Were you ever scared as a kid? The scariest thing I can remember is getting lost. I was a middle-schooler in the high school marching band and got separated after the parade in an unfamiliar city. Found myself totally isolated from anything or anyone familiar. And this was DECADES before cell phones. With help from a kind stranger, I was able to get back to the bus where the other band members were impatiently waiting on this dorky kid so they could leave. Scared me.
Most of the time I avoid scary. Very few of us, especially little children, want to do things that are scary.
If you ask nine-year-old Melissa* what's the scariest thing she's ever done, she'll tell you it's talking to me. And you better believe her. My job is to listen to kids describe how a person they cherish and adore has violated every tidbit of their trust, and probably every opening on their body.
I'm a Forensic Interviewer.
I don't relish the idea of being a child's scariest thing. Dearing House doesn't look scary. There is a reason why the walls and furniture are colorful. We go out of our way to make sure the child feels welcome and comfortable. The scary thing for a child is to find the strength to tell a secret when she has been threatened and bribed and groomed not to tell. Over 3/4 of child victims keep abuse a secret for at least a year, and many are too scared to ever tell. That's what the offender is counting on. Sexual abuse only happens in secret.
Was I brave to find my way back to the band bus? I thought so at the time, but my "bravery" pales in comparison to the children I meet here at Dearing House every week. It takes every ounce of their being to find the words to describe what happened to them, especially with doubts and fears about what will happen next.
Melissa was able to describe things that had been a horrible secret, but the most important thing she said was at the end of her interview: "I'm happy I came and talked to you. I thought it would be scary, but I'm not scared anymore." That's bravery! A child is no longer scared of the dark, dreadful secrets forced on her. The investigative team and process at Dearing House provided the safety net she needed to be brave. And as a result of her bravery, the offender has lost his power over Melissa.
Here's what we see every day, and what keeps us here every day: a child like Melissa crosses our threshold scared and worried, with a big burden on her little shoulders. She finds a place and group of people who are willing and able to carry that burden for her, and in the end, she can say, "I'm happy I came and talked to you." In the course of an hour, years of secrets are released and immediate safety measures are put in place. Score one for the good guys.
Every time we do this, a child is given a chance to be heard, to be believed, and to take the first steps toward healing. We know it's a scary thing.... you better believe it.
*to protect the confidentiality of our clients, names and circumstances have been changed; however, the quote is the exact words of a child at Dearing House.