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.   
  


Switching Our Lens

posted Mar 22, 2018, 12:07 PM by Bridget Derkash   [ updated Mar 22, 2018, 12:25 PM ]


Switching Our Lens

Katie sat across from me after disclosing a sexual assault by a classmate. The abuse was over, she had done everything right. She told a trusted adult what had happened, the adult made a report to the police, the police were investigating, and she was receiving supportive services for the healing process.  However, she knew, just like so many others, that her path to recovery was going to be an uphill battle.  She attended the same school as her offender and in our victim-blaming culture, she knew she would not be receiving the support she needed from her community.  It was simple because she knew how she would react if it had happened to someone else.  She explained, "If this didn’t happen to me, I wouldn’t be on my side. I would be on their side, I wouldn’t believe me.” Though she had just been through a horrible event and knew what happened was not her fault, she also knew that her community would be judging her and likely be blaming her.  That all eyes would be on her and her offender would remain invisible, shielded by the narrative that this was her fault.  


We live in a culture of victim-blaming.  Most, including myself, don’t want to believe this.  It is much easier to believe that if someone we know and cared for came forward and told us of a sexual assault we would believe them and we would take the actions needed to be on their side.  Yet, blaming and shaming is so enmeshed in our perspective of sexual assault, it guides the way we process what happened and the questions we ask.  Often we jump to thoughts of, how did the victim get into that situation, they should have known better, I wouldn’t have done that, or do they have an ulterior motive? 

The challenge with dismantling victim-blaming attitudes lies in the fact that is so pervasive that most people do it automatically. The repeated narrative that the victim is at fault, is often the only narrative that is heard.  So, the question becomes how do we switch our lens and challenge this deeply rooted and destructive view of sexual assaults? 

We need to shift our focus from what the victim did or didn’t do and look at the offender and their actions.  Start by asking yourself what would a decent person do in the same situation?  Would they take advantage of someone?  Would they assault them? We hold victims to the highest standard. If they don't do everything right, they are to blame.  However, when it comes to an offender, we often do not hold them to an average standard, their disrespectful, mean, and abusive behaviors somehow pass through our judgment and are often left invisible.  

When all attention is on the victim it becomes even more difficult for people to come forward and disclose abuse.  Like Katie, they are left feeling alone, isolated, and without the support they need to heal. 

I challenge you, to start taking proactive steps to create a survivor supportive culture today.  Below are steps that we can all take.  Let’s build a community of support where everyone is held to a high standard, not just the victim.  


8 Actions to Switch the Lens
  1. Refocus your attention from the victim to the offender.  What did he/she do? What would a decent person do in the same situation?
  2. Challenge victim blaming statements when you hear them.  Help others switch their lens from the victim’s actions to the offender’s actions. 
  3. Let survivors know it’s not their fault.  This is the most important message we can give to support resiliency in survivors.  Let them know you are on their team.  
  4. Hold offenders accountable.  No one should get one free rape or assault.  If someone has broken the law they should be held accountable and they should be receiving treatment so it doesn’t happen again. 
  5. Report abuse.  Teenagers are children.  When a sexual assault happens to a teenager adults have a duty to report to law enforcement to help keep them safe.
  6. Support survivors in getting treatment.  Teenagers are resilient if they have the right tools to help them through a traumatic event.  Don’t let this shape their life.
  7. Don’t let a teenager or their family decide what legal steps need to be taken.  Not only does this put the weight of the world on a child, it doesn’t keep the community safe.    
  8. Hold the media accountable.  We see victim-blaming in the news all the time, use your voice to point out their victim-blaming biases. 




