Clinic will teach response to child sex abuse

Goal of free event is to help adults respond appropriately if a young person confides in them about illicit conduct

ahobbs@theolympian.comMarch 15, 2014 

Silence is one of the biggest barriers to reducing sexual abuse, but awareness is one of the solutions.

Providence St. Peter Sexual Assault Clinic in Olympia will host a free training program Thursday called Darkness to Light.

The goal is to teach participants how to recognize and respond to child sexual abuse — a crime that affects all walks of life. The training is designed for teachers, doctors, camp counselors and anyone who works with youths. Many young victims will disclose abuse to someone other than a parent, and the training program shows adults what to do in that situation.

Roughly 9 out of 10 young victims are abused by someone they know, said Lisa Wahl, an advanced registered nurse practitioner who helps run the program.

“It’s not the stranger danger myth that we have always perpetuated,” Wahl said. “The numbers aren’t going down. It’s an epidemic in our culture — the silence, the sexual abuse.”

The statistics on sexual abuse are hard to quantify because most victims never report the abuse. Estimates range between 1 in 10 children and 1 in 4 children who suffer abuse before age 18, Wahl said. On that note, the Providence Sexual Assault Clinic sees about 350 patients each year, according to a hospital spokesman.

Sexual abuse can also lead to risky behaviors by victims when they get older. The abuse can change the way a child manages emotions and processes information, Wahl said.

“This is a health policy issue,” Wahl said.

Sex offenders often gain the trust of parents and family members in order to groom their victims. Grooming is a complex process that ultimately puts a child in a position of feeling culpable for the abuse, Wahl said. Perpetrators give victims extra attention and surround their interactions with secrecy. Children are afraid they won’t be believed or protected if they tell an adult, Wahl said.

“Children have minimal coping skills and have no idea they were being led into that whole cauldron,” Wahl said.

One reason people are afraid to report is because they don’t want to ruin someone’s life by making a false allegation.

“We try to reframe that it’s their responsibility to report,” said Heather Reid, a licensed medical social worker who helps run Darkness to Light. At the very least, the program is meant to encourage more dialogue about this serious subject.

“If we can educate just 5 percent of our community about this epidemic and give them the tools they need,” Reid said, “then we can really see an impact in our community.”

If you go

Darkness to Light runs 5:30-8:30 p.m. Thursday at Providence St. Peter Hospital in the 200 Room, 413 Lilly Road NE, Olympia. Snacks will be provided. The clinic also provides personalized training for any group of 15 or more. To register and learn more, call 360-493-7469 or visit

Andy Hobbs: 360-704-6869

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