A new program, fundraiser for victims of sexual abuse
by Staff Writer
One out of every four women, and one out of every six men will be victims of sexual assault during their lives, says Dr. Kathryn Firmin-Sellers, Lake Norman regional director for United Family Services.
“And that does not matter what income bracket you’re in or how nice the neighborhood your living in is,” Firmin-Sellers said. “It just happens.”
The statistics are terrifying for any reader, but thanks to the United Way and United Family Services, the Lake Norman area now has a program to help children and adults who havesuffered sexual abuse.
Despite its new offices in Cornelius, United Family Services has been helping people in the Charlotte area for the past century.
“We have been around for 102 years now,” Firmin-Sellers said. “It all started when 100 businessmen came together, pledged 100 bucks and delivered coal and food to the deserving poor.”
Instead of donating coal and food to those in need, United Family Services is now focused on helping individuals and families with everything from getting out of debt to getting out of an abusive relationship.
Since June, United Family Services has offered Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to children and adults who have suffered sexual assault.
Trauma-focused therapy is a program, backed by national evidence, which has high success rate in comparison to other programs that seek to help people recover from sexual abuse, Therapist Angie Nance said.
According to Nance, the program measures success by assessing each victim’s level of post-traumatic stress over a period of weeks.
“Typically, post-traumatic stress is really hard to treat, really hard to work with and really hard to get people to recover from. I believe the national rate is about 20 percent for successful treatment of PTSD,” Nance said.
“Our model is around 80 percent, so it is a really powerful model.”
After a child is diagnosed with PTSD, the real work begins.
Typically lasting 17 to 20 weeks, the trauma-focused program begins by teaching children about sexual abuse and defining the key terms. In doing so, it gives victims a better understanding of what happened to them, Nance says.
After that, Nance said she begins to teach coping skills to victims to help them overcome anxiety.
Only after that work is complete does Nance finally encourage a victim to begin to tell his or her story.
“They can do it through art, puppets, poetry, music or art,” Nance says. “The point is to be able to use psycho-education, to use the correct terms, to be able to write out their experience and talk about it without anxiety.”
Creating the trauma narrative allows children to vent their emotions and learn to cope with them, Nance said. But it is also about getting the victims to understand they aren’t responsible for what happened to them.
“We want to work through that so that they know that the blame lies with their perpetrator,” Nance said.
Once the narratives are completed, children are assessed on the post-traumatic stress scale again, and they are allowed to see their scores and progress. Victims feel stronger when they realize how much they have accomplished and how far they’ve come.
“People will come in and feel that something is wrong with them, like they are going crazy. But really they are acting completely normal to an abnormal experience,” Nance said. “They had to experience something that no one should had to experience. But unfortunately a lot of people do.”
Raising funds, spirits
To help those in need in the Lake Norman area, United Family Services is holding its second annual Cruise for Change on Sept. 24. The cruise, which will launch at 6:30 p.m. from Queen’s Landing in Mooresville, is a fundraising event that supports specifically the Lake Norman branch and its programs.
Highlights of the cruise will include heavy hors d’oevres, an open-bar, a DJ and dancing. There will also be a silent auction offering vacation trips to the mountains and coast, as well as a balloon ride over Lake Norman.
Tickets are $60. Purchase them online at www. unitedfamilyservices.org/cruiseforchange.html.