New Orleans Children’s Advocacy Center Provides a Safe Haven for Sexually Abused Children

New Orleans Children’s Advocacy Center Provides a Safe Haven for Sexually Abused Children

According to the New Orleans Children’s Advocacy Center, one in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before turning 18, and 20% of these victims are under the age of eight. Most children, perhaps due to fear of repercussions or confusion as to what is exactly happening to them, never talk to anyone about the abuse, and fewer than 30% of parents have ever discuss the details of sexual abuse with their children. And why would they? No one ever really thinks that their children will be victims of this crime, but when it does happen, it’s important not to ignore it, educate your children and, most of all, let them know that in no way, shape or form is it their fault. Kristin Petry of the NOCAC discusses how this non-profit helps victims and their families deal with these life-changing situations and how to prevent them in the future.

The NOCAC located at 1101 Calhoun Street in New Orleans.
The NOCAC located at 1101 Calhoun Street in New Orleans.

Petry is a Louisiana native who grew up in Covington and graduated from LSU. After college, she realized that her true passion was to help others, and she was immediately drawn to the non-profit sector in New Orleans. She then joined the AmeriCorps program through the Corporation for National and Community Service. AmeriCorps engages nearly 80,000 men and women in service to address issues in the community regarding education, poverty, health, disaster relief and other critical issues. The NOCAC was one of the partnering non-profits, and so she signed up for a year of intensive service and has continued with them beyond the time required, finding her passion in helping abused children.

What is your role at NOCAC? Working for a nonprofit has allowed me to work in many areas and use my skills and talents.  I oversee all intern and volunteer work that occurs at the center, including supervising volunteers while they entertain children to overseeing major research projects and publications that interns are working on. I also coordinate all of our fundraising and awareness events.  Last spring, we introduced our first major fundraiser Hats On to End Abuse at the New Orleans Fair Grounds Race Course and Slots.  At this event, we not only raised money and awareness for our cause, but also honored our partnering agencies that work every day to find solutions to child abuse. I also work with the child and family when they arrive at the NOCAC in order to make them feel comfortable and ready for the next steps of the investigative process. 

What are all the services that NOCAC provides and how do you help the children? Whenever there is an allegation of child abuse, a child will first come to the NOCAC to receive a forensic interview, accompanied by a child protection worker or law enforcement that is investigating the case. Here the child and family will also receive referrals for counseling and anything else they may need. They will also receive a forensic medical examination by licensed forensic pediatricians at the Audrey Hepburn CARE Center, co-located with the NOCAC.  The NOCAC serves as a safe haven for children and families as they go through the investigative process. We also offer a variety of training in efforts to prevent child abuse, including Darkness to Light: Stewards of Children, Non-Offending Parents, Mandatory Reporting, Teen Sex and the Law, and monthly CARE Sessions. 

What are the roles of others—including interns— who work at NOCAC?  We have a team of hard-working individuals that combat child abuse at every level and work alongside the multidisciplinary team to determine what is in the best interest of each child. We strive to end abuse through prevention at each level and believe education is the best way end the epidemic of child abuse. We offer a variety of prevention and education programs throughout the year presented by our staff members around the community. 

Our staff and contract interviewers have specialized training in conducting forensic interviews.  In accordance with Louisiana law, they use a nationally approved protocol based model for questioning the child victim that video recorded and is an admissible piece of evidence in court. These interviews are essential to the legal process, as they ask the child non-leading, non-shaming, and non-blaming questions that and prevent the child from being re-interviewed multiple times. Prior to Children’s Advocacy Centers, a child was interviewed an average of 11 times.  By videotaping the interview, the child only has to describe what happened to him or her once, thus cutting down on excess trauma. 

Our interns—who range from undergrads to PhD students— and volunteers work on a variety of projects and research.  In addition to working with the children who come to the center, they are currently submitting and conducting research on the effectiveness on three campaigns: Dear Parents, which is a photo campaign to help parents learn effective discipline and end child abuse, Beyond Mandatory Reporting that covers Louisiana mandatory reporting laws and Teen, Sex, and the Law, a family program regarding the laws of sexual activity and penalties in Louisiana.

Buttons in the wishing jar remind staff at NOCAC of the wonderful services they provide.
Buttons in the wishing jar remind staff at NOCAC of the wonderful services they provide.

Describe the most touching moment you experienced at NOCAC. Luckily, the most touching moments I experience at the NOCAC happen every day. We take a moment after each child has had their forensic interview or medical evaluation to praise the child for their bravery in disclosing the abuse that happened to them. A staff member or volunteer will show the child to a large jar of hundreds of unique buttons and ask them to pick a special button so that we can remember them. The child tells us why they picked this button, why it is so special and then make a wish put it in our wishing jar. We call these Buttons for Bravery. At the end of each year we have a jar full of buttons that serves as a visual representation of the number of children seen at the NOCAC, serving as daily reminder to all of the staff that we are here to serve these children and ensure they are safe from any future abuse or maltreatment.  

Do you have advice for others who want to get involved in NOCAC? Volunteer! Volunteering is the best way to give back to the community. If you do not have the time to volunteer, you can simply like us on Facebook to gain more insight and information into our organization. Or, visit our website.