By Lethbridge Herald on October 13, 2023.
Alejandra Pulido-Guzman – LETHBRIDGE HERALD – firstname.lastname@example.org
The Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs (SACPA) invited Kristine Cassie, CEO of Chinook Sexual Assault Centre, to their Thursday session to talk about child sexual abuse.
Cassie spoke to the Herald prior to the presentation and said she prepared the topic since October is Child Abuse Prevention Month.
“This is of course a critical issue to be talked about, and everyone has a role in how we can end child abuse, specifically child sexual abuse, ” said Cassie.
She said it is important to have these conversations to provide people a better understanding of what the impacts are, and what the trauma is.
Cassie said one of the many services offered at the centre is a specialized program called Chinook Child and Youth Advocacy Centre, which she would be briefly talking about during the presentation.
She said when it comes to dealing with a case of child sexual abuse, a multidisciplinary team comes together to make the process easier for the victim to deal with.
“We get together and triage cases, we assign a child forensic interviewer and from there we’re able to get a one-time conversation with the child to actually get the disclosure and what happened with the abuse. That way they only have to tell their story once, which is very crucial, as the more times they have to tell it, the more traumatized they become,” said Cassie.
She said the CSAC teams up with all types of police services across southern Alberta to deal with child abuse cases, which includes RCMP, Lethbridge Police Services, Blood Tribe Police Services, Taber Police Services, as well as South Region Child and Family Services, Piikani Child Family Services and Blood Tribe Child Protective Services and Alberta Health Services.
During the presentation Cassie highlighted the importance of dealing with child sexual abuse impact and trauma early because when it goes unaddressed it can result in adulthood problems.
“When we don’t address the impacts of trauma with children early, they are 26 times more likely to experience homelessness at some point in their lives, 30 per cent more likely to not finish high school, four times more likely to be arrested during their youth, four times more likely to report self-harm, and suicidal ideations,” said Cassie.
She also highlighted the importance of stoping the perpetuity of rape myths and called out inappropriate behaviours during the presentation.
“We each hold a responsibility to our society, to our children, to take steps to end abuse, to take steps to address abuse and reducing those impacts of trauma,” said Cassie.
She said everyone needs to become comfortable talking about the uncomfortable, with the horrible truths that exist in our world, those being that children are being abused, not always by strangers, but more than likely by people they know and even have trusted.
“Parents, siblings, other relatives, coaches, teachers, clergy, and the list goes on. Remember these abuses are perpetrated by a few people, mostly men, but women also abuse and they are typically serial offenders,” said Cassie.
She said if she could have a superpower it would be to have a radar able to spot perpetrators because they are hard to find while hiding behind the veil of secrecy, knowing more times than not victims will not be believed.
“The victims will bear the brunt of shame and blame for the abuse in the assaults, because we’ve done a great job at perpetuating what we call rape myths and spreading significant misinformation about this problem. We question what someone was wearing, if they took a ride with someone, if they were alone with the perpetrator, and the ‘how can parents just trust anyone with their kid’, like the magic of background checks is going to save us,” said Cassie.
She said there are actions everyone can take to stop child abuse, with the first one being getting informed.
“It costs us no money to get informed, but we can listen, we can read, we can watch credible sources on child abuse and the impact that it has on kids and families, communities and societies. This doesn’t happen to one person, it happens to us all,” said Cassie.
She said information is the cornerstone to change society. Raising awareness and education helps to build child-safe cultures, she added.
“Action number two: We can call out rape myths. This takes some strategy and openness to being uncomfortable. Call out the myths that perpetuate this crime when you see them in a movie, or show, or hearing a song or conversation over coffee, or a coach that maybe uses a sexualized language or dehumanizing language,” said Cassie.
She said she applauded Lethbridge Police Service for calling out abuse as the crime that it is when asked if the incident involving members of the Chinook High School of the football team was hazing.
“The police did a really great job yesterday at the news conference when someone asked them if this was a hazing incident and they said no, it’s a crime. Because it is a crime. Let’s not diminish what is happening, they did a great job with that,” said Cassie.
She then mentioned that the third action is to be an active bystander. She said if people are able to intervene when they see something happening to someone do it – if it is safe to intervene.
Cassie said intervening can be done in many ways, from simply distracting the offender while the victim gets away, to physically helping the victim escape when safe to do so.
She recalled an article she came across about an incident that happened in the United States when a 13-year-old girl was being sexually assaulted in an airplane. Cassie said when the passenger woke up, she moved the child away from the perpetrator, put herself in her seat and called out for help, while putting distance between the victim and the abuser.
She said the fourth action, and one of the most important of all, is to believe the person who trusts you with information about their abuse.
“Very few people will lie about sexual abuse and sexual assault. There is a far greater harm to be done by not believing. It takes a lot of courage to tell someone, so have the courage to believe them,” said Cassie.
She said the last action was to become trauma aware, as this helps people understand what others are going through.
Cassie shared with those in attendance that the CSAC will be hosting a free event that aims at addressing rape myths called What Were You Wearing? On Thursday Oct. 19 from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Sandman Hotel on Mayor Magrath Drive.
This event is for anyone at least 13 years old and will showcase pieces of clothing that are similar to those wore by real victims of sexual assault and a short snippet of their story.