Heath's Case

Hear us, even if we only whisper.

I have been deeply moved by the recent stories about Child Advocacy Centers, and how they aid children, who have been abused, to talk to those that can and will aid them.

A few weeks ago there was a story on the news about these centers in the state of Arkansas and how they need the donations of outsiders to help pay for the services they offer. I would like to personally encourage everyone that has ever heard about my case or the numerous other cases of child abuse, to donate to these centers. These are tough times for a lot of people, money is always tight when you have a family, yet whatever you tithe to these centers, it serves those God already asks of you.

Children are unable to fight and stand up for themselves and they especially need those who can be their voice, who can protect them and bring justice against those that mistreat them. As a child, I never felt that there was anyone that I could turn to that could or would help me, and because my abuse came from different places and people, I struggled to know who I could trust.

My father was physically and emotionally abusive when he was around, so when he sought a man that could serve as a mentor, unfortunately, it was a pedophile posing as a Boy Scout leader – Jack Walls.

As a child that had reached out to several people, anyone from coaches to teachers, about my father’s abuse, I came to accept the fact that I was never going to escape that unhealthy relationship. He was, after all, my father. No one wants to get involved with what they consider a “family” matter.  Later, when I was sexually abused by my Scout leader, this man told me that no one would ever believe if I told because it was my word against his.

Jack Walls was a prominent person in the community. His dad was a popular and powerful former judge and lawyer, and he made a point to prey on families that would never want to combat him and his family name even if it was their child abused. He used intimidation, threats based on secrets he pulled from his victims about their families, physical threats of violence or death .

Advocacy Centers (ACs) offer a child the chance at a safe environment; one in which they can share their experiences with those they can trust and that understand. The victims do not have to worry that their voice will be lost in the noise of image management. Many times parents feel shame for not recognizing what a dangerous person they have entrusted their child to and, once abused, the parents feel as if they have failed their child.

My parents meant well; Jack Walls, my Scout leader, was known for his work with difficult or challenging children. Ignore a voice long enough, however, and the child no longer believes they have one. Once the child believes that they no longer have a voice, that no one cares or will listen, then the lies that an abuser uses to manipulate seem all the more true and real. If no one hears what a child says, or comprehends what the child is saying, then no one can claim that the child didn’t try.

Many times I have been told that I should have told more people; I should have kept trying. Those words often came from those that didn’t hear, understand, or failed to act on what was said. As a child, I did say what I felt which should have made my suffering clear, because I said over and over that I didn’t want to be around that person or be involved in Scouting anymore. Maybe I whispered when I should have yelled – nevertheless, the words were said.

In the end, I told my mom and sister what Jack had been doing to me, and they paid for that secret with their lives. No, not all abusers go to the ends that mine did to suppress a secret, and not all abusers have connections to people that can shield them from prosecution. I am only sharing in an effort to help you see why these centers are so vital – they employ professionals trained to fight for the child.

ACs can help ensure that adults won’t suppress secrets in an effort to protect their family name, business, or image in the community. ACs will help the child’s voice become a permanent record that can be used in court, and the child’s rights can be defended even if their innocence can’t be reclaimed.

We need these independent centers that can help children overcome all the challenges they face in bringing their abuse to an end. I believe that had there been a center available for me, then my family would be alive today. My mother could have gone to the center to get help for me, for our whole family, instead of going to a minister that would never report the abuse to anyone; not when my mom reported that she saw Jack in our home, not when I told him that Jack made me do what I did, not even when Jack showed up at my defense team’s meeting with family and friends asking if I had implicated anyone in the crimes. [See blog on mandatory reporting of child abuse, not reported in my case.]

My abuser was able to overcome every obstacle in his past to be exposed, and I was a broken child who, after years of being ignored, believed I deserved what happened to me. I needed a center full of people that wouldn’t have been intimidated, paid off, or promised favors to; to help me have the courage to face down a man that had torn my soul apart.

I am confident Wade Knox (read more about Wade’s story and the Advocacy Center named after him.) would be alive today, if he had been able to go to a place or to people who would have helped, but back then everyone wanted to help Jack or blame us victims for not doing more. Yes, we defended our abuser for years, hiding the secrets that no one wanted to hear. Most of us came from families who had their own secrets, like mine, where my father was abusive, but in a way much different than that I was subject to by Jack. You see, I needed more than just help to face and bring down my abuser; that help didn’t come from teachers, coaches, preacher, or anyone else. Why? How in the world was I to believe that people would listen to me talk about Jack doing all he did to me and the other boys, when no one would even listen to what my dad was doing?

I hope that by my sharing, you will be moved to make a difference, adding your donations to the centers and those that work in them.  I also ask God to bless those that take on an often thankless job, yet a crucial one. Please ask others to donate, share a link to any of the centers with others, and share what I have here so that others know how important these safe places are for children.

I would also like to call your attention to the efforts of Mrs. Susan Hutchison, wife of the Governor, who is doing all she can to assist these centers and provide a platform that encourages the attention abuse victims need. [see links below]

The Governor, also, has been very verbal about his support of abuse victims, and I know that during his time as the leader of our state, we have someone that has a powerful voice and the power to be heard. I pray that they both, through their efforts and desire to aid children, find that God blesses them and works through them in ways even they can’t imagine.

It comforts me that such a huge effort is being made to finally help society come to grips with how wide-spread child abuse is, and what we all can do to stop it and keep it from happening further.

I would also like to encourage law enforcement and other professionals that have to interact with children, concerning abuse, to look into the interviewing exercise that is part of a week-long course called Child First . I read about this training, which pairs interviewers with an actor who plays the role of the child, and it enables those involved to better understand how the child thinks and feels. The Arkansas Commission on Child Abuse, Rape, and Domestic Violence pays for participants to attend the 40-hour course.

Children do need someone they can trust, and I applaud those determined to help those in criminal justice to better serve them. A child needs you to ask the right questions, but ultimately, need you to understand their answers.

LINKS:

Children’s Advocacy Centers of Arkansas

Children’s Advocacy Centers of Arkansas

Article re Susan Hutchison

First Lady Susan Hutchison Champions Children’s Advocacy Centers of Arkansas

Arkansas State Police – Crimes Against Children Division

ACASA – Arkansas Coalition Against Sexual Assault – Important Links listing numerous organizations ready to assist in any way possible.

Arkansas.gov Child Abuse, Rape, Domestic Violence Commission, Arkansas

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