Abduction of Amish girls brings up discussion on coping with sexual abuse

Updated: 08/18/2014 11:32 PM
Created: 08/18/2014 9:52 PM WHEC.com

Family members of the two Amish girls who were abducted last week from a roadside stand are speaking out about the experience and how it’s affected the girls.

More charges are expected against 39-year-old Stephen Howells II and 25-year-old Nicole Vaisey. Investigators say the two were prowling looking for children to abuse when they snatched the sisters last Wednesday in Oswegatchie, near the Canadian border. The next day the girls turned up at a home about 15 miles away.

The Saint Lawrence County Sheriff says the couple may have planned to abduct other children.

Howells II and Vaisey are due in court for a preliminary hearing on Thursday.

The family has told media outlets they are relieved to have the girls home, but they say it is still not like it was.

Mary Whittier from Bivona Child Advocacy Center helps children cope with emotions that come from sexual assault. She says there are important things for adults to make sure these young girls know.

“They need to know that they are now safe, that they can talk about it and that it’s good to talk about it instead of harboring it,” Whittier said.

Family of the two Amish girls spoke to newspapers on Monday, saying the girls aren’t really discussing what happened. But child experts say these are conversations the family should try having.

“It is common for children to blame themselves, and this is really what we don’t want to have happen. Kids have enough shame and guilt themselves, and we as adults want to make sure we don’t contribute to that. We need to believe these children and get them professional help,” said Whittier.

The Bivona Child Advocacy Center provides services to children who are suspected victims of physical or sexual abuse.

“It is different because it is an Amish community, so there is a whole different set of rules. However, that Amish community is incredibly supportive, and it is important that they believe and support these two girls,” Whittier said.

Whittier says these girls, ages seven and 12, need constant support.

“All the therapy in the world can only do so much. The single most important thing to get a child healthy is to have a parent, or their support person, believe them,” she said.

Whittier says this case is extremely rare because the abduction and abuse allegedly happened at the hands of a stranger. She says every parent should take this as a time to talk with their children. Many children are victimized by people they know, love and trust. Parents should make it clear to their children that, no matter who it is, if they feel uncomfortable the need to tell an adult.

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