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Group has new name, but same purpose

Center provides therapy for sexual abuse victims

POSTED: July 20, 2008 5:01 a.m.

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When a child is sexually abused, the repercussions can last a lifetime if counseling does not ensue. That’s why the Children’s Center for Hope and Healing, formerly known as the Family Relations Program, provides free therapy for victims of sexual abuse.

Rebecca Davis, executive director of the Children’s Center for Hope and Healing, said the non-profit agency has changed its name to bring more community attention to the 24-year-old Gainesville-based program and its mission to stop the cycle of child sexual abuse.

"It wasn’t that people had a poor impression of what we did, it’s just that they didn’t recognize who we are and what we do," Davis said. "We want to raise community awareness. We are living in an era where a lot of government grants have been cut, and we need community support to help us be able to grow and serve the need in the community."

Davis called the local need for more sexual abuse victim therapy "huge." On Nov. 22, the agency is hosting a fundraiser gala to augment dwindling government grants.

She said the 11 therapists who counsel sexual abuse victims at the children’s center treated 772 children and women last year. The center focuses on servicing 13 counties in Northeast Georgia, and Davis said she estimates there are 60,000 victims of childhood sexual abuse in those counties.

"People don’t realize about 20 percent of children have been sexually abused," she said. "One-fourth of girls and one-sixth of boys before their 18th birthday are sexually abused."

The Children’s Center for Hope and Healing provides victim services for children ages 4 to 17 years old, but the program has accepted participants as young as 3 years old. The center also counsels adult women suffering from the lingering trauma of childhood abuse.

Davis said it’s estimated that 39 million American adults have survived childhood sexual abuse, and only 10 percent of those cases have been reported to police.

The program also offers prevention services to victims and parents to inform them how best to keep a victim out of harm’s way in the future. Davis said some victims of childhood abuse end up choosing abusive spouses later in life, while others are at risk of becoming abusers themselves.

Davis said the center’s program, Project Pathfinder, addresses the 70 percent of kids who have been through sexual abuse and have gotten into trouble somehow due to their own inappropriate sexual behavior.

More than 80 program participants were referred to the center last year by various district attorneys’ offices, school principals, the Department of Family and Children’s Services, the Department of Juvenile Justice or medical doctors, Davis said.

The director said the first step in overcoming the devastating effects of childhood sexual abuse is treating trauma symptoms such as reoccurring nightmares, older children wetting the bed or having an inability to focus in school.

Davis said if a sexually abused child is not provided therapy, they are at a greater risk of engaging in unhealthy activities such as teenage pregnancy, substance abuse, suicide or dropping out of school. She said sexually abused children are more likely to become depressed or to develop eating disorders. Further, she said one-third of all incarcerated women reported that they were sexually abused as a child.

Davis said in an overwhelming majority of cases, the abuser is a family member of the victim, and is sometimes even an older sibling.

Despite the debilitating emotional and physical toll the abuse takes on a child, with treatment, Davis said 80 percent of young victims can go on to lead normal lives.

"Here we can help the whole family get better," she said.



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