MARION — When Chris Newlin’s 17-year-old son, Kyle, was diagnosed with melanoma, his first reaction was not to believe the diagnosis.
“I was looking for every possible explanation for this other than my child has cancer,” Newlin said.
Newlin, who is executive director of the National Child Advocacy Center in Huntsville, Alabama, spoke last week as part of the Downstate Conference on Child Abuse in Marion.
As he reflected on his feelings about his son’s diagnosis, Newlin saw how his situation related to parents being told their child had been sexually abused. Parents do not learn about childhood cancers until after having a child diagnosed. The same is true for child sexual abuse.
“Do you all have situations where parents do not believe a child has been abused?” Newlin asked the audience.
Audience members nodded in response.
“What do parents know about child sexual abuse? Pediatricians don’t talk about it. You don’t hear about it in Lamaze or childbirth classes,” Newlin said.
Since mothers are the primary caregivers for most young children and usually take children to see physicians or therapists, Newlin looked at some statistics for mothers whose child had been sexually abused.
In nearly half of all cases, mothers had a feeling that something was not quite right with their child before learning of the abuse.
“The No. 1 thing we should watch for is what children say,” Newlin said.
He said in 41.6 percent of cases, moms were told about abuse by their child. Other ways they found out about the abuse included the child’s behavior, 15.2 percent; told by a professional, 15.2 percent; told by someone else, 12.8 percent; witness abuse, 5.6 percent; 4 percent had a hunch; learned from a doctor’s exam, 3.2 percent; abuser disclosed the abuse in 1.0 percent; other, 0.8 percent.
After initially learning about abuse, 66.7 percent of moms talked with their child, 46.7 percent watched the situation closely, 37.1 percent sought more information, and 35.2 percent confronted the suspected abuser.
“Only 37.6 percent of the mothers never doubted their child’s disclosure,” Newlin said.
The following things helped mothers decrease their doubt that abused had happened: behavior of the child, the child’s emotions and opinions of a therapist.
“Sometimes, a parent’s lack of believing is more about their ussies than about the child,” Newlin said. “Over time, especially in therapy, children will tell more.”
The child advocacy model uses a team approach to respond to child abuse, and strives to help child victims without adding to the trauma.
While children experience trauma, parents also have an emotional response to a child being abused. They may experience shock, sympathy for the child, feel powerless, anxiety, fear, sham or guilt, anger and sadness when they learn a child has been abused.
Having a victim advocate is extremely important.
“Parents may not know who to call, but they can call a victim advocate, and the advocate will know who to call or where to go for help,” Newlin said.
He ended by saying everyone in the room has a role to play in advocacy.
The National Children’s Advocacy Center, created in 1985, changed the way the U.S. responds to child sexual abuse and has served as a model for the more than 1,000 now operating in the U.S. and 33 countries throughout the world.
Newlin's son, Kyle, just celebrated his 30th birthday and is cancer free.