Where Silence Ends
Healing Begins


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http://co4kids.org/




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Mountain West SANE Alliance has a Permanent Home with River Bridge Regional Center

posted Jan 15, 2018, 12:30 PM by Bridget Derkash   [ updated Jan 23, 2018, 9:16 AM ]

Mountain West SANE Alliance has a Permanent Home with  River Bridge Regional Center

River Bridge Regional Center is happy to announce that Mountain West SANE Alliance has a permanent home under the River Bridge Regional Center umbrella.  In 2012 the Roaring Fork Valley lost its Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) Program, leaving our community vulnerable and victims of sexual assault with inadequate services.  A small group of dedicated professionals came together to reinstate the needed services that victims in our community require, they formed the Mountain West SANE Alliance (MWSA).  With dedication and tireless work, this group of individuals was able to reestablish services to our community and in 2016, MWSA conducted its first SANE Examination. 


MWSA has continued to work tirelessly, however with limited funding, mounting volunteer hours, and borrowed space the longevity of the program was in question. To ensure that our community does not lose its adult SANE program again, River Bridge will provide the structure and leadership that is necessary for the permanency of the program.

River Bridge Executive Director Blythe Chapman is dedicated to creating a safer and stronger community.  “Unfortunately when Valley View Hospital closed the SANE program in 2012, victims of assault in our community had to travel to Frisco or Grand Junction for this essential service.  Due to the travel hardship, many patients decided against an exam.  We fear that even more did not report assault because of the lack of services available.  All victims of assault deserve the dignity, respect, and specialized medical care that a forensic nurse examiner can offer.  We feel that it is unacceptable for our community to get by without a SANE program.   This is why River Bridge has stepped up to provide the administration and oversight to a much needed service in our community.  We have many nurses in our valley who are engaged, committed and enthusiastic about SANE.  The program will experience strength and longevity with the right management.” 

Under River Bridge Regional Center’s direction, Mountain West SANE Alliance is already growing. The program currently has four nurses on contract who are able to provide exams to the 9th Judicial District which includes, Garfield, Pitkin, and Rio Blanco counties. In addition, there are six nurses who are currently in training and will begin examinations in early and mid-2018.  

Forensic Nurses who conduct SANE exams are specially trained in medical, psychological, and forensic examination of sexual assault victims.  Ensuring that victims of sexual assault receive the highest standard of medical care and are treated with dignity and respect. Forensic nurses provide trauma-informed care. They identify physical and emotional trauma, document injuries, collect evidence, provide pregnancy and STD prevention medications, and make necessary referrals.  Mountain West SANE Alliance enhances evidence collection for criminal proceedings and supports effective investigations and better prosecutions


Adult victims of sexual assault can make an anonymous report.  A victim can choose to obtain a medical forensic exam and not to participate in the criminal justice system. Any evidence collected and information given to law enforcement is released without victim identifying information. When evidence is collected as part of the medical forensic exam for an anonymous reporting victim, they consent to evidence storage only, and do not have the option of evidence testing. Evidence and information is stored for at least two years by local law enforcement and a victim has the right at any time to file a law enforcement report, thereby converting from an anonymous report to a law enforcement report.  Mountain West SANE Alliance is happy to take calls from individuals seeking information about our services and encourage advocates to inform adult victims of the opportunity to speak with a nurse directly if they are hesitant to contact law enforcement after an assault. 

Mountain West SANE Alliance is available to answer calls 24/7.  However, the nurse response for this community-based program is not “on call”.  There will be times when nurses will not be available for examinations.  Every effort will be made to arrange exams in a timely manner and locally if possible.  As Mountain West SANE Alliance continues to grow under River Bridge Regional Center leadership the goal is to ensure that every victim of sexual assault receives the specialized medical care that a forensic nurse examiner can offer.    

To request an exam, patients and/or law enforcement may call Garfield County Dispatch at 970-625-8095 and request a call back from the “on call nurse”.  Currently, MWSA has an exam site at Rifle Public Health and we will have an additional site in Glenwood Springs opening in early 2018.  All children and adolescents who are victims of sexual assault will continue to be seen for medical care at River Bridge Regional Center in Glenwood Springs.



