Created: 07/13/2014 12:40 PM WHEC.com
By: Melody Burri/Messenger Post
Imagine being a young victim of sexual abuse.
Then imagine describing that experience in detail to a room full of strangers — some in police uniforms, others in white shirts and dark suits, none of them familiar. Now redescribe that encounter several more times to more strangers, in different locations, over several days.
According to Eileen Tiberio, commissioner of the Ontario County Department of Social Services, young victims of sexual abuse who disclose their experience and have to retell all the reprehensible details will quite likely be re-traumatized and re-victimized all over again. Until recent years, it was what many victimized children in Ontario County were asked to do, if offenders were to be prosecuted.
Nationwide, an estimated one out of every three girls, and one out of every seven boys, are sexually abused during childhood, according to research gathered by Darkness to Light (D2L), a national organization dedicated to child abuse prevention. The same research also states that about one in 10 children will be sexually abused — through contact — before age 18.
Ontario County agencies and nonprofits have collaborated for better than a decade to more successfully, more humanely address child abuse. And since opening in 2008, the Phelps-based Child Advocacy Center of the Finger Lakes (CAC), a program of the Partnership for Ontario County, has taken that effort to the next level by providing a child-friendly location where allegations of physical or sexual abuse are responded to — at one time and in a relaxed setting — by local law enforcement officers, counselors, social service advocates and medical and legal professionals from all over the county.
Their collective objective is simple: to reduce trauma experienced by child victims and to improve child abuse investigations.
Ontario County Assistant District Attorney James Ritts, also the chair of the CAC Advisory Committee, remembers the 12- and 14-year-old victims of Michael Lewis, indicted in September 2012 on 335 counts of repeated sexual assaults against the two girls. Lewis was ultimately sentenced to 100 years to life in prison.
“I remember my victims, when Michael Lewis was sentenced, talking about having a safe, child-friendly place to talk about what he did,” recalls Ritts. “They liked not having to go to the police station or to DSS (Department of Social Services) or having to be at the place where they were being abused.”