If you are ever sitting at home and watching tv, then you know at any given time a commercial can come on that will pull at your heart strings. There are so many heartbreaking but worthy causes that exist; and sometimes just watching the commercials can make you cry – from childhood cancer to the joyful wish come true foundations to the ones of children malnourished, neglected and in need all over the world. One of the commercials that gets to me every single time is the one with abused animals – I always tear up on those. With all of these causes and the hundreds of others that have commercials and print ads, they really dig deep to show us what is happening with that agency and the work they do.
But one commercial you will never see is the one of the child getting beaten with an electrical cord so hard by their own mother that it breaks skin and leaves permanent scars. Or the one of the little girl holding onto her covers tightly as a father figure sneaks into her room and tries to get under those covers with her. Or the young child being cussed at and called a liar while also being told they are ruining everything just because the child was brave enough to come forward and tell someone what happened to them. Those commercials won’t ever be on tv. You will never see those children. In general, our society doesn’t want to see, think, or sometimes even believe that it happens, but it does. And these children won’t have faces for you to see because they are children and they deserve the privacy and confidentiality to be protected by everyone involved, so that they can have an opportunity to heal without being labeled. So they can become the person they are meant to be without being defined by what happened to them. So they don’t have to hear the whispers and rumors that make them even more ashamed or insecure about themselves.
As an agency, it is so hard to portray the kind of work we do. We can talk about the services we provide, describe the interviews and the medical exam, detail the “process” and how it is easier for the child and for all working on behalf of the child – but does that really give you the idea of what happens behind these doors? We can’t show you the pictures we took of the bruises and scars. We can’t show you the tears falling down their faces when they say the words of what happened to them out loud for the first time. We can’t show you the findings from the child’s genital exam that confirms a penetrating injury. We can’t show you lab results from where a child received a sexually transmitted disease from their offender. We also can’t show you their excitement when they are picking out and holding their blankets. We can’t show you their smiles when they are eating their snack. We can’t show you the relief in their sweet little faces once everything is done and it wasn’t as bad as they thought it would be. We can’t show you the hugs they give our staff when they say they want to stay here because they like us. No, we can’t show you any of that. All we can do is say it happens – those tears and those smiles – and hope that you understand what that really means.
One thing we struggle with as a child advocacy center is garnering support from our community members without breaking the confidentiality of the children we serve. We can’t confirm or deny that a child was ever here even if you read about a story in the paper or see a case on the news. You may know our service area and know that abuse that occurs inside these three counties may have come through our doors – but we can’t confirm or deny that. Other people may mention our agency in an article about a case or a parent may say they got help here, but from us, we can’t confirm or deny that. How can we get you to see our work and get you to donate funds or items we need if we can’t even show you how it is being used? How can we prove to everyone we talk to that the stories are worse than one can imagine, the images will never get out of our heads, the faces are ones we will never forget, and that we – even as workers – need therapy to cope and process? The answer is we can’t. This work is without pictures and these children are without faces.
But it is because they are faceless that you should think about every child you cross paths with… from those standing at the bus stop, those in line in front of you at the grocery store, those playing at the park, those your own children are friends with. You don’t know if their face is one who is struggling, masked by a smile, and experiencing more than most of us can comprehend. Last fiscal year we had 469 faceless children walk through our doors. Both our agency statistics and national statistics prove that abuse has either happened to you or to someone you know – or even harder to comprehend is that it has either happened to your child or to someone your child is friends with. Just remember, when we seem protective or reserved in our description of what happens here there is a reason. When we don’t bring clients with us to presentations to talk about how our services helped them there is a reason. When we tell you we can’t “confirm or deny” there is a reason.
Abuse IS happening here in your community whether you can put a face to it or not. So when you are considering a cause to get behind, a place to donate to, or an agency to volunteer for – consider the faceless children and that they too need your support.
Brandi Reagan, Executive Director of The Dragonfly House