Where Silence Ends
Healing Begins




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http://co4kids.org/




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River Bridge Regional Center History

posted Dec 12, 2017, 1:01 PM by Bridget Derkash   [ updated Dec 12, 2017, 3:48 PM ]


This December 2017 marks the 10 year anniversary of River Bridge opening its doors to child abuse victims and their families.  

As the old cliché goes, you can't know where you are going until you know where you have been.

The work began way before the doors opened.  Joyce Bulifant Perry and the Rotary Club of Carbondale – Aspen Glen (now known as the Mt. Sopris Rotary Club) worked tirelessly to make their dream come true. Child Advocacy Centers were not new (the movement began in the early 1990’s) but the concept was new to our community.  It took a lot of education, relationship building and fundraising to make the Center a reality.  The Rotary Club raised over $102,000 for the Center, the Garfield County Commissioners agreed to build a $600,000 building and the national non-profit organization, Child Help, offered to provide the administration for the program.  The Child Help River Bridge Center (fka) opened its doors in December 2007 with a Director and a Victim Advocate on staff. In addition, Garfield County Department of Human Services provided a forensic interviewer, Susan Whiting, and a mental health therapist, Meghan Hurley Backofen on site.  Meghan has been our center’s one constant over the years and continues to provide hope and healing for child abuse victims and our community.


With a rough start in the Director position, in 2008 the Center was lucky enough to have Susan Ackerman join the team.  Susan provided stability for the organization and led the team to successful National Children’s Alliance accreditation in 2010.

Also in 2010, the DHS forensic interviewer resigned her position to move her family east.  At that time the Center focused on building a more diverse forensic interviewer team.  A successful team is essential to providing consistent and professional forensic interviews for children.  Our Center has been lucky enough to have agreements with partner agencies to provide professional interviews.  Interviewers have been provided over the years by Garfield County Department of Human Services, Rifle Police Department, Garfield County Sheriff’s Office, Carbondale Police Department, Basalt Police Department, Aspen Police Department, in addition to individual contract employees paid by River Bridge.  (Dina Prieto, Linda Consuegra, Megan Alstatt).  In April 2012, River Bridge had the opportunity to hire a full-time forensic interviewer/community outreach coordinator.  Today we have Bridget Derkash flourishing in this position.  And last year we had grown so much that we were in the position of hiring a part-time forensic interviewer as well.  We were happy to welcome Anais Hernandez to this role in October 2017.

Our Victim Advocate position is the most important and the most difficult job we have at River Bridge.  We have had a total of six people in this position since the doors opened in 2007.  In December 2013 we hired Lori Bennett.  Lori is our “air traffic controller” and the face of our advocacy center.  Our clients know that they can count on Lori.

The River Bridge medical program was created by Lauren Gueriera.  Lauren was a founding task force member and at the time the center opened was the SANE program coordinator at Valley View Hospital.  Our medical program has grown into what it is today because of Kelley Hill.  Kelley spent the first year volunteering her time with River Bridge after VVH closed their sex assault nurse examiner (SANE) program in 2012.  So far in 2017, Kelley has seen over 60 children for medical services at River Bridge.  Today we are looking towards continued growth of our medical program.  River Bridge will be taking the Mountain West SANE Alliance under our umbrella starting in January 2018.  The program has four nurses on contract currently and another five nurses are in training to do SANE exams.

In August 2011, Child Help River Bridge hired me (Blythe Chapman) as the Director.  At the time I wasn’t sure I was the best person for the job.  However, I quickly realized that this was exactly what I was supposed to do with my career.  I am so happy that my good friend Meghan Backofen called me that day and convinced me to apply.

It was very apparent within a few weeks of being on the job that our Colorado program’s relationship with the national non-profit, Child Help, was strained.  Although our community had grown to rely upon the organization and financially support the program in many ways, Child Help was having trouble paying bills for many programs throughout the country.  I learned that our partners and local advisory board had been working on fixing this problem for some time.  Within a year of being on the job, Child Help had turned off our credit card (our only way to buy supplies for the center) and was threatening to not make payroll, and I learned that a CAC in another state had closed its’ doors.  I knew that we had to do something or our center would do the same.

