that to destroy your life, they will win,” she said.
Jennifer said the support of her family has helped her recover from the abuse. “My husband once told me, ‘You are the only one responsible for your happiness,’” she said.
Jennifer said she would encourage anyone in a similar situation to tell someone they trust about the abuse.
When Jennifer was a child, she said, abuse was more often talked about among family members — not with law enforcement. She hopes awareness campaigns like Jackson’s will continue to bring abuse into the light.
Jennifer said she continues to see herself as a survivor.