More than 30 people recently attended a “beautifully prayer-filled evening” at Incarnation Church in Glendale, which hosted the archdiocesan Rosary for Healing and Protection for abuse survivors and their loved ones on April 14 as part of National Child Abuse Prevention Month, which is observed across the country every April.
According to Suzanne Healy, coordinator for the archdiocesan Office of Victims Assistance Ministry — which serves past and current victims of sexual abuse by clergy, religious or lay people working or volunteering for the Catholic Church — a survivor in attendance expressed how grateful they were for the chance to experience the “powerful prayers, reflections and support” at the rosary, which included Scripture readings, a special prayer for victims and beautiful music.
Healy, who has worked with Victims Assistance Ministry for nearly eight years, describes her ministry work as “very challenging, but also very fulfilling.”
“It’s precious work when people feel that they were listened to, and affirmed, and believed; that’s just a remarkable journey,” Healy told The Tidings. “To witness their healing — moving from a survivor to a thriver — is very beautiful.”
As Child Abuse Prevention Month 2015 draws to a close, Healy shared synopses of essential information and important advice to keep in mind all year round, including recognizing potential signs of abuse among the children we encounter in our day-to-day lives; and specific suggestions for reporting suspected abuse situations.
Child sexual abuse predominantly happens with a known person, such as a parent or other close relative, an extended family member, or a family friend, explained Healy. Outside the home, a child might be targeted by somebody at their church, a coach, a tutor or a teacher — “someone who has regular access to them,” she said.
“Very rarely does it happen with someone they don’t know; that might happen with a rape or a kidnapping, but that’s not the predominant scenario,” Healy said. “Sexual abuse is something that takes time, it’s often a slow grooming process — a slow process of [the abuser] gaining the child’s trust.”
One common indicator that a child may have experienced abuse is when the child suddenly becomes extremely resistant to going anywhere with a known person who they had happily spent time with in the past. They might also lose interest in a specific favorite activity, such as an organized sports team, Healy noted.
Other signs may include becoming withdrawn, having trouble at school, losing interest in everyday activities and undergoing behavioral changes, such as experiencing heightened startled responses or excessive irritability, she added.
“The signs definitely vary depending on age and their ability to express themselves. Little children might act out more and older children might become more withdrawn,” Healy said. “If you have a reasonable suspicion that a child may be a victim of abuse, then we ask people to contact Child Protective Services.”
To report suspected child abuse within Los Angeles County, the phone number for the 24-hour Child Protection Hotline is 1 (800) 540-4000. Mandated reporters, such as school or parish employees, cannot report anonymously. All others can make an anonymous report.
Once they receive a report, Child Protective Services will launch an investigation and contact local law enforcement agencies as needed. “We don’t want people to attempt to become the investigators,” she explained.
Reflecting on her own experiences of working with victims in the aftermath of abuse, Healy said she feels honored to be part of a ministry that offers a “compassionate, safe place” where victims themselves can come forward and “know the matter will be reported to the proper authorities, and then we can focus on the goals of healing and reconciliation — emotionally and spiritually.”