Trigger warning: This article touches upon topics of child sexual abuse, grooming, suicide and other forms of trauma.
On Sept. 1, River Bridge Regional Center hosted a presentation on child abuse and child “grooming” at the Roaring Fork School District building in Carbondale. Guest speaker Torey Ivanic, author of the memoir “No Big Deal”, spoke to an audience of parents, teachers, students and community members about being groomed by her gymnastics coach as a child.
Sonja Linman, who does community outreach and training for the Aspen Hope Center, joined the conversation with resources and tips for spotting signs of abuse and advocating for victims. The event was streamed live online and also translated into Spanish in real-time by interpreter Elizabeth Velasco.
Ivanic introduced herself as “not an expert” in the area of child grooming, rather someone with a personal story to share. In 2006, Ivanic called off an engagement and made an appointment with a therapist. From there on out, she would not only unpack the trauma from what had happened to her along with one of her classmates, but also go forth in seeking justice. She spoke candidly about everything she experienced and then took questions from the audience once she concluded her presentation.
One thing that stood out intensely during Ivanic’s presentation was a suggestion that parents get comfortable asking : “What are you doing in your organization to prevent sexual violation?”
Ivanic responded, “I, as a parent, am still not fully comfortable asking that question because we don’t talk about this much. Right? It is not a comfortable topic, some just don’t like talking about it. But this question, especially if you ask a sexual predator this question, they are not going to touch your kid,” she stated.
She continued by saying that when we go forward as child advocates with that question, it will show that we are involved and care about the well-being of children. The question can also help an organization’s leadership figure out how best to be a safe place for children.
“When I look back at my story, I don’t know that there is anything that anybody could have done to stop it in its tracks. It is a different world we live in now, and I love that we can get to the point where people, hopefully, are empowered enough to go and ask those questions,” Ivanic stated.
Linman of Aspen Hope Center followed Ivanic to provide resources for those affected by trauma. She opened by stating that they are now in all the school districts from Basalt to Canyon Creek, with clinicians assisting the school counselors who are trained in trauma-informed care.
“The Hope Center is in the schools, we are with parents, talking with coaches, we are out doing presentations at churches and potlucks, and we are teaching some of our law enforcement a little more specific information around suicide prevention and de-escalation. Especially with youth, because it is a different game to be a teenager,” Linman said during her presentation.
After her presentation, Ivanic spoke with The Sopris Sun, saying that while discussing this topic is always “a little nerve-wracking,” it is important. “The more secretive we are, the less there is that gets done,” she said, encouraging people to speak up when they perceive abuse. “It’s like being able to call a bird a bird. Instead of underplaying it, you speak directly to it. Half the battle is just being able to talk about it and getting comfortable doing so.”
Linman also spoke with The Sopris Sun after the presentation and discussed the importance of having trauma-informed professionals in the mental health field. “Whether it’s mental health, suicide intervention, prevention, or sexual assault, its best to be informed. There is always a representation in any large audience [during these presentations] that have experienced the topic at hand. We as an organization have a responsibility to be trauma-informed and responsible in how we communicate,” she stated.
Linman added that Aspen Hope Center is available for presentations in all kinds of places. “We will come to you and personalize that presentation. We want to cast a wide net for the community,” she said.
If you suspect a child in your life is being abused, the resources below can help:
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-808-656-4673
Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault: 1-303-839-9999
Colorado Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline: 1-844-CO4-KIDS (1-844-264-5437)
Aspen Hope Center: aspenhopecenter.org