The Martin House Children’s Advocacy Center

(serving Gregg, Harrison & Marion Counties)

The Oscar ceremonies were noteworthy for a number of reasons, but the biggest news was the Best Picture award for the movie, Spotlight. Chronicling the true story of a team of Boston newspaper reporters on the quest for answers in a massive child sex abuse scandal, this movie has given us another way to broach the most distasteful subject of all. There are children in our community who are being sexually abused as you read this and we all have a role to play in protecting them.

As my peers at Children’s Advocacy Centers (CACs) across Texas would tell you, disclosure is often the critical first step to ending abuse, so we do everything we can to give victims the courage to report. The fear that stands in the way of that disclosure can only be broken down with awareness, true compassion and genuine honesty. No matter how uncomfortable the topic makes us feel, we must push past that as a community in order to help victims.

Spotlight focused not only on the abuse that took place within the Catholic Church, but the complicity of a respected institution in allowing it to continue for generations. This point was driven home midway through the film when Stanley Tucci’s character (Mitchell Garabedian, an attorney representing victims), states: “If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse them.” While Spotlight focused on one particular institution, the truth resonates across the various “villages” of which we’re citizens. Whether that’s a family unit, school, workplace or youth-serving organization, we must foster a culture which gives victims the courage to come forward and encourages honesty by all involved.

The movie tells several key truths about abuse that are just as relevant today as they were when the Boston story broke in 2002.

First, abuse can happen to anyone. Victims of abuse can be of any age, race, religion, or socioeconomic class, and most incidents of child sexual abuse are committed by people who know the child well. About one in 10 children will be sexually abused before turning 18 years old, meaning, in our state, some 700,000 young Texans will be victimized.

Second, abuse fosters fear and secrecy in victims. One of a sexual perpetrator’s greatest assets is the string of lies they use to control or manipulate their victims to keep silent. “No one will believe you.” “I will tell people it was your idea.” “This is our special secret.”

Third, abuse rarely occurs one time. Statistics indicate that people who are willing to sexually abuse a child won’t limit themselves to a single incident. The likelihood of repeat offenses and “grooming” multiple victims is high.

Fourth, abuse’s impact can linger a lifetime without effective intervention. The average victim faces long-term adverse consequences ranging from adolescent pregnancies and eating disorders to substance abuse and time in the criminal justice systems (youth and adult). Fortunately, CACs offer evidence-based therapeutic services that have proven highly effective.

At Children’s Advocacy Centers throughout Texas (currently 69 centers serving 188 counties), professionals devoted to justice for child victims collaborate on investigations of abuse allegations, provide support to families torn apart by revelations of abuse, and offer effective therapy treatment. We ask every member of our community to get involved.

Whether you become a regular volunteer at our facility, provide financial support, or merely tell everyone you know about our services, you can help make a difference. Most importantly, if you suspect a child is being harmed, speak up on behalf of that child by contacting the Texas Abuse Hotline at 1-800-252-5400. If you suspect immediate danger, call 911.

Ultimately, the biggest difference will occur when we as a society set aside the awkwardness we feel and speak honestly about the crimes committed behind closed doors. The more light we shine on these cases, the more victims will feel comfortable disclosing the truth and seek safety.

As much as I was pleased to see Spotlight winning an award, I’m even more encouraged to know that, across the country and around the world, victims of sexual abuse are finding the courage to report and taking the first step on the path to justice and healing.

With your help, that process will be accelerated in our own community as we shine our own spotlight on the most vulnerable among us.

Roxanne Stevenson is the Executive Director at The Martin House Children’s Advocacy Center, a member of the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Texas (CACTX). CACTX creates a statewide platform for public-private partnerships within communities, fueling the success of the CAC approach by uniting advocates and giving local centers a statewide voice. From their headquarters in Austin, the CACTX team coordinates services among the following groups: local centers, Multi-Disciplinary Teams (MDTs), statewide government agencies, stakeholders, community volunteers, and child welfare advocates. Working together, they positively affect policy and funding for the CAC movement and partner service organizations. CACTX membership reflects the vast diversity of Texas, all with their own unique approaches to fulfilling our shared mission of protecting and providing for children. For more information about CACTX please visit: http://www.cactx

.org. For more information about The Martin House CAC visit www.TheMartinHouseCAC.org.