Samantha was a bright eyed, cheerful 10 year old little girl. Like all girls her age, she enjoyed hanging out with her friends, playing outside and spending time with her family. But not all of her family memories were happy. For six years she kept a dark, untold secret inside. Her uncle had been sexually abusing Samantha since she was just four years old. Coming forward to talk about the abuse was extremely difficult and tore Samantha up inside. Her uncle had always been a big part of her family. He was there for every birthday and holiday and at times even helped Samantha’s mom pay household bills when money was tight. The years of his abuse were a long, lonely and terrifying journey for Samantha, full of deception and lies. Every time he abused her, he brought Samantha a present, and it was always something he knew she would really like. She kept all the presents in a box under her bed and every time she looked at them she felt a pang of guilt and shame. Over the years the box filled up. As Samantha grew, so did her reluctance to please her uncle. However, what seemed initially as gentle pressure, quickly turned to threats. And when all else failed, he threatened to hurt her younger brother if she told anyone. Eventually Samantha began wetting her bed and refused to brush her teeth or take a bath. On the eve of her tenth birthday, Samantha finally found the courage to disclose to her mother what had been happening for so many years. Her parents took her to the Suffolk County Child Advocacy Center. At the Center, Samantha was introduced to people who were there to hear her story, heal her pain, and halt the cycle of abuse in her life. She was interviewed by a detective from the Special Victims Unit and a Child Protective Services worker. It was a joint interview, so Samantha didn’t need to repeat her story again. During the interview she was asked if she could remember how many times her uncle had abused her. She could tell them exactly how many times, she said. All she had to do was open the box under her bed and count the presents. She received a medical exam at the Center from a specially-trained physician who helped her understand that her body was okay, and she received group support where she learned how to protect herself from being abused again. She moved from being a victim to living as a survivor. Sadly, Samantha’s story is the story of thousands of children just like her.
The Suffolk County Child Advocacy Center at The Pat & Mary Bagnato Place For Kids is a facility for child victims of physical and sexual abuse. The mission of the Child Advocacy Center is to provide a neutral, child-focused environment where a coordinated response to child abuse allegations may be pursued in ways that support and protect children, non-offending parents and other family members. Each staff member is a certified Emergency Room Companion who is on call 24 hours a day to meet child victims of sexual assaults at hospital emergency rooms. In addition the Child Advocacy Center hosts public education forums on issues related to child abuse as well as providing referrals, accompaniment to court, offering much needed emotional support to the child and families and assistance in completing forms for Crime Victims Board reimbursement. Child Advocacy Center staff facilitates a peer support group for child victims and their non-offending parents called the Kids 2 Kids program. The Child Advocacy Center serves Suffolk County children and has bilingual staff to assist families who only speak Spanish.
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