Gulf Coast Kid’s House: No Formula For Child Abuse

.jpg photo of abuse victim and state attorney
Teri Levin, with Anne Patterson, assistant state attorney

The Kid’s House served 2,600 children in 2014.

Pensacola, Florida – Ninety percent of child abuse is perpetrated by someone the child already knows.

Anne Patterson, an assistant state attorney who prosecutes child abuse cases in Escambia County, will tell you it doesn’t matter whether the child’s family is rich or poor, or whether they are white or black. The pattern repeats itself.

“The scenarios are the same,” she said. “How the perpetrator gets close to the child. How he or she has access to the child. The human dynamic is the same no matter what the socioeconomic class is.”

Although reported cases of child abuse among wealthier families is lower than poorer families, the discrepancy is likely a result of social stigma rather than frequency of abuse, child abuse experts say.

The Gulf Coast Kid’s House is a Child Advocacy Center, or CAC, where several agencies are housed under one roof so children only have a single destination for medical exams, interviews, depositions and therapy, thus reducing the number of times they must re-live the abuse by retelling their stories.

The Kid’s House served 2,600 children in 2014.

Its prevention program aimed to educate and empower school children is in a handful of schools, but its leadership hopes it spreads to all schools, regardless of zip code.

“It includes sexual abuse and people are not normally comfortable talking about that so they want to pretend it doesn’t happen,” said Teri Levin, a Kid’s House board member. “But it does.”

The mission of Gulf Coast Kid’s House, with 2014 stats

Levin was abused by an uncle as a child growing up in Indiana.
“We were not poor. We were not rich,” she said. “We were middle class. An All-American family.”

She didn’t tell her parents about the abuse until she was 40 years old.

“I was afraid to tell them. I didn’t know what would happen,” she said. “I didn’t know how they would perceive it.”

Children who are abused will weigh whether or not to talk to someone about the abuse depending on how safe they feel and how they perceive the perpetrator, according to Nancy S. Hagman, M.Ed., LMH, of Lutheran Services of Florida, a program manager and therapist at the Kid’s House.

She said she will often meet victims who first speak of childhood abuse in their 60s.

“If they don’t feel they will be believed or if the offender has set it up so that they think no one will believe them, for them to go to a parent is very challenging,” Hagman said.

A teacher at an elementary school on Pensacola’s east side recently wrote the Kid’s House to thank them for an education program at the school. As a result of the classes, the teacher said, a child felt empowered to tell a parent of sexual abuse occurring at home and the family is now receiving counseling.

Parents are resistant to the education programs, Patterson said, because they are afraid they will poison the child’s minds. The programs should be seen the same way fire prevention or other safety lessons are taught, she said.

“These programs are designed to educate, but not to frighten,” she said. “To empower but not plant seeds of fear or distress.”

More than 90 percent of cases at the Kid’s House are prosecuted. Bill Eddins, the state attorney for Florida’s First Judicial Circuit is a big supporter of the Kid’s House efforts, Patterson said.

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