When children are happy or sad, angry or silly, excited or exhausted, their expressions and their behavior are usually transparent and easy to interpret. But 12-year-old Bethy’s face held no expression and her 10-year-old brother wouldn’t raise his head or make eye contact when they walked into the library late in the afternoon on a sunny Thursday in March. Bethy handed the librarian a note sealed in an envelope, and the childish writing on the yellow scrap of paper inside simply said, “help me. I don’t want to die.” The librarian wasn’t quite sure what to do about the note she had just read. Bethy shrugged and turned away when asked if she had written the note, but she didn’t walk away nor did her brother, giving the librarian an idea that one of the two children was the author.
Both children were painfully thin and grudgingly accepted a pack of crackers from the librarian, and Bethy carefully took her little brother’s hand as they walked away. As the librarian turned from her desk to motion for a co-worker, she noticed the children’s clothes were dingy and dirty, and their shoes didn’t fit. The two ladies quickly made a call to the police precinct across the street from the library and shortly, a female officer arrived. Neither Bethy nor her brother Joe-Joe would talk to the policewoman, but gravely nodded when she and her investigator colleague asked them to accompany them. They brought them to the National Children’s Advocacy Center that Thursday afternoon, and thus began their long and challenging journey to healing.
The normal process of a forensic interview and medical exam, followed by therapy at the NCAC, was quickly abandoned with Bethy and Joe-Joe – the immediate need for these children was much more basic – they needed food, clean clothes, and a safe place to stay. Both were terrified of the adults around them, not knowing what was going to happen. The nurse practitioner at the NCAC offered to take the children to change clothes in the privacy of the medical exam room, hoping she might gain insight into what had so traumatized them. When Joe-Joe turned away to change into a clean shirt, the nurse teared up at what she saw…a gaunt rib cage with bruises and burns, some old and scarred over, some new a
nd dark purple turning yellow. Bethy was watching but said nothing, simply turning to look at the nurse with her blank expression – the nurse simply said, “We are going to take care of you. You don’t have to worry. I promise, we’ll take care of you.”
Bethy and Joe-Joe never saw their dad or step-mom ever again and have slowly but surely settled into the quiet, caring home of their foster-mom and dad. Their foster mom reported that the first night they came home with her, they gorged themselves so quickly on food that they both threw up – they had been physically abused, neglected, and deprived of food. Those “parents” disappeared and, consequently, have not been arrested or brought for prosecution, sadly, but Bethy and Joe-Joe’s old injuries and abuse tell the story of their past. Law enforcement will continue to search for those parents until they are found and brought to justice. Over the last 12 months, both children have gradually opened up and told the horrific details of their young lives and received counselling that helps them to manage their buried emotions and anxiety. Joe-Joe found a best friend in facility dog Wilson, but Bethy still refuses to pet Wilson, not wanting to build a real relationship with anyone – even a dog. Bethy’s therapist has a strong, well founded suspicion of sexual abuse as well, but neither child is ready to disclose that yet – both still remain anxious and overwhelmed, not quite accustomed with being treated kindly.
These children continue to heal – both emotionally and physically, thanks to you. Your support makes their healing possible.
With your help, all of the services, resources, and safety are provided free of charge for children in our community who have experienced sexual or physical abuse and exposure to extreme trauma, including neglect.
Bethy and Joe-Joe are on their path to healing but other children exactly like them are still in need, waiting for you, for your support, for your help.
Will you support a child just like Bethy or Joe-Joe with the gift of healing? A gift of just $150 pays for an hour of therapy for a child, $250 pays for medical care, and every gift provides hope.
P.S. Bethy and Joe-Joe are safe thanks to people just like you!