The “Hands Around the Courthouse” annual event is staged to bring awareness to child abuse, as hundreds of cases are reported in Winnebago County each year.
Rockford Police Officer Kaera Watson suffered abuse when she was a child.
“In the room, I sit and wait for my older sister to come out of her dad’s room and tell me it was my turn to come in,” she recalls. “I enter the room and find my dad laying in the bed with no clothing, under a blanket, waiting to do to me what I presume he just did to my older sister. That’s something no child should have to ever experience.”
Watson was one of the many children represented by a blue ribbon which was held, in solidarity with others like her, around the Winnebago County Courthouse on Tuesday afternoon.
Watson’s case was one of the 800 child sexual abuse cases handled by the Carrie Lynn Children’s Center each year.
“The first initial disclosure is usually only a small part of what really happened to them,” said Clinical Director Kate Zucchi.
Kucchi says children are not often believed when the do tell their stories.
“Well, I’ve heard people say, ‘well, kids lie.’ Well, kids dont’ lie about something like this,” she said. “If it’s something above and beyond their knowledge, that a six year old would never have, they’re not going to be able to make up something that they never experienced, as well as the feelings that go along with that.”
A common obstacle for advocates is that children sometime retract their prior statements, out of fear.
“If something happened, where they have to get placed out of their home, then they may retract what they’ve disclosed,” she said.
Zucchi says kids may try to voice their stories, but may do it in a way that parents may not recognize.
“[Parents need to] keep and open communication with their children, and if they are saying something like, ‘I’m scared. I don’t want to sleep in my own bed,’ [they should] not necessarily blow that off as ‘they want more time with me’ or ‘they’re trying to manipulate me.’ Really, they might be telling you something that’s really important,” Zucchi said.
Some of the signs that an abused child may display could be a heightened sense of fear, crying, or clinginess, changes in appetite or sleep, wetting the bed, withdrawing from friends, or loss of interest in sports or other extracurricular activities.