Trigger warning: This article mentions childhood sexual abuse and grooming.
River Bridge Regional Center and Roaring Fork Schools will host an open presentation with a special guest speaker, Torey Ivanic, at the Roaring Fork School District offices in Carbondale on Sept. 1 from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. This presentation is to raise awareness about child abuse, specifically sexual abuse, and how to recognize the signs of “grooming” to keep children safe from predators. Other speakers will include the development director of River Bridge, Mary Ann Cloud, and Sonia Lindman from Aspen Hope Center. The event will include dinner provided by White House Pizza at 5 p.m.
River Bridge is a nonprofit advocacy organization based in Glenwood Springs with the mission of providing collaborative services to child victims of abuse and their families. They also focus on bringing informative and educational services to the community. River Bridge works closely with law enforcement and human services departments in Garfield, Pitkin, Eagle and Rio Blanco counties to aid with investigations. Additionally, they also provide mental and medical health resources to child victims and their non-offending family members.
The Sopris Sun sat down with Cloud to discuss the presentation and its relevance.
“We [River Bridge] rely on the school districts because they — our teachers, administrators, counselors, and coaches — are our mandatory reporters,” she said.
Cloud explained that in addition to parents, teachers and mentors are the ones seeing children at critical times to identify potential abuse or neglect happening within the home or elsewhere.
The special guest speaker, Ivanic, is an advocate for sexual abuse prevention and the author of “No Big Deal”, a book that vulnerably recounts her story of being groomed and abused by her gymnastics coach, how she came to realize it was abuse and her journey of healing and seeking justice. Ivanic will speak about her personal experience and educate attendees on how to look out for grooming tactics to protect our children.
Cloud said she felt it was important to do this collaborative project with the school district and Ivanic because of the sentiment conveyed by Ivanic’s book: that secrets are a big deal. Often in cases of child sexual abuse, children will be groomed by their abusers into thinking the opposite, that what is happening is no big deal. Children may be scared to tell someone what happened or may view the abuse as normal.
“I wanted to bring her words and experience to our valley and our community because we are not immune. As much as it’s a lovely place where we live — and we do believe that our community is relatively safe compared to other places — we are still not immune to child abuse and neglect,” stated Cloud.
Cloud added that she hopes those attending the presentation will walk away with knowledge, skills and strategies that will allow them to better advocate for the children in their lives, whether that is their own or those they teach, guide or coach.
“We don’t want to see child abuse in our community,” she continued. “And the way to achieve that is through education within our community. In regards to grooming, we want them to know grooming techniques and how to be on the lookout, and how to respond. I am hoping that we’re going to have definite questions and discussions about making sure our kids are safe; and what prevention could look like for a parent, what prevention could look like for a teacher, coach or counselor.”
According to The Rape and Incest National Network, better known as RAINN, sexual abuse against children is rarely committed by a stranger, and children are more likely to be victimized by someone that they know and/or are close to. According to statistics on their website, sourced from the United States Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Justice, 59% of perpetrators are acquaintances or family friends, 34% of perpetrators are family members of the victims and only 7% of these crimes are committed by strangers or people that are not well known to the victim.
It has also been found that one in nine girls and one in 53 boys under the age of 18 have experienced sexual abuse or assault at the hands of an adult; and females aged 16-19 are four times more likely than the general public as a whole to be victims of rape, attempted rape or sexual abuse.
If you suspect that a child in your life is being abused, the resources below can help.
RAINN crisis number : 1-808-656-4673
Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault:
1-303-839-9999 and 1-844-CO4-KIDS (1-844-264-5437)