It happened 20 years ago yet I can recall that day as if it happened yesterday. The date was April 30, 1998 I was 13 years old . The sun on my face as my mother pulled into the parking lot of this unfamiliar place. While it was a bright sunny day I was living in a world of darkness. I knew why I was there and was dreading it. This place was called The Children’s Advocacy Center. There are 39 of these centers in Illinois and last year alone saw 10, 486 children in 2017.
As my mother, sister, and I walked a path to the front door that day 20 years ago the anxiety and fear filled me. I will never forget it. I just wanted this day to be over.
When we opened the door bells on the door jingled notifying the staff someone had entered. Soon a young dark haired woman appeared introducing herself as Larissa. She was a very kind woman who brought my sister and I bagels and juice. She then pointed out the games, videos, and books in the waiting room we could use while she went in a room to talk to our mom. The room she took our mom into was right next to the waiting room. Shortly after they closed the door I could hear my mom sobbing and the words, “I should have known.”
My sister and I put on the movie the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Eventually my mother still in tears joined us in the waiting room again.
Soon after another woman appeared named Meghan. She explained to my sister and I we would be going back and talking to her. I went first and followed her out of the waiting room and down a hallway where we came upon a small room. I sat down at the table and couldn’t help but notice the two naked dolls under it. There was this large mirror in such a small room that I just kept staring at my reflection. I was consumed with anxiety, fear, shame, and guilt. I thought I was in trouble and they wouldn't believe me. I didn’t know it but a police detective and child protective services was on the other side watching us.
Soon Meghan and I began talking about school, my life at home, my relationship with my sisters, and eventually we began talking about the secrets I kept locked away in my diary. I was so uncomfortable describing one story after another of being sexually assaulted at the hands of my older cousin. The cousin I looked up to as the brother I never had. She took notes as I told her the multiple times of sexual abuse I experienced from age 11-13 while I babysat, family gatherings, grandpa’s birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, family dinners, etc. Eventually she pulled those two dolls out and I had to demonstrate what happened to me.
What I never told Meghan that day was the adult male neighbor that raped me and assaulted me multiple times from the age of 6-8 1/2 years old. I feared what the news might do to my mother so instead I stayed silent to protect her.
Meghan showed such compassion and support through the entire interview with me. The more I talked the better I was feeling getting all these secrets I was threatened not to tell anyone. I had been with her for an hour when we finally finished. She told me how brave I was and that it took a lot of courage to tell her. She reassured me my cousin would never hurt me again. I walked into the center terrified and left feeling loved and cared for. It takes a special person to work at a CAC hearing daily horror stories of children being physically and sexually abused and then going to court to fight for justice for these children.
Five months later I would return again to the Children’s Advocacy Center this time to be a part of a support group with other girls my age who had also experienced sexual abuse. We met for several months and over that time I made a special bond with these girls that I didn't have with my other childhood friends. Some I am still friends with today.
The Children’s Advocacy Center also provided a support group for my parents, younger sister, and individual counseling. It became a safe place to begin my long road to healing during such a traumatic time in my life.
The Children’s Advocacy Center helped our family for a year and a half and it was all free. What could have cost thousands of dollars if we went for help through a private practice ended up cost us nothing. Being a 501c3 nonprofit they do not charge families.
I made a promise to myself 20 years ago that one day I would come back and show my appreciation for the help they provided me at such a difficult scary time in my life. 15 years later I walked back into that center with every Chicago news team, the Governor of Illinois, along with other legislators, and child abuse prevention educators. They were all there to watch Erin's Law be signed by Governor Quinn. The law that requires children be taught personal body safety in school once a year. I have made it my mission to pass Erin's Law in all 50 states. So far 35 have. I wanted my law that gives kids a voice to be signed in the place I found my voice. I would not have passed Erin's Law in 35 states to give children the voice I never had if I did not have the CAC there in my life to help me reclaim my voice and heal.
With state funding in Illinois continuing to be cut back for nonprofits CAC's must get funds from donors in order to keep their lights on, water running, and providing such important help for abused children.
I now serve on the board for Children Advocacy Centers of Illinois. I once was the client in a CAC now I am making it my mission to make sure other children receive the same support I did 20 years ago. Without CAC's many abused children would never get any help.
I've shared my story with millions since then from Oprah, Today, CNN, GMA, People Magazine, Time Magazine, Glamour Magazine, among many others.
I am trying to raise $20,000 for Children's Advocacy Centers of Illinois by Giving Tuesday which is November 27th. Giving Tuesday is a day to donate to a 501c3 nonprofit. Your donation is tax deductible and you will receive an emailed receipt after donating. Will you help me reach my goal by donating what you can? $5.00, $10.00, $25.00 $100.00 dollars. Can you share this and ask others to do the same.
One child abuse case at the CAC costs several thousand dollars when you add up the forensic interview, adovcates that go to court to help children through the legal system, counseling, and medical exams used for court evidence.
CACI is an accredited chapter of the National Children's Alliance.
The CACI exists to improve the multi-disciplinary response to child sexual abuse and severe physical abuse. Our mission is to support CACs and MDTs so that they can in turn support children and their
families through the investigation and treatment process following an allegation of child abuse. We strive to ensure that each and every child in Illinois have access to quality child advocacy center services and proper follow up treatment in order to best heal the trauma that they have experienced.
Thank you for your support and helping me reach my goal.