Reflections

Starting a non-profit organization was a daunting but exciting adventure for me. When I first made the decision to make my dream a reality, I was unemployed, had just disclosed my own secret and not quite sure where to start. I had SO many reasons why I could NOT do it – No buckets of money, little experience in the non-profit world, no office space etc etc etc. I’d talk about this huge vision with such clarity but it was the starting and doing that was a challenge. The funny thing is that I have extensive experience in creating new programs and launching new ideas in the business world but this….this was different. This was my passion…my life…my dreams going to be made public and my perfectionism and pride was reeking havoc with my ability to just DO IT!

One evening I was attending a BBQ and there I met a woman who gently pushed me from the safety of my ‘what if’s’ and by her genuine enthusiasm at my vision quite simply said – “Just do it. Take the step, the path will become clear and it will happen.” Anytime I would start with a “but I don’t….” – she would repeat to me that whatever my excuse – it did not matter. I needed to do this thing that I was so passionate about. And so I did. My blogging and journal writing and dreaming became Voice Found – a nationally registered Non-Profit organization

2013 has been a year of tremendous growth

This past year, we really grew up as an organization. A lot of time has been spent working on charitable status application which has included the development of our governance documents and aligning our activities with our overall strategy. We have a volunteer board of directors who have worked together now for over a year and whose guidance and frank discussion I cherish. We have made a few mistakes and missed some opportunities but through it we have learned so much and developed a solid foundation for this organization to grow.

For a small organization consisting of volunteers who hold down full time jobs- we have accomplished much. In 2013 we traveled to Iqaluit and Saint John’s and across Ontario to deliver training. We met with numerous like-minded organizations and began building relationships that will allow us to work collaboratively to achieve our goals. We reached out to numerous youth-serving organizations to deliver training and have begun work on our survivor support initiatives. People who believe in our mission have kindly donated funds and organized fundraisers. We have strengthened our relationship with the Darkness to Light organization that developed the Stewards of Children training that we deliver and provided input for Canadian content in their workbook. We are now the only organization in Canada that has facilitators authorized to deliver the new version of Stewards of Children child sexual abuse prevention training.

Gratitude and Thanks

There have been many organizations and people who have supported us over the past couple of years and to list them all would take a lot of pages. To each person who ‘likes’ our Facebook page, each person who ‘tweets’ or ‘pins’ – thank you. To people who open doors for us – thank you. To media who invite us to speak or write about us – thank you. To organizations and individuals who donate funds or organize fundraisers – thank you. To the hundreds of people who attend our training and make a commitment to protect children from sexual predators – thank you. To the friends and family who encourage me to continue and help me to see my strength when I struggle- my gratitude and thanks to you for holding me up. To my children who have watched me as I heal from my own abuse and whose unconditional love has sustained me through many dark days…..thank you. I am honoured to be your mother.

My message to each of you is that if you want to keep children safe from sexual predators, there is something you can do. If you want to be proactive and do something – you can. You no longer need to express disgust at the news of yet another child sexual abuse story and think ‘oh how awful’ and then let it be till the next time. Take action and do something. Be it taking training, volunteering for us, or starting your own organization. Every single person on this planet has the ability to make a positive difference. Please let me know what YOU will do this year!

2014 is the year that Voice Found will make a LOT of noise. After all – sexual predators like silence.

Silent Night…..

It’s Christmas time. The time of celebrations, of traditions, of family togetherness, of ushering in a New Year. All is merry, all is bright…except when it’s not.

Imagine a house full of laughter, full of people who have known each other through the seasons of life’s many changes. Aunts and Uncles, brothers and sisters, cousins, all gathered for an annual sharing of the holiday season. In the kitchen, food laid out enough to feed the masses, enough to assure that nobody would go hungry or without a treat. In the dining room, a table with a punch bowl and wine, and of course, the whiskey that all good Irish ancestors still enjoy from time to time. In the basement, youngsters of many ages gathered and chatting, perhaps a game of cards underway. In the living room, the hum of voices engaged in story sharing, catching up on news, just being together again. Wouldn’t you want to be in that house on that night? Doesn’t it sound idyllic, wonderful, secure, festive?

