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Granite State Children's Alliance: Fighting Child Sexual Abuse in Your Community

By Elizabeth R. Elstien

Twenty-five percent of girls and 17 percent of boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years of age. These statistics are alarming and provide a wake-up call to all parents and caregivers to protect their children before it's too late.

That's where Granite State Children's Alliance steps in. They are a powerful force for children in New Hampshire continually fighting to stop child sexual abuse and neglect, educating parents about how they can prevent this from happening to their children and helping kids who have undergone abuse more fully heal from their trauma.

As part of the Child Advocacy Centers (CACs) that are located in all ten counties of New Hampshire, Granite State Children's Alliance in Nashua operates four CAC programs, with one each in Belknap, Cheshire counties, and two in Hillsborough county (Nashua and Manchester). The Alliance also functions as the state chapter of the National Children's Alliance representing all of the Granite State's CACs.

Exactly what role do the CACs play in sexual abuse of kids? Started in 1986 in Alabama, there are now over 600 CACs across the United States. Education and Outreach Coordinator Megan Oliviero describes a CAC as a "child-focused center that coordinates the investigation, prosecution and treatment of child abuse while helping children heal."

CACs help with the community response in a sexual abuse case of a minor by coordinating a comprehensive forensic interview; providing mental health counseling and medical referrals to speed the healing process and, in turn, aiding law enforcement so more child sex offenders are held accountable for their actions. These centers are instrumental in changing the sexual abuse process for these kids and their families by removing the confusion and providing more dignity. "We are the experts in our communities about how to improve our response to these sensitive cases," says Oliviero.

(pictured above is a pathway named the Walk of Courage, which children walk down to display the amount of courage it takes for them to come forward about their abuse. A police officer will join her, to represent all of his brothers and sisters in law enforcement who support these children on their journey)

Oliviero cautions, "Often, the abuser is known to the child and family in some capacity." The abuser may be a trusted person or in a position of power in the child's life. While the abuse may differ, the feelings are common among victims and may include shame, guilt, sadness, anger, and confusion. A safe, neutral place for the victim and their non-offending family members or caregiver is always found at a CAC.

Remember, it's never too late for a victim to come forward and start the healing process. "When a child of sexual abuse does come forward, we are very aware there are nine other children that did not," Oliviero says, quoting statistics. "For the nine children that remain silent," Oliviero continues, "we strive to further educate the community about our work at the CAC in the hope that they will know they are not alone. There are resources to help and people to listen."

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