In May 2012, I met with Sheriff Lou Vallario and Chief Terry Wilson.  They both promised that they would not see their center close its’ doors.  Lou and Terry pulled together a Board of Directors to include Jeff Cheney (Assistant DA at the time) and attorney Scott Balcolm.  Lou hired our staff and we successfully split from Child Help.

By September 2012, River Bridge Regional Center had been created and had our own 501c3 non-profit status.  In January 2013, River Bridge had our first employee, Blythe Chapman.  Exactly one year from obtaining non-profit status, we no longer had any salary support from the Sheriff’s office. Today we have a 100% community Board of Directors, over five months of reserve in the bank and stable funding.  We pay our bills on time and we are a local non-profit in good standing with the State of Colorado, our funders and our partners.


River Bridge Regional Center has served over 1,500 children and their non-offending family members since opening our doors.  RBRC now serves the four-county area of Garfield, Pitkin, Rio Blanco, and Eagle. This is an area covering 8,800 square miles with a population of over 132,000. In 2016 we saw 208 children.  This is a 160% increase over our first year of operation. In 2017 to date we have already seen over 200 children.  We experience an increase in children and families served every year and we expect to continue to experience this increase.  We have outgrown our space and will expand physically in 2018.  Our budget has grown from less than $200k a year to over $500k in 2018.

We are excited to experience where the next 10 years takes us!  We know that we wouldn’t be here today without the vision and work of many, many people.  We are here tonight to honor those who made this program a reality.


http://www.riverbridgerc.org/





Where Silence Ends
Healing Begins 




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http://co4kids.org/





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Part of the Solution

posted Nov 27, 2017, 11:16 AM by Bridget Derkash

My name is Lindsay Gould I am a board member and volunteer at River Bridge Regional Center. I want to share how I became involved with this amazing organization.

River Bridge Regional Center envisions a community where children are safe, families are strong, and where all abused children are believed, supported and able to heal.

River Bridge Regional Center is a nationally accredited nonprofit child advocacy center, utilizing a child-centered, multidisciplinary approach to the prevention, assessment, treatment, and investigation of child abuse. 

Within River Bridge’s warm, child-friendly environment, they provide hope and healing to neglected and abused children and their families through treatment, advocacy, and investigation services.



I have always been a very sensitive person and as a child was very imaginative. When someone tells me a story, I picture each scene in my mind and imagine how it would feel to be in that story. As an adult, my imaginative ability to picture myself in different scenes wasn’t such a gift like it was in childhood.

I gave birth to my first child in August of 2013 and I distinctly remember several different stories right after I had my son that deeply affected me. One was a story I heard about a newborn while I was still in the hospital, another; a news story of abuse, and the third another horrific abuse story I heard from my sister in law that to this day I have not had the courage to google for fear it is true. As a new mother, I couldn’t bear to imagine some of the things that I know happen in this world. I became depressed and consumed with thinking about these awful scenarios.  I made a decision that I could be depressed about the stories that I hear on the news every day, I could bury my head and pretend it doesn’t happen, or I could get involved in becoming part of the solution. I chose the latter.  


http://www.riverbridgerc.org/get-involved/learn-about-abuse

I have very much enjoyed being part of River Bridge and while it’s hard to think about what is happening out there, it is happening. I for one want to know that I’m doing what I can to help these children out.