Well, for one girl in the house that night, it was the beginning of a new and scary journey that would take a lifetime of learning to adjust. She thought she was safe too. In this home where so many happy times had been spent, where she was surrounded by extended family, where her parents were just down the hall. They were in the living room totally relaxed, safe in the knowledge that their children were all together in the heart of their family, off scattered happily throughout the house mingling with their aunts, uncles, and cousins. This girl would learn that night that people may be right down the hall but that doesn’t always keep you safe. And she would learn that even when someone was family and had been so nice to you all the times before, you could never know that they wouldn’t hurt you.

So many ‘lessons’ were learned that night. That something was wrong with her because she was the one he picked. That she wasn’t very smart because she should have been able to figure it out, should have known something was wrong. She would learn that things are not what they seem and that she was not who everyone thought she was. As the music played, and the laughter provided the backdrop, his hands taught her that her innocence was ended and a world she could no longer figure out was where she lived. And she had no words to explain any of it.  So after he was finished with her, she walked back down the hall and into the living room, and nobody noticed a thing. So she also learned that her pain was invisible and she thought she could hide that terrible, dirty secret, that had turned her whole world upside down. It was the beginning of a new year, of a new reality.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could open our eyes and see, really see, what is literally happening right around us? If we could look past what we want to believe to what is really happening? Child sexual abuse is epidemic. It happens inside warm houses, where trusted adults are present, in situations that are familiar. Abusers are often trusted individuals, well known to the family, or part of the extended family. If only someone had told me that then. If only someone had noticed.

5 Steps to Prevention – Step 2- Minimize Opportunity

Holiday-Step-Two-Minimize-Opportunity

Many thanks to our friend, Mary C. for this special blog post.

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Fashion Designer Diane Kroe Supports Voice Found

Diane Kroe has been supporting Voice Found since she met the founder in the spring of 2010. They immediately hit it off with their shared love of travel, fashion and a desire to stop children from being sexually abused.

Every show season, Diane raises money for Voice Found and ends a busy year in the founder’s home town of Ottawa. This year Diane has designed a gorgeous, reversible red and black dress called ‘Limitless Chiffon’ and she will be auctioning it off with all proceeds going to Voice Found.

You can see and bid on the dress at booth # 311 at Ottawa’s Originals Show that is taking place at the Ernst & Young Centre from December 12th to 22nd.

Bidding starts at $200.00 and if the dress is not your size – don’t worry, Diane will make one in your size. (allow 2 weeks) Bidding closes at the end of the day on December 21st and the winner will be announced and contacted that evening.

Please stop by and see Diane Kroe’s signature collections that embrace chic, smart styling to give glamorous detail to multi-function. These timeless, easy care, wrinkle-free pieces are perfect for any occasion and a must-have for travelling light.

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Giving Tuesday

Children are being sexually abused. Right now. In your neighbourhood. In your youth-serving organization. Perhaps even in your own home.

Voice Found knows that children can be protected from sexual predators but only if adults are provided with education and prevention information. With your support, we can deliver training to individuals, youth-serving organizations and communities across Canada.

Sexual predators are cunning. They are everywhere that children are. And it will take an army of educated, caring adults to stop them.

On this Giving Tuesday – Please consider making a donation to help us to keep children safe from sexual abuse. Simply click on the DONATE button on the top right of this webpage.

Universal Children’s Day

November 20th marks Universal Children’s Day and National Child’s Day in Canada.

What are YOU doing to ensure that children are growing up loved, protected and nurtured, able to grow up healthy, with their sexual boundaries intact?

About Universal Children’s Day

By resolution 836(IX) of 14 December 1954, the General Assembly recommended that all countries institute a Universal Children’s Day, to be observed as a day of worldwide fraternity and understanding between children. It recommended that the Day was to be observed also as a day of activity devoted to promoting the ideals and objectives of the Charter and the welfare of the children of the world. The Assembly suggested to governments that the Day be observed on the date and in the way which each considers appropriate. The date 20 November, marks the day on which the Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, in 1959, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, in 1989.

