COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Since children have started going back to school, child advocacy centers have seen a 20% increase in reports of child sexual abuse.
A new kind of reporting center is handling the influx of child abuse reports in a way that helps children heal more quickly and prevent future abuse.
“It's quite horrific to think about. They're truly a victim. They've been perpetrated on by someone that, often, they know, and love, and trust,” said Maureen Basenberg, the Executive Director of the Safe Passage child advocacy center.
Helping to heal the pain of child sexual abuse is why Basenberg got involved years ago.
“We can't change what happened in the past, but what we can do is let them know that they are heard and that they are respected, that they're victims,” said Basenberg.
Maureen is part of a growing movement to change how child sex abuse victims can report their crimes. It starts here at Safe Passage.
This center is the first of its kind in Colorado and is one of few like it in the nation. Of 900 child advocacy centers in the country, only one in five is like Safe Passage.
“We've ensured that that whole process goes from maybe, you know, over a day's length to, you know, a couple of hours,” said Basenberg.
Before this center, when a child reported a crime, they’d have to make several stops: one at the police station, then to the Department of Health and Human Services, then to the hospital.
What’s different here is all those resources are in one building to help make the act of reporting these crimes far less traumatizing.
Here, a child only tells the story of their experience once.
“To say it over and over and over again just brings back all those memories and those sensations, where we know we can do it better. We know we can capture that story one time in a way that is going to help them ultimately lead to their healing, but hopefully justice as well,” said Basenberg.
“A huge part of what we want to do is reaffirm their health as well as their body autonomy. This is their body,” said forensic nurse, Sarah Hagedorn.
This space puts children first in a way a hospital or police station can’t. Hagedorn runs the medical office at Safe Passage.
“When people are in trauma, they're also very tactile. They're very kind of focused on their sensory. So there's everything that's gone in is, you know, is it soft, is it welcoming,” said Hagedorn of the décor in the exam room.
When a child comes to Safe Passage, they get a handmade blanket and a stuffed animal. That’s something a hospital cannot always provide.
This kind of specialized, best practices care is even more important now.
“The way that the pandemic impacted child abuse reporting was quite dramatic.
Since children have gone back to school, reports of child sexual abuse cases have spiked by 20%, and there is a nationwide shortage of caseworkers.
“We're seeing more patients and families than we expected, which is sad, except we know what's happening in our community,” said Hagedorn.
“In the month of February, we did more forensic medical exams here at the center than they did at the emergency room,” said Basenberg. “I get chills. That has been the goal for this community and for our kids, you know, to be seen in a place that has their intentions and their trauma as the focus.”
Once a child completes their visit, they go through a prevention program here too through nonprofit Kid Power. It’s all to make sure their stop at Safe Passage is just that: a stop on a path to a safer future.
If you’d like more information about Safe Passage or centers like it, click HERE.