Part of the struggle we face is getting our communities informed because these are difficult subjects to talk about. It’s time we all open our eyes and have the courage to hear about the things that are happening to children everywhere and do our part. I thank anyone who takes the time to read this and encourage those of you reading to become more informed and hopefully if you feel so inclined, get involved in doing anything you can to improve the lives of these marginalized children.  


http://www.riverbridgerc.org/get-involved

http://www.riverbridgerc.org/home





Where Silence Ends
Healing Begins 



https://www.coloradogives.org/index.php?section=organizations&action=newDonation&fwID=37397





http://co4kids.org/




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I Understand

posted Nov 2, 2017, 10:10 AM by Bridget Derkash   [ updated Nov 27, 2017, 9:29 AM ]


The smell was what woke me up, I had fallen asleep on a Greyhound bus headed to Cortez to see my sister and my new niece. The rotten stench from his body smelled like sewer and sweat making me gasp for air. Leaning close to my body he demanded that I get off the bus with him at the next stop. While his fingers violated my body, my brain froze in fear.

I had just turned 13-years-old and I was taking the bus to southern Colorado to spend a week with my sister and the baby. My first trip alone, it was a big deal for me, all grown up and on my own. His face was next to mine, almost breathing in my fear which fed his power over my body. I sat afraid to move away from the danger that was seated right next to me. I did not know how to respond.


 A loud voice boomed through the bus, it was 2 am and everyone else was asleep, except for the bus driver who was looking at me from his mirror. I can still see his face and the hat that all Greyhound bus drivers wore back then.  In front of him was a huge windshield and the highway lit up from the bus’s bright lights. The driver demanded that I get up and come to the front of the bus and sit by him. I blinked back the tears, he sounded so mad at me. I could not figure out what I had done wrong. I stood up and squeezed by my offender, afraid to go to the front of the bus to face another man who appeared very angry. I sat shivering and afraid, I was 8 hours from home and help.

We did not have cell phones back then, only pay phones. I was not sure where the next phone would be. I am not sure I even had any money to make that call. The bus rolled into the station and the rotten man walked right by me, two feet from my face. He smiled as he walked down the stairs, straight into my eyes, letting me know he just took something from me and he got away with too!  I remember staring ahead and trying to wrap my young brain around what had just happened.  No one had ever touched me like that and it made me feel sick and afraid. I was terrified, it was dark, I was alone and I had to trust the driver to get me to my sister safe and sound.

Cortez was the next stop and my sister stood smiling in the street lights, anxious to see me, we hugged. I never told anyone what happened. I suppose I thought I would get in trouble for letting a stinking scary man sit next to me and violate my body. I think for years I thought I had done something wrong, it must have been my fault for falling asleep. 


As a Victim Advocate for River Bridge Regional Center, I understand why children don’t disclose. How can a child disclose that a father, brother, uncle or grandparent is abusing them, when I could not scream, “help” when a disgusting man tried to kidnap me off a bus while raping me with his fingers?

It took years of me growing up to understand that the bus driver saved me that night. That his anger was not at me. He noticed this man get up and move to my seat, lean close to my body, and knew something was not right. Today he is a hero to me, I now understand.

I don’t know if I would have gotten off that bus in fear, I don’t know if he could have controlled me that much.  All I know is that my mind froze and it took a stranger in control to move me to safety. When I hear that a child is afraid to disclose, I understand how scary it can be, disclosing something so ugly takes a of lot courage. I believe every child that comes into River Bridge.

I wish I had known that I was supposed to tell someone, that my body belonged to me, and that no one had a right to touch it like the stranger on the bus did that night when I was 13 years old.



http://riverbridgerc.org




Where Silence Ends
Healing Begins 



https://www.coloradogives.org/index.php?section=organizations&action=newDonation&fwID=37397




http://co4kids.org/




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Thank You Marilyn Van Derbur

posted Oct 30, 2017, 10:42 AM by Bridget Derkash   [ updated Oct 30, 2017, 10:51 AM ]



            Thank You Marilyn Van Derbur!


Thank you all for attending River Bridge Regional Center's Marilyn Van Derbur event!  We hope that you were as moved as we were by Marilyn's powerful and important message about the impact of child abuse and the amazing ability to heal.  Marilyn's strength and dedication to survivors is inspiring.  She is a beacon of hope for us all.  Her metaphor for incest creeping into every corner of her life, like a drop of red paint in a white bucket, clearly depicted the reach that abuse can have.  Marilyn also spoke of the ability to heal if you do the work.  At River Bridge Regional Center this is what we strive for, supporting children now so that they can heal.  

