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Empowering child victims, reducing shame of sexual assault

I paced up and down, back and forth, across the hospital parking lot.

"Her stepfather," I said into the phone, trying to keep my voice and hand steady, to avoid bursting into tears or dropping my cell.

"The perpetrator is her stepfather." 

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The Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCP&P) phone screener continued with her questions without even the slightest pause. “How old is she? Where does she live? Where does she attend school?” Some of the questions I was permitted to answer; some I absolutely could not due to my confidentiality granted by victim-counselor privilege.

The screener mostly understood this limitation, and only occasionally pressed me for additional details.

“I cannot confirm or deny,” I replied a few times.

At the end of the call, the screener said that yes, my report of child abuse warranted an investigation by DCP&P.

I went back inside the hospital and back to the girl’s bedside. I reiterated, almost urgently, that none of what had happened was her fault. The girl was frightened, not only because her stepfather had assaulted her while she was sleeping, but of her mother’s reaction to the news. She was nervous about the forensic exam, the DCP&P involvement, and the potential for criminal charges. And then there was the shame. Our entire conversation was blanketed with a layer of shame.

I promised that I would call the next day to see how she’s doing, and that she was in good hands with the sexual assault nurse, also known as the Forensic Nurse Examiner.

On the ride home, I don’t remember crying. I don’t remember screaming or yelling or even being angry. I just remember staring out the windshield while sitting in deep silence.

April is a special month for me. April is both National Child Abuse Prevention Month and Sexual Assault Awareness Month, two topics that are close to my heart. In my career, I have been both a Sexual Assault Response Team member and a child advocate, and on that day with that girl, I was both.

One in 5 girls and one in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse; in the majority of these cases, the perpetrator is a parent.

While these numbers may already seem high, I have bad news—like all forms of sexual assault/abuse, child sexual abuse is severely underreported. The actual number is likely a lot higher.

The potential effects of child sexual abuse are as heartbreaking as the above statistics. Initially, victims may exhibit regressive behaviors like thumb-sucking and bed-wetting. In the longer term, child victims may develop self-destructive behaviors like alcohol or drug abuse. They may experience deep feelings of shame, guilt, and blame, and struggle with anxiety, depression, and flashbacks.

Children rely on adults to provide for them and protect them from harm. So what happens when the adults in a child’s life are the dangerous ones?

Then it’s on us to stand up and speak out for this most vulnerable population. 

How you can address child sexual abuse:

  1. Help prevent child sexual abuse: https://www.rainn.org/safety-parents

  2. Be aware of the signs: https://www.rainn.org/warning-signs

  3. Believe children who confide in us

  4. Become an advocate for children in the foster care system who are victims. Learn more at an upcoming CASA information session: https://www.passaiccountycasa.org/orientation/

 

-Written by Jessica L. Mickley
Director of Outreach and Training
Passaic County Court Appointed Special Advocates

Lucky Like a Leprechaun

“I must actually be a leprechaun, since I’m pretty short and my birthday is March 17th, right?” Andy asked me this one day in a waiting room before court a few months before his 18th birthday.  The scariest part of this conversation was that Andy had spent r more than 10 years in foster care, in countless placements, so I wasn’t sure if he was serious or joking. 

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Judge swears in 19 new Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteers

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On Tuesday, March 6, Passaic County Superior Court Judge Imre Karaszegi confirmed the new volunteer advocates in a swearing-in ceremony at the Passaic County Superior Court in Paterson. Friends, family, Passaic County CASA staff, and judiciary employees cheered and applauded after the volunteers recited their oath and became official advocates for children in foster care.

“We are honored to have 19 new Court Appointed Special Advocates, and are confident that they will make a true difference for Passaic County Children in foster care,” said Passaic County CASA Executive Director Erica Fischer-Kaslander. 

Each Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteer will now be assigned to a child who has been removed from home and placed into foster care due to allegations of abuse or neglect. The volunteer will get to know the child; gather information about the child’s educational, medical, emotional, and physical needs; speak with all of the people in the child’s life; and make informed recommendations to the Family Court Judge about what is in the child’s best interest.

The nineteen new Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteers come from all backgrounds, but have one thing in common: they want to make a difference in the lives of children in Passaic County.

Most of the volunteers reside in Passaic County in municipalities including Wayne, Haskell, Paterson, Wanaque, and North Haledon, though some live in neighboring Bergen and Essex counties. The volunteers also have a variety of educational backgrounds and work experiences. The professions of the 19 new advocates include accountants, business professionals, stay-at-home parents, teachers, and IT specialists.
 

“I love being a consistent voice for my children.”

Volunteer Profile
Candace Eardley

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A few years ago, Candace Eardley was talking to a friend who had recently become a CASA volunteer in Essex County. Candace was instantly intrigued.
“I always thought it was something I wanted to do,” she said.
Candace, a Totowa resident and former Little Falls resident, began the Passaic County CASA volunteer training program in March 2015 and became a sworn Court Appointed Special Advocate two months later. She now advocates for seven children, whose ages range from one year to 14 years old.
Prior to becoming a CASA volunteer, Candace had a long career in the travel industry. During her career, Candace owned a travel agency and created spring break trips for high school students who were learning a foreign language, which led her to her husband, who was a Spanish and French teacher.
 As an avid reader and a huge fan of book clubs, Candace makes sure that her CASA children are doing well in school. One of Candace's cases involved a pre-teen boy who was struggling in school. Through CASA, Candace advocated for a tutoring program.
"I assisted in locating various programs and eventually one was chosen," she said. "The child's grades began to improve." 
Candace encouraged reading and for his birthday, through CASA, she was able to coordinate his birthday gift to include some books that she knew he would enjoy. She was delighted when she knew he had read them.
"He even began taking out books from the school library," she said. 
Candace finds the CASA volunteer responsibilities interesting (“I am fascinated with the working of the family court system,” Candace said) as well as rewarding.
“I love being a consistent voice for my children.”

To become an advocate for children and teens in foster care, RSVP for an upcoming informational session here.

CASA grants holiday gift wishes to hundreds of children

More than 800 children received gifts this holiday season through CASA's annual holiday gift drive.

Thank you to the many individuals and families who sponsored children's wishes this year, and thank you to local businesses and organizations who held gift drives throughout Passaic County: 

A Second Opinion, Allied Beverage Group, Atlantic Stewardship Bank, Barnes & Noble, CUMAC, Cornerstone Church, G&S Financial Services LLC, Kean University Junior Class, Lafayette Elementary School, Livingston Ladies Bowling Club, The Max Challenge of Basking Ridge, McElrone Sales Inc., Moms Club of Wayne, Mountain View Chapter Order of the Eastern Star, Park Street School, Passaic County Sheriff's Office Family Court, Passaic County Education Association, Precision Payroll Services, Inc., Quilting for a Cause, Ramada Inn Wayne, Raymond Alexander Associates, Stagelight Centre of Performing Arts, Trapanese & Trapanese Attorneys at Law, Tri-County Chamber of Commerce, Village School, Wayne Hills High School National Art Honor Society, Wayne Hills High School National Honor Society, Westmount Country Club, Willowbrook Mall Management