River Bridge Voices: Let the Words Fall Out

Welcome to River Bridge Regional Center's Blog. A space to share stories, experiences, and the perspective of children and families who utilize our services, the staff who work here, and other professionals dedicated to fighting child abuse.   
  


HIStory

posted Jul 12, 2017, 11:31 AM by Bridget Derkash   [ updated Jul 13, 2017, 10:46 AM ]


So, I have struggled with putting these words on paper because until now I’ve felt it wasn’t my story to share, but HIS story.  It’s the story of 2 amazing people – my husband and our youngest son.  I’ve been writing about our family for the past couple of years, but have avoided tackling the most important part of our family HIStory.    But recently my husband and son have OK’d my sharing THEIR stories and through it all, I now realize it is OUR story to share.   

In 2015, we learned that our youngest and then 16-year-old son had been molested when he was 12.  He had gone to a sleepover at a friend’s house and was molested by the boy’s father.  He came home and did not tell anyone until 4 years later. 

How did this happen?  We had been vigilant in protecting our children from molesters and could not believe it happened to OUR family.   In fact, we knew that this would NEVER happen to our children.   Boy, were we wrong.

You may be asking why we were so certain this would never happen to our children.  The answer:  My husband was the victim of incest by his father for much of his childhood.  He held the family secret to protect his mother and siblings and the family name.  He accepted the label “black sheep of the family” as he struggled alone trying to deal with what had happened to him.   He did his part and kept the secret.

Before we married, he shared his painful secret with me.  I had no idea and had known his family for many years.  When we married, we knew that we would never let his father or anyone hurt our children.  We made a vow that one of us would take care of our children – no nannies, no grandparents, no babysitters, no one.  We swore we would make sure that what happened to my husband would not continue in our family and would never hurt our children.  When our children got older, we only allowed them to go to sleepovers with several children.  Safety in numbers was our thought – again we were wrong. 

When we learned I was pregnant with our first child, we immediately starting planning to move away from our small hometown.  We settled on a town in Florida; 600 miles away from home and when our oldest child was 4 weeks old, we moved to start a new, safe, protected life for our family. 

We did it! We could keep the secret from our hometown and thrive in our new world.  We had 2 more children and all was great. My husband had a successful business and our children were thriving and safe.

Things began to unravel when my husband was in his early 40s; he developed a rare esophageal disorder that usually occurs in later years if at all.  He had surgery at Mayo Clinic and physically recovered, but emotionally the trauma from his childhood was “choking” him to death. 

The economy was slipping and all around us, people were losing their homes and livelihoods.  We decided to make a change and moved to a new town in a different state.  We moved West to Colorado. 

Once again, we felt this was the right thing to do for our family and it proved to be a great move for us as a family, and a terrible move for 2 of our 3 children. 

Our eldest son was bullied from the first day we moved to town.  It changed him and he became angry and rebellious.  He and my husband were butting heads non-stop.  When he was 16, the conflict was so strong that my husband finally told him why he as a dad was so angry and broken.  My husband wanted to let our son know that the rage that he had was not caused by our son or directed towards him.  

It has been years since this conflict started and thankfully their relationship started healing as soon as this was shared.  They have a great relationship today.

Our daughter and youngest son were 14 and 12 when my husband shared his story with our eldest.  They were, what we considered, not ready and not old enough to handle the fact that their grandfather had hurt their father so badly. 


So, it came as a complete shock when we learned that our youngest son had not only been molested, but also that we had had no idea.  How could we not have known?  How did we, of all people, not pick up on the signs of pain and suffering that he held?

Several months before our youngest son finally told us his story, my husband had told he and our daughter about their grandfather.  They were 16 and 18 and we felt that they needed to know. 

When our son finally shared his secret, we asked him – “why didn’t you tell us when this happened” and he said – “I was embarrassed”.  We then asked, “when dad told you about his life, why didn’t you tell us then”.    He said, “I felt like you already had too much to deal with.”  Those may have been the most heartbreaking words I’ve ever heard.  

The molester was convicted and is currently serving time.  He will be released soon and is planning to return to the town where he hurt our son.    When we recently went to a parole hearing, the molester had 17 signed letters of support from community members.  No one, other than my husband and me, was there to support our son. 