Predators

We’re often asked how it’s possible to identify a sexual predator or how do they gain access to a child. After all- most parents are diligent about the care of their children and would not ever leave them with someone they didn’t trust.

But here’s the thing – and this is really important – sexual predators are cunning. They are experts at selecting their victim and they take their time. They don’t just suddenly reach out and start touching a child inappropriately. They groom their victims AND the adults surrounding the child.

Here are a few things to keep in mind about pedophiles:
  1. They are predators. This means that they are sly, cunning, target their victims and choose settings where there will be children for them to prey upon.
  2. They do not look like pedophiles. Despite the fact that they are monsters – they don’t look like monsters. They look and act like everyone else.
  3. They do not act like pedophiles. Unless you know what to look for and are very astute and observing them over a period of time – you will not be able to pick them out of a crowd.
  4. They are not strangers. These are people who are known and trusted by the family, community and child. (only about 5% are strangers)
  5. They carefully groom their victims AND the people surrounding the child. Grooming is a process that is slowly and methodically played out. The child is subjected to different techniques that have the dual objective of weakening his/her defense and deceiving him/her to trust the offender. The grooming process even goes to the extent of convincing the parents or caretakers that the offender is a friendly and wholesome individual.
  6. They are everywhere. You may live in the nicest neighbourhood around and think that there is NO way a pedophile would be living there….and you would be dead wrong.
  7. They are both men and women. Yes. Women are sexual predators as well.
  8. They are family members of victims. Approximately 30%-40% of the time, children are sexually abused by family members.


A few words from some convicted child molesters.

“Parents are so naive—they’re worried about strangers and should be worried about their brother-in-law. They just don’t realize how devious we can be. I used to abuse children in the same room with their parents and they couldn’t see it or didn’t seem to know it was happening.”

“I was disabled and spent months grooming the parents, so they would tell their children to take me out and help me. No one thought that disabled people could be abusers.”

“Parents are partly to blame if they don’t tell their children about [sexual matters]—I used it to my advantage by teaching the child myself.”

“Parents shouldn’t be embarrassed to talk about things like this—it’s harder to abuse or trick a child who knows what you’re up to.”

We’re here to say that the protection of children from pedophiles is a responsibility of every adult in every community.

Learn The Facts

I found myself yelling at a news story the other night. I was so frustrated by the continued misconception that criminal background checks and not allowing one adult with one child are enough to keep kids safe from sexual predators in youth-serving organizations. It’s a start – but it is far from enough.

Make no mistake – anyplace there are children, is the very place where a pedophile will be.

So often when these pedophiles are caught, you will hear people who know them gasp in astonishment and disbelief:

  • ‘He was such a great guy and always pitched in to help out’
  • ‘such an upstanding member of the community’
  • ‘I would have never expected her to have done something like this’
  • ‘we live in a good community – how could my neighbour have been doing this!’.

Well, here’s the truth about sexual predators – THEY ARE PREDATORS! They are the man or woman who works or volunteers where there are children. They will go out of their way to help out. They are cunning and smart and take their time to lull adults around them into a false sense of security. And they will strike when they know that the trust has been earned not only by the child but also by the adults that surround the child.

Criminal background check? Don’t think for a moment that a vulnerable sector screening or criminal background check is enough. It will only identify someone who has been charged and found guilty. So many sexual predators have not been caught and therefore will not have a record. Organizations that serve youth – and parents who send their children to these organizations – need to ask questions of each other, consistently and regularly.

Child sexual abuse is a very complex issue. Sadly, not many take the time to learn the facts and how to prevent it. It is NOT something that should be left to children. This is an adult and a community responsibility. Landlords nowadays can have their new tenants’ backgrounds checked thoroughly to see if they have a record for abuse or criminal activities, it’s a step forward to protecting the one’s dearest to us in their own neighborhood. The AAOA (American Apartment Owners Association) run the background checks.

Let’s learn the facts and let’s keep children safe from sexual predators.

Want to know more? Learn about the Prevention Training we offer.

Ready to take ACTION? Register for training or ask us to deliver one at YOUR organization.

