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Donors impact the recognition of sexual abuse warning signs

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One in four girls and one in six boys has suffered sexual abuse before they’re 18 years-old — those numbers are difficult to comprehend. The Providence St. Peter Sexual Assault Clinic in Olympia is where children come to be evaluated after a reported abuse, as well as receive initial counseling services. The clinic provides awareness training called “Darkness to Light,” that trains people in the community to recognize signs of sexual abuse. Last year, the clinic saw a 450% increase in attendees over the first few years, thanks to generous support from local donors.

Darkness to Light, which is now offered bi-monthly at Providence St. Peter Hospital, and at community locations throughout the year, gives adults the skills to prevent, recognize and react responsibly to child sexual abuse and is applicable to other forms of child abuse.

“The message I always try to get across is you don’t have to know for sure if a child is being abused. You just have to have the suspicion,” says Heather Reid, a medical social worker for the clinic. Reid often discusses medical history with children and parents at the clinic, and says the meetings can be extremely difficult.

“Parents often come meet with me and fall apart. They blame themselves and wish they would have seen things differently,” Reid said. She feels it’s critical for everyone in the community to be aware of the warning signs.

Dr. Deborah Hall, Medical Director for the clinic says, “Children may start being angry and acting out in ways that don’t make sense. Their school performance may suddenly plummet and they may become very withdrawn.” Victims can also become anxious and not want to be alone.

The Sexual Assault Clinic first began providing training in 2009 on a limited basis. With community grants and the support of generous donors in the last few years, there has been significant and sustained growth in the number of classes provided, and adults trained.

The next training is scheduled for Thursday, May 22. Register here.