If you gain no other message from OUR story, I hope that you understand that it is a shared story.  I will never fully be able to relate to the pain and trauma that my son and husband endured, but I know how it touches the entire family.  Healing is still happening for us.  Sharing our story will hopefully help others know that they are not alone and that there is no shame for survivors.  


Vicki is a mother of three and an advocate for the prevention of child sexual abuse.  Vicki and her family were served by River Bridge after her son disclosed abuse. 





Where Silence Ends
Healing Begins 




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Bravery, Hope, Resiliency

posted Jun 12, 2017, 3:50 PM by Bridget Derkash   [ updated Jun 16, 2017, 12:14 PM ]


Myth: “Child abuse doesn’t happen in my community, it can’t happen in my family.” Yes, it does. Much more often than you think.   

I know that most people are not naive enough to think that child abuse doesn't happen, but like most difficult topics it is common to think, “Not here, not in my community” or “Yeah, I know it happens, but out of sight out of mind.”


1 out of 3 Girls and 1 out of 5 Boys experience child sexual abuse before they reach 18  

90% of Child sexual abuse victims know their perpetrator 

68% are abused by a family member


I am a Forensic Interviewer at River Bridge Regional Center based in Glenwood Springs, CO serving Garfield, Eagle, Pitkin, and Rio Blanco counties.  On a regular basis I have the privilege of bearing witness to stories of child sexual abuse, physical abuse and crimes that children witness.  In this unique position, not only do I hear a child’s experience, I ask for details that are personal, emotional, and often clouded by shame, guilt, and fear.  I do this as a stranger, someone the child has never met and will likely never see again.  I meet these brave children once, under some of the most terrible circumstances of their lives and I ask them to divulge the worst things that have ever happened to them.  

I am filled with a deep respect for the children I work with.  They define bravery, overcoming barriers that most would find insurmountable in an attempt to stop the abuse that they have endured.  They come forward knowing that they may not be believed.  Their abuser may be a family member, a friend, a loved one and to stop the abuse, the child must call them out.  In child sexual abuse cases, children are manipulated to keep the abuse secret and to maintain the status quo.  When I talk to kids they often wonder, Was it my fault? Did I make this happen? Children naturally want attention and when they seek this from a trusted adult, no child should be met with manipulation, exploitation, and abuse.  I want to tell them, “It is not your fault”.  Instead, I sit across from them and listen. I give the child space, knowing that in my role as a Forensic Interviewer, I cannot provide the reassurance the child is seeking.     

Kids are smart.  They know that by telling their secret their life will change.  Some kids know that it means they are going to get help.  That they may be able to get better, to overcome the pain and trauma that the abuse has caused in their life.  Other kids know that their family will have to choose sides.  Who will my grandma believe? Will I ever see my cousins again?  Some kids know that by telling they will have to move, they won't be able to afford the home they live in or that it is no longer safe.  But still they tell.  This is the bravery that I see, the pure courage that I wish I could harness and pass on to children who are still keeping the secret of abuse.

People often ask, “How can you do that kind of work?”  Or they will simply say, “Your job sounds awful.” I understand how my job can appear that way.  But what I experience are kids who still have hope.  They have the courage to tell their story and they trust that by disclosing their deepest secrets we will help them.  They have hope that the abuse will stop.  They have hope that their lives will get better.  They have hope that this will prevent the abuse from happening to their brothers and sisters.  They have hope that the thoughts that cloud their mind, that cause them deep pain will shrink and maybe even go away.  They have hope that by coming forward they will get justice for the years of their lives that were taken away. 

I have hope too.  For each child that discloses abuse, I know that they have taken a step toward healing.  My hope lies in their resiliency.  These experiences may never be forgotten and have likely changed the way these children will see the world.  With this first step of telling their secret and with a team of people in our community, my hope is that each child gets to rebuild their life.  I know with the right support, the right tools, each child I talk to can move forward and begin to live the life they deserve.



Bridget Derkash, MA, is a Forensic Interviewer and the Community Outreach Coordinator at River Bridge Regional Center.  She has her Master’s Degree in International Disaster Psychology from the University of Denver and has been working in the field of child abuse and neglect for the past 6 years.  Prior to River Bridge, Bridget worked for the Kempe Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse and Neglect as a Program Manager for SafeCare, Colorado.  



Where Silence Ends
Healing Begins 


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