Suicide and Child Sexual Abuse

I am writing this on the eve of World Suicide Prevention Day 2013. Over the years, I have shared some stories on my personal blog about my own experiences with suicide. Sadly, I have lost three family members to suicide – one of whom had been sexually abused as a child.

My own struggles with disclosure and early days of recovery included suicidal thoughts. Depression, deep shame, unrelenting panic attacks, PTSD, and overwhelming feelings of guilt were constant companions. As I began to face the reality of what had happened to me – rather than numb with drugs or minimize it- I just felt that I could not possibly work through the pain. I went through days where there was complete absence of feeling which were just as horrible as the days filled with pain. I hated myself so completely that from the age of 5 until age 52, I could not look into my eyes when I looked in a mirror.

I am one of the lucky ones. There was just the smallest flicker of a spark deep inside of me kept me from succumbing to the darkness that I craved.

When children are sexually abused and do not get help, or do not tell, or tell and are not believed – the possibility of suicide is one of the many consequences of that abuse. Childhood sexual abuse is a strong predictor of suicide in adolescence according to this study published in May 2013.

It’s World Suicide Prevention Day. Let’s each of us consider what we can do to help our fellow (wo)man to feel healthy, whole and accepted. Let’s consider how we might be able to protect children from sexual abuse. Let’s consider how we react to another’s sadness or change in behaviourin the workplace. Will we stand by and judge without trying to understand what may be the cause? Or will we act with compassion? Will we lend a helping hand or will we assume they have the help they need?

Canada’s theme this year is ‘Hope and Resiliency at Home and Work’. We encourage you to take some time and look at the Mental Health Commission of Canada website and learn more about the issue of suicide and what you can do to help save lives….including your own.

Know What to do to Help Prevent Suicide

T – TELL – If you are having thoughts of suicide, TELL someone exactly what you are saying to yourself, as directly and clearly as possible. Don’t stop at one person, find several people who take you seriously and are willing to help.

A – ASK – Once you have a suspicion that someone might be thinking about suicide, ASK them exactly that, as directly, clearly and as soon as possible.

L – LISTEN – Encourage the person to TALK by being a good LISTENer. Their TALKing (to someone who is really LISTENing) can be very helpful, all by itself.

K – KEEP SAFE – Now is not the time to solve all the problems. NOW is the time to do something that keeps them safe. Do not promise secrecy. Remove any means that might be used to complete a suicide act. GET HELP!*

*from Mental Health Commission of Canada website

If only…

This work we do is not for the faint of heart. It can be a real challenge to get people to listen at times.

There is support by like-minded groups and individuals but these are the people that understand the issue of child sexual abuse. They have a frame of reference. They’ve been abused as a child or have witnessed the devastation first-hand. They know how complex the relationship between an abuser and child can be. That it takes much more than teaching a child about good touch vs bad touch. They understand that children are not responsible for thwarting the cunning ways of the pedophile. These are the people who understand what happens if a child does not disclose or is not believed if they do. They know how to react to disclosure. They know how to watch out for the children in their community. These are the people who refuse to turn their heads away from this ugly topic and acknowledge that it is a HUGE and COMPLEX issue that warrants the attention of every single adult.

Sadly – these people are not enough. We keep preaching to the choir.

What we need is a way to get all the others…the silent ones, the ‘it doesn’t affect me’ ones, the ‘it can’t be that bad’ ones to pay attention……to learn the facts….and then to take action.

If only……..If only I could drag every person to a workshop to learn about child sexual abuse and how to prevent it.

What a difference it would make for the children in our world

blog post by Cynthia Bland, Founder, Voice Found

Shame

You lower your eyes as if that very act will hide you from view. You turn from the goodness that is being offered.   How can anyone want to be your  friend…want to know you….want to love you?  What happened to you leaves you feeling so ashamed.

You feel tarnished. Unworthy. You separate yourself from others before you have to bear witness to their discomfort or embarrassment when faced with the facts of the abuse.  You can almost feel their revulsion.  You feel such shame. The fear of rejection is so painful and yet you are rejecting yourself when you feel ashamed.

It is time to stop. Shame is what your abuser should feel. Not you.