The building that houses the Children's Advocacy Center of the Bluegrass Inc. is rather nondescript, blending in with the older homes surrounding it on Walton Avenue.
But to children and their families who have been gut-punched by sexual abuse, who have watched innocence yanked from them by a predator seeking to satisfy his or her own needs, the building stands out as a beacon of hope.
Inside the building at 183 Walton Ave., children up to age 18 and their families find a "one child, one place" philosophy that reduces the number of times those children have to tell their "deepest, darkest secrets," said executive director Andrew Oliver.
The nonprofit center, one of 15 in the state, opened in 1994 to better coordinate the investigation of child sexual abuse in the 17 counties it serves in the Bluegrass Area Development District.
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Before it was established, "there were children who were making allegations of abuse who were then subjected to repeated interviews that were traumatizing," Oliver said, adding the investigation could involve a dozen different people.
Spearheaded by Commonwealth Attorney Ray Larson in 1988, a task force representing physicians, police, mental health professions, social workers and others, zeroed in on a multi-disciplinary model started in Huntsville, Ala.
The center provides four services: forensic interviewing, medical examination, advocacy and therapeutic support. Families are referred by social service agencies or law enforcement.
"We work closely with police so that when an allegation is made, they make a referral here," Oliver said. "Then, the police come to the center and observe the interview."
If need be, a medical examination is conducted and pictures taken. Each child chooses a blanket and a stuffed toy in the medical exam room to keep.
Statewide last year, 3,212 forensic interviews were conducted, 1,060 sexual abuse medical examinations were performed, and 5,635 caretakers received services. But experts believe only one in 10 children report sexual abuse. And what's worse, victims of abuse are at risk of becoming predators or are victimized again as adults.
"One of four girls and one of six boys will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday," he said.
The perpetrator is often someone the child knows, not the "bogeyman" down the street, Oliver said. "An abuser, generally, is someone who the family knows and trusts."
It's time we all understood that. April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month and it's time we acknowledge how vulnerable our children are. It's time we noticed that building. We need to understand what goes on behind its doors.
"Because of the nature of what we do often times people don't want to know what we do," Oliver said. "I understand that, but we are going to serve 600 children this year.
"They are going to pass through our doors and will have made an outcry of sexual abuse."
None of us can ignore that.
The Children's Advocacy Center has nine employees in the same space that originally had one. Oliver said he really needs to hire another employee, but there is no room.
Only two medical exams can be conducted each day at the center and only one forensic interview can be conducted at a time. Other centers conduct two or three, he said. They will soon have to explore the possibility of moving.
But for now, "we want to use this as an opportunity to generate awareness about what we do and about the team we have here on site," Oliver said. "There are nine employees dedicated to helping children and families."
If you would like to help, the center welcomes monetary donations and unused Beanie Babies, Oliver said. The blankets each child selects and keeps are donated by the local chapter of Project Linus, whose mission is to provide new handmade blankets and afghans to children who are seriously ill, traumatized or otherwise in need of a sense of security.
But, "there is no more direct way to help the Children's Advocacy Center than by making a financial contribution because all services are provided free of charge; these contributions are vital to helping us serve every child referred for services," Oliver said.
There are two upcoming fund-raisers: a golf scramble at Marriott Griffin Gate on July 25, and "An Evening for the Children's Advocacy Center" gala at the R.J. Corman Hangar in Nicholasville on Aug. 27. For more information, call (859) 514-1566.
"These workers here are the best there are," Oliver said. "They work hard to deal with these cases every day. We are dealing with children who have been victims of pretty horrific abuse."
Now that you know, try not to pass that building again without noticing.