That was the message at the Women of Hope and Courage Luncheon Thursday at Northridge Country Club.
The group Women of Hope and Courage was formed to support for CASA of Northeast Texas and the Children's Advocacy Center.
"The Women of Hope and Courage have taught me what giving is, what service is and that a group of kind hearts can move mountains," said Brandy Eldridge, CASA and Children's Advocacy Center executive director.
There are approximately 200 members in the Women of Hope and Courage organization and this was their first luncheon, something they hope will be an annual event with the purpose of bringing awareness to the issue of child abuse and the work of CASA and the Children's Advocacy Center.
"Today is about bringing awareness," Eldridge said. "Our goal is for people to know who we are and begin to talk about us so when a child is affected by child abuse or neglect, families will know we are a safe place and we're here to help them."
CASA provides advocates for children in the foster care system as their cases go to court. Those advocates spend time getting to know the children and their situations and speak to the court on about what they believe is in the best interest of the child. The Children's Advocacy Center provides a non-threatening environment for children during the investigation of child abuse including forensic interviews, trauma counseling and on-site medical exams.
Jenna Quinn, a child sexual abuse survivor and author of Pure in Heart, was the speaker at the event.
Quinn is the namesake of Jenna's Law passed in 2009. Jenna's Law was the first child sexual abuse prevention education mandate in the U.S. named after a survivor and it mandates each school district adopt and implement a prevention policy that educates students and teachers on how to recognize and report child sexual abuse.
Quinn has taken her inspiring story international and speaks as a survivor who benefited greatly from the services of a children's advocacy center.
"I understand fully that child sexual abuse isn't a fun topic. It's uncomfortable. I understand that I'm not alone in this room as a survivor. It's estimated there are 42 million survivors of child sexual abuse in the U.S. This is very prevalent. Ninety-percent of the time it's someone kids know and trust," Quinn said.
Quinn was abused by her best friend's father who was also a close family friend of her parents and her basketball coach at a private Christian school. The abuse lasted for three years and left her a broken version of previous self. Formerly a good student, she began failing in school. Before it was over she was harming herself, suffering anxiety attacks and thinking about suicide.
She was like many children who are sexually abused. She stayed silent.
"How could I tell my best friend that her father was a monster. Two-thirds of children don't tell which means they live their lives and suffer in silence. I've learned there's always a cost to silence," Quinn said.
The abuse took its toll on Quinn.
"Over time I started to believe the lies shame whispered to my soul," she said. "Silence and shame are a predator's best friend. What's kept silent has power over you."
She finally ended her silence and began the long road to recovery when her older sister asked her, "Has anyone ever hurt you?"
"I said yes. The important thing is she believed me," Quinn said.
The sisters told their parents later that evening and the cops were called.
Quinn had taken the first step but she wouldn't find peace in her life for some time.
"It got worse before it got better," she said.
The police department had told her parents about the local children's advocacy center. At the time she said her choices were seeking help there or at a mental hospital. They chose the advocacy center.
"The social support there made all the difference in the world. I received proper counseling. They prepared me for court. I went to group girls' counseling. That showed me I wasn't alone. I can't stress enough the importance of ongoing counseling and support," she said. "This is truly a matter of life or death for kids who experience this. That's why the work of the children's advocacy center is so important."
Quinn's story has a happy ending. Now she dedicates her life to educating people around the world about child abuse and how to prevent it.
"I know this crime is prevalent. Ninety-five percent of child sexual abuse is preventable through education," she said.