This event was dedicated to all of the brave children who have trusted us with what they need to say out loud .....  


riverbridgerc.org




Where Silence Ends
Healing Begins 


https://www.coloradogives.org/index.php?section=organizations&action=newDonation&fwID=37397


http://co4kids.org/


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A Story of Pain, Healing, and Hope

posted Sep 19, 2017, 2:37 PM by Bridget Derkash   [ updated Sep 22, 2017, 8:29 AM ]


Child abuse knows no demographic; no gender, race, or socioeconomic status.  It is difficult to think about, even harder to talk about, yet it affects millions of children every year. 

River Bridge is excited to bring Marilyn Van Derbur to Edwards on Wednesday, October 11th, 2017. Marilyn’s story shows us that child abuse can happen in any home and teaches us the power of breaking the silence.  The power for a child to come forward and talk about abuse, the power to overcome, survive, and stand without stigma, and the power to prevent abuse from happening to other children. 

Marilyn Van Derbur’s family was a part of Denver’s elite.  Her father was a millionaire socialite and pillar of the Denver community.  He served as the president of the Denver Area Boy Scout Council and helped establish Denver’s Cleo Wallace Village for Handicapped Children.  Marilyn, the youngest of four, was a beautiful, straight-A student, and champion AAU swimmer. From the time she was 5-years-old to 18, her father sexually violated her.   

http://people.com/archive/cover-story-the-darkest-secret-vol-35-no-22/

In an interview with People Magazine, Marilyn explains, “People ask me why I didn’t tell what was happening to me.  It was because I perceived no way out. A young child tells on her father and what happens?  She’s taken away from her family. Her father goes to jail. The family is destroyed, and the message is, ‘It’s all your fault’.”

The pain that child abuse causes is not just in the moment of the act, but the long-lasting psychological impacts that it can have.  Marilyn talks about physical paralysis, acute anxiety, and profound struggles in relationships. 

Marilyn’s message, though raw and emotional, is one of healing.  “It’s the secrets and the shame that keep us shackled,” says Marilyn in an interview for San Luis Valley Health.  “Everyone needs a safe person that they can turn to.”   

Marilyn held her secret for most of her life, believing that there was no one she could tell.  “When you have an advocacy center and can go somewhere where people can believe you that makes the difference.  Just having that support can start a healing process that brought down my life at age 45.  You don’t have to live that way if you can work through it as a child.”

Therapy for child abuse survivors can be relatively short term.  With a trained professional who focuses on abuse and trauma, children and teens can regain their lives while they are still kids.  

To stop abuse, as a community we need to talk about it.  We need children and survivors to know that they can talk about their abuse and that there are people who are listening and who can help.

This is a small introduction to Marilyn’s Story.  I hope you can join us not only to hear all of Marilyn’s inspirational and moving talk but to help support children in our community.  We hope to spread awareness that there is a way out, that abuse does happen, and together we can stop it. 

Help support River Bridge and our community by attending our Marilyn Van Derbur event in Edwards on October 11th, 2017 at 5:30. 

Marilyn Van Derbur

For more information and tickets follow this link






Where Silence Ends
Healing Begins 



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Meet Frasier the Facility Dog

posted Sep 14, 2017, 10:16 AM by Bridget Derkash   [ updated Sep 18, 2017, 3:33 PM ]


River Bridge Regional Center has a Labrador Retriever on its team 
By Kim Fuller 
Special to the Daily 


Imagine being a child in an intense state of stress, when your nervous system is saying you’re in danger, but then a calm dog sits still without worry at your feet. Dogs generally alert or respond when something seems threatening, so this calming energy may show you that a situation is safe. Frasier, a 4-year-old yellow Labrador retriever, serves this purpose for River Bridge Regional Center in Glenwood Springs. He is a type of service dog known as a facility dog, or a courthouse dog, with a job to make children feel as comfortable as possible in stressful situations. 

