Post by Tighe O’Meara – Ashland, Oregon Police Chief
I am going to start off on a dark note, but a real note, and one that needs to be recognized.
1 in 10 children are reported to be sexual assault victims. But let’s go ahead and make it worse, because this doesn’t account for the ones that don’t get reported; this doesn’t account for the ones that make it to a family member’s attention but it doesn’t go any further than that. And this doesn’t account for the fact that society puts different pressures on boys than it does girls, so boys feel like they have to carry the burden, silently, allowing it to traumatize them over and over, and allowing the trauma to have a profound impact on the rest of their lives.
We know that sex assaults are under-reported, across the board, at all levels, for many reasons. And grossly under-reported at that. With children it is no different, so if we know about 1 in 10, we can safely assume that the problem is much worse than the 1 in 10 figure. And, that number does not include the child victimizations we have that are physical, non-sexual assaults in nature. Add in the physical abuse victims and the numbers are even more alarming.
These are dark numbers, troubling statistics, and they are not likely to change anytime soon. We have no ability to have significant control over these numbers, and likely won’t for the foreseeable future.
I have been chief of police in Ashland for about a year and a half now. I have learned a few lessons, and have much more to learn. One of the things that I first learned, after months and months of stressing out over everything, is that bad stuff happens. There is no getting around it, people are going to get victimized. And this includes children.
And while it is important to do everything we can to prevent, just as important is how we respond when it happens, because it is inevitable that it’s going to happen, and we will never eradicate it, not anytime soon anyway.
So I slowly realized that just as important as trying to prevent crime, is trying to respond to it in the manner that is best for the victim, best for those close to the victim, and best for the community.
A couple of quotes I like that say this well:
“It’s not the failures that define us so much as how we respond” ~ Shane Parrish
“What defines us is how well we rise after falling”
We don’t have the control we want over these incidents to prevent them from happening, so we need to make sure we respond to them well, and this is where the Children’s Advocacy Center of Jackson County shines a bright light on the dark numbers I mentioned. This is where the women and men of the CAC step in and offer national best practices for the Jackson County community.
Jackson County is great for team work.
No agency in Jackson County is big enough to go it alone, we all need each others help. And perhaps nowhere does this present itself more than with child victims. We are lucky to have this partnership in Jackson County, and we are fortunate to have a set game plan, county wide, for how we are all going to respond to these troubling complaints.
Violence against children is after all a community-wide problem, and community-wide, county-wide, all of the police are on the same page on how to handle it, and we can offer this only because of the dedicated experts we have working out of the Children’s Advocacy Center.
This should give all of us, all members of the community, some the peace of mind. Peace of mind in knowing that while we can’t (unfortunately) stop these horrific things from happening, what we can do is come together and embrace national best practices.
We can come together and make sure the child victims are not traumatized again over the same situation.We can come together and set up a program and a plan for the victim and the non-offending family members to move past the incident to a better place, both physically and emotionally. This is what CAC brings to our community.
The police officers in our community want to be there for all members of the community who need us. We want to be there when someone calls and says “I’m in trouble.” And, we will be, we will answer the call and respond to help all who ask for our help.
But, we can’t be everything to every person, and we can’t provide the level of work that our most vulnerable community members need, that is the importance of the CAC and the dedicated women and men that work there.
When we become aware that one of little ones needs help, we all want to spring into action, and we do. In our police departments we have trained and dedicated officers that are there to be a part of that process, but we simply can’t offer these kids and these families what they need, and without the CAC, we would be pretty lost.
For that matter, we can’t offer ourselves what WE need to move a criminal case forward, without the help of the CAC, because they provide us with the right facilities and atmosphere to get the evidence we need to bring a case to the DA’s office.
Do you know what the CAC looks like?
It’s like coming into your own home, it’s like visiting grandma – there’s your toys over in the corner, there’s the friendly loving face waiting to greet you. Take the CAC out of the picture and you’re trading that comfortable at-home feeling for the cold sterility of a police station. You’re taking away that level of comfort and replacing it with a hospital visit for the medical exam. You take away a short visit, in what feels like your family dining room, for grand jury and replacing it with a trip to the DA’s office.
The model employed by the CAC, the model that allows for all services to be provided under one roof, from initial assessment, interview, medical exam and follow up counseling for victims and non-offending parents, saves about $1,000 on each case that is brought forward.
Without this model we would have to try to piece these services together, further traumatizing not the just the child victim, but also the already stressed and traumatized parent who is trying to struggle through these incidents.
We are truly fortunate to have this facility and these people, working there, every day, bringing compassion, comfort and healing to the survivors, and the families. Helping not just the families move through these difficult situations but, while doing so, supporting the law enforcement mission to hold the offenders responsible.
The numbers quoted at the beginning of this post are troubling indeed, but our partnership, county-wide, with the CAC of Jackson County, shines a light on that dark problem, and helps us all get through it to a place that’s a little bit better.
So what can you do to help?
Take the child sexual abuse training offered by the CAC.
Tell your friends and family about the CAC, spread the word about the CAC’s mission and the important, invaluable work that is done there every day. Encourage your friends and family to take the training and to help out.
Keeping in mind the quote that I offered before: “What defines us is not that we fall but it is how well we rise after falling.”
I will close with this:
The CAC is a shining example, of a community coming together to rise, everyday, time after time, after falling down, one child victim at a time. That’s why the CAC is so important, and that’s why we need to support it.
Tighe O’Meara, Ashland, Oregon Police Chief