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SHINE Campaign works to remove stigma of child sexual abuse

Child abuse happens to one out of 10 children, according to Stacy Deel, but it doesn’t define a person.

Deel is the director of operations and communications for the West Virginia Child Advocacy Network of the Monongalia Child Advocacy Center. Deel said the program serves more than 44 counties in West Virginia.

“No survivor of child abuse should be alone or lost,” Deel said.

The advocacy center promotes a “coordinated response that is compassionate, efficient, and puts the needs of children who are victims of abuse first.” There are 21 advocacy centers across the state and all centers serve ages 3-18.

Deel said a majority of the cases they see involve sexual abuse. According to statistics from the West Virginia Foundation For Rape Information & Services, 64.8% of victims of sexual assault were under the age of 18.

Amy Landers, a single mother, came into the advocacy center with her son, after learning about his history of abuse. Landers said she felt like she had “lost all human function” when her son told her what he had gone through. But when she set foot in the advocacy center, she said she felt an angel on her shoulder.

“A child advocacy center gives a person the tools to overcome their current situation and shine to their future,” Landers said.

Landers was greeted with a warm smile and knew she was in the right place. She said the advocacy center grounded her and her son and allowed them to breathe.

The stigma around child sexual abuse can be negative, but Landers said the advocacy center and its SHINE Campaign helps survivors rise above it.

“It shows people like me who have been through the abuse that we have overcome those and here we are on the other side,” she said.

Deel said the aim of the recent SHINE Campaign is to “elevate the conversation of child abuse.”

“Our goal is to build awareness and to be able to talk about this, so that children are comfortable coming forward,” Deel said. “Child abuse is one of those things people don’t want to talk about. It’s a taboo subject but in reality, it’s happening every day, everywhere.”

The SHINE Campaign started in West Virginia last April and then launched nationally.

“It was developed to lift up survivors of childhood sexual abuse and to raise awareness and funds for the Child Advocacy Center Movement,” Deel said.

Deel said the campaign has been a growing project to help many children throughout the state and it is something no other organizations offer.

“The SHINE Campaign is definitely near and dear to my heart and has been the first of its kind. It is a campaign that is so bright and hopeful,” Deel said.

A law passed in 2015 — known as Erin Merryn’s Law — mandates all public school children in grades K-12 receive a class educating them on body abuse and safety procedures, which Deel said will change the culture in the school systems.

“Before I came on board here, I had no idea the prevalence of child sexual abuse and what it meant to families when this happened, and the full array of services that the child advocacy center can provide,” Deel said. “The people that are on the ground every day hearing these stories and helping these families … they’re the true heroes, they really are. It’s a tough job.”

Landers said the center has made lifelong impressions on her and her family, with open ears and open hearts, and being the light for her.

“You go in there and you’re broken in pieces, but if you stay with them, they can make you whole again,” Landers said.

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