River Bridge Regional Center is a nationally accredited nonprofit child advocacy center that focuses on the prevention, assessment, treatment and investigation of child abuse. There are 13 children advocacy centers in the state of Colorado. River Bridge Regional Center is the closest to the Vail Valley and is the children advocacy center for Eagle County, as well as Pitkin, Garfield and Rio Blanco counties. 

“When children have to face their offender for the first time, it’s obviously really terrifying,” said Meghan Backofen, mental health specialist at River Bridge and Frasier’s handler. “And very often the parents aren’t allowed to be in the courtroom. It’s a really uncomfortable and stressful situation for children anyway, and they often don’t have support people in the courtroom with them.” The idea behind a courthouse dog is the dog can be with the child as they testify to help soothe them and give them support. “There’s a lot of evidence that it decreases blood pressure, reduces heart rate, reduces cortisol levels and so not only is it a really nice thing to support the child, parents feel better about having their kid alone in the courtroom with a dog with them, somebody with them,” Backofen said. “In addition to all that good stuff, there is actually physiological scientific rational behind it.”
 
‘CALM AND NEUTRAL PRESENCE’ 
Frasier had an extensive two-year training to fulfill this role, and he’s been working at River Bridge Regional Center for two years. Backofen had training as well, and she and Frasier both have to be retested every year. In addition to accompanying children as they testify in court, Frasier is available during forensic interviews, as well as therapy sessions. 

“Forensic interviews are the first time the child discloses about abuse,” Backofen said. “Frasier sits in with them if the child wants him to, and 90 percent of the time they do.” 

A visit to the children’s advocacy center is generally one that kids don’t look forward to, but Backofen said Frasier seems to soften that resistance. 


“When they come in and see a dog here, it usually changes their opinion of the place,” she said. “It doesn’t seem nearly as scary, and it just makes it seem a little friendlier here.” 

Backofen leads therapy sessions with children, and she said that Frasier is a really “calming and consistent force.” 

Victoria Chester, a board member for River Bridge Regional Center, said Frasier’s job is to comfort and befriend the children the facility helps. 

“His calm and neutral presence help children through the initial disclosure, therapy and even in the courtroom,” Chester said. “Frasier works hard to ensure the children feel safe and relaxed here at River Bridge. We are lucky to have him as part of the River Bridge team.” 

ON AND OFF DUTY 
Frasier is vested while he’s working, but when he goes home with Backofen and she removes his vest, Frasier is “a totally different dog.” 

“He’s a typical crazy lab,” she said. “Sometimes he’s pretty rambunctious and he has a lot of fun.” 

At work, however, Backofen said Frasier is not like a normal lab in that “he can be trained to be kind of like a doormat, he just lies there completely still, having no reaction.” 

Any time Frasier goes to court, Backofen goes with him as his handler. As of now, the 5th Judicial District hasn’t trained to use Frasier yet, but Backofen said she hopes the district will participate soon. 

“Our advocacy center serves your area, so a child that has had a forensic interview, if they have come to River Bridge, they mostly likely have used Frasier,” Backofen said. “So to have him available to testify in court is definitely a huge bonus for them. I certainly am open to using him there, but we have to figure out how we can make that happen.” 

A visit to the children’s advocacy center is generally one that kids don’t look forward to, but Frasier — a type of service dog known as a courthouse dog — helps children feel as safe and comfortable as possible in a stressful situation

River Bridge Regional Center is holding an event with Marilyn Van Derbur on Wednesday, Oct. 11, at the TimberHearth in Cordillera. Van Derbur is the former Miss America, an inspirational speaker and childhood incest survivor. Tickets are $75 and all proceeds benefit local child sexual assault survivors; visit www.riverbridgerc.org for tickets. 

