Local agencies offer resources for sexual abuse survivors
When a childhood friend of Cassandra Ruwaldt's heard that the city of Metolius had voted to display a wooden toy train that was used by Ruwaldt's abuser as an excuse to spend time with her, she started a petition on Change.org that garnered more than 2,000 signatures.
The woman, who now lives in the Willamette Valley, was also a victim of child sexual abuse.
"As soon as I saw the article (in the Bend Bulletin) come out ..., and I saw her story, I thought, 'There's no way this is OK,'" she said.
The woman saw the train as a reminder of the abuse.
To report abuse:
Call 911 or the statewide hotline, 855-503-7233 (SAFE)
For adult survivors of abuse:
Saving Grace helpline, 541-389-7021
Saving Grace Madras office, 541-475-1880
Go to rainn.org to chat online or call 800-656-HOPE
For education on child sexual abuse:
"I know people say that time heals all wounds," the woman said. "I've never truly believed that. Yes, as time goes on, you're able to get past things like that, but that doesn't mean that you're never going to remember that.
"I want people to know that if they speak out, other survivors ... will speak up for them if they're not willing to speak up for themselves or are not able to."
A Culver woman who goes by Katrina Lee on Facebook did not know Ruwaldt but was moved by her story. She started a Facebook group called Stop the Train that gathered nearly 900 members on its first day.
Lee, too, is a victim of child sexual abuse, as well as domestic violence, she said.
"I've tried to speak out before, spreading awareness for all this stuff, child sex abuse, abuse against women, men, whatever."
She said people had responded, but not as much as about the train.
"I said, 'I want to do something, and I need to do something.'"
Survivors of child sexual abuse, some whom Lee knew and others who were strangers, began to tell her their stories.
"It's just amazing," she said. She hopes "to make people aware that it's OK, it's OK to talk.
"There's a purpose behind all this, and Cassandra, she's that one voice that has allowed thousands of others so far to be a voice, too," Lee said.
Local experts say communities can help create an atmosphere where victims can disclose abuse by being willing to listen.
"Abuse and sexual abuse are pretty prevalent," said Gil Levy, executive director for KIDS Center. The center, which is located in Bend, provides child abuse evaluations, including medical exams, forensic interviews and support services for seven counties, including Jefferson County.
"And chances are we all probably know someone in our circles who's had that experience. And it's just a very real tragedy that happens."
He said it's important for people to be aware that victims live with trauma.
"It's important to honor and support folks as best we can," he said.
"Many individuals who have experienced child abuse — and especially sex abuse — do not disclose," said Gabrielle Allender, KIDS Center's director of client programs and prevention. She said there are many reasons victims don't talk about the abuse. Often it occurs within a family, and they fear that relationships will be broken or they will be judged.
"And for those that do, it takes a lot of courage," Allender said. "I think that oftentimes what allows people to disclose or share is those community experiences."
Saving Grace works with adult women who are survivors of domestic violence or sexual assault. Many of those women were also abused as children. Executive Director Cassi MacQueen reiterated that being willing to listen makes a difference.
"It can be very difficult for survivors to disclose that they've been abused," MacQueen said. "Family and friends can provide support in simple ways – let the survivor know you believe them, acknowledge their courage to come forward, let them know they're not to blame for what happened, and they're not alone."
There are a host of resources available for victims of sexual abuse and those who would like to better educate themselves.
KIDS Center has some therapists, but that team is small, Allender said. But the center can refer people to BestCare and Bright Ways Counseling in Madras.
Levy also recommended RAINN, a national organization that has a hotline and online chat where people can talk or get referrals for help locally.
"Not all victims of sexual abuse need or want therapy," Allender said. "Sometimes, people just want to talk."
That said, people who are traumatized by abuse can get benefits from therapy, including lessening their response level to triggers, she said.
"Saving Grace can provide a range of services to survivors of domestic or sexual violence," MacQueen said. "Whether someone is currently being abused, or has survived abuse from the past, we are here to offer support and resources."
KIDS Center also provides training for adults so they can learn the signs of abuse and how to report suspected abuse.
"It's critical to be informed and educated around the signs of abuse and then to be aware," Allender said, adding that adults should report suspected abuse, even if it's just a gut feeling.
"It's important for adults to keep in mind that they may be the kid's only hope," she said. "It takes a lot of courage to stand up.
"I think our No. 1 resource within our community is the Darkness to Light training. It's for adults, whether they have children or not."
Along with recognizing and reporting abuse, the training explains how to receive a disclosure from a child in a trauma-informed manner.
KIDS Center also takes part in Blue Ribbon Month each April, Levy said.
But this year, events were canceled due to COVID-19.
The center has had to postpone some trainings because of the coronavirus, as well.
Allender expects KIDS Center will begin offering the training virtually.
In the meantime, it has two video trainings available at kidscenter.org: Talking With Children and Protecting Children During a Crisis.
KIDS Center also has tours, though none are scheduled at the moment.
"That is something we really encourage ... to learn more about KIDS Center and how we operate," Allender said.
The center has an office in Madras. Currently, a family advocate is working remotely on Tuesdays. And before the COVID-19 outbreak, the center hired a mental health therapist that would have been in Jefferson County a day or two a week.
"We do have our therapists working daily virtually," Allender said.
Saving Grace's office is staffed despite the pandemic.
"To reach someone 24/7, our helpline number is: 541-389-7021," MacQueen said. "To reach someone in the Madras office, please call 541-475-1880. All of our services are free and confidential."
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