“We really want to do whatever we can for families that we serve to reduce the stress of an investigation,” Backofen said, “and Frasier is that additional component.” For more information on River Bridge Regional Center, visit www.riverbridgerc.org. 


This story is from the Vail Daily, HighLife, by Kim Fuller.  To view the original article is in print.  Visit http://www.vaildaily.com/ for more information.  To see the PDF version of this story please click here.  




Where Silence Ends
Healing Begins 



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One Local’s Advice Every Roaring Fork Parent Needs to Know

posted Aug 29, 2017, 11:14 AM by Bridget Derkash   [ updated Sep 18, 2017, 3:33 PM ]

These are the most powerful words regarding child advocacy I’ve read in a long time. I’ve been volunteering at River Bridge since 2011, and I thank Blythe Chapman for inspiring me to get involved. 

Blythe has become a great friend.  When we first met, Blythe had already fully committed herself to humanity through social work and I always admired the personal sacrifice her dedication required. When in 2011, she was selected as the Executive Director of River Bridge Regional Center and started planning the first annual Imagine Fundraiser to bring community awareness to the organization, I gladly signed up not knowing the true impact this work would have on me. It has been five years, five Imagine Fundraisers, one background check to become a victim’s advocate, and over 1,303 children served…and counting.

I was oblivious. I grew up in this valley. This majestic, serene location where friendly faces meet you at every corner. We left our doors unlocked. I walked miles alone to and from friend’s houses, went camping with school and church groups. My two sisters and I were fortunate to grow up here, especially since our dad had left us and my mom worked like crazy to provide for us. It seemed as though this valley was nearly immune to violence and terror. Crime was not a word you heard often and we certainly didn’t live in fear of it.

I was utterly shocked when I learned the statistics of child sexual abuse. One in five girls and one in 20 boys experience sexual abuse and 90% of the time the perpetrator is known to the victim. These were not the national statistics I thought they were, these are statistics FOR THIS VALLEY. Whatttt??!!! This safe haven? This happy, generous, loving community? My idyllic vision of my hometown was fractured. How could this be happening all around me and I had absolutely no idea? Well, that answer is simple. Abuse thrives in silence. Victims sadly blame themselves. Children are terrified and embarrassed. No one wants to talk about it.



I now have a son of my own and my work with River Bridge has never been more impactful as I see my work through the eyes of a parent. If I can help even one mother or father begin a conversation with their child about body safety and boundaries, or inspire one survivor to reveal their painful, guarded secrets to find freedom and finally heal those aching wounds, I could help repair that fractured vision of our perfect valley. I can work to create that safe haven for my son as he grows up in the parks I played in as a child and the schools where my laughter still echoes. I just hope my work can reach those children that keep Blythe up at night. 

In these five years as a volunteer, a local, a parent, seeing countless families endure one of their worst nightmares, I can boil down all the horrors of my experience into one piece of advice for you. Talk. Talk to your children. If you don’t know how to start the conversation, when is the appropriate age, or what to say to empower them, seek us out. Talk.  Create space for them to talk to you. Let them know that secrets aren't safe. If someone asks them to keep a secret they need to tell you.  Talk.  Talk to them about their body, name all of the parts of the body, and empower them to be the boss of their body.  Talk.  If any child tells you something that left you feeling uneasy, make the report, get help from the team of people who are here to support kids and families and keep talking.  It's the only way to prevent abuse and to keep our community safe. Take the first step today by talking to your kids. 

    



Jaspen Mackin has been volunteering with River Bridge Regional Center since 2011. 
She is trained as a victim advocate and plays an invaluable role on River Bridge's Outreach and Awarness Committee.  In 2016 Jaspen was the Event Coordinator for 
River Bridge's annual Imagine fundraiser.  








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HIStory

posted Jul 12, 2017, 11:31 AM by Bridget Derkash   [ updated Sep 18, 2017, 3:34 PM ]


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. 





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