A photo from the Advocacy Center of Tompkins County from a "Take Back the Night" event in April.

ITHACA, N.Y. — A local middle school student recently disclosed that she was sexually abused by a relative after she went through a new education program spearheaded by the Advocacy Center of Tompkins County.

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Months later, she continues to receive support. “We have been so moved by the changes and success we’re seeing in our community,” said Heather Campbell, the center’s executive director, of the advocacy center’s “Enough Abuse” campaign.

Hundreds of people gathered at Celebrations Ithaca early Wednesday morning to celebrate the Advocacy Center of Tompkins County at its annual fundraiser. There were balloons, silly hats and raffles as the non-profit worked to raise money for its operations.

Speaking at the event was Campbell, who highlighted at least three major developments over the past year.

Campbell also spoke more generally about the center’s work, which is also mentioned below.

1 — Grant to work with Child Protective Services

One of the “noteworthy developments” highlighted by Campbell stems from a 5-year grant from NY State to collaborate with Child Protective Services.

As part of the grant, a staff member with the Advocacy Center of Tompkins County will be located three days a week out of  CPS, Campbell says. That will in turn “radically change how we are able to provide support for victims of domestic abuse,” Campbell said.

2 — New shelter play area

Another big change Campbell highlighted was a “major renovation project” of the Advocacy Center of Tompkins County’s play area at its confidential shelter.

Campbell called it the “single most satisfying” professional project she has been involved with.

A photo of today’s event. (Courtesy of the Advocacy Center of Tompkins County)
A photo of today’s event. (Courtesy of the Advocacy Center of Tompkins County)

“It was tiny, damp and dank; it was awkward. Small children recoiled from the site of it,” she said of the old play area. “Over the years, we have tried to make it better … but we had no safe outdoor space for our families to use.”

Last year, Campbell said, the Advocacy Center of Tompkins County received a $10,000 grant from the Verizon Foundation to create a “bright and inviting play-space” for families. It’s already being used heavily by the families, Campbell said.

“Thank you to the Verizon Foundation,” Campbell said, “for helping to improve the quality of life for families in our shelter.”

3 — The Enough Abuse campaign

The Advocacy Center of Tompkins County has also launched the “Enough Abuse” campaign, which is primarily a program for training adults on how to spot and prevent sexual abuse before it can occur.

As part of that program, Campbell said, the center’s volunteers went into local schools and other places to talk about and explain different forms of abuse and help children understand when or if they are being abused.

The program is already a model for other counties, according to the advocacy center. It involves the training of parents, teachers, bus drivers, foster parents, after school staff, daycare staff and other adults.

“We talk about, ‘What is abuse, about boundaries,’” Campbell says. “They watch a video about a teenage girl who was abused and we hear from her and her family talking about how confusing it can be for kids.”

Ithaca police Inv. Christine Barksdale, who often handles sexual abuse cases, is involved in the “Enough Abuse” campaign and spoke about it at the event.

“The Enough Abuse campaign has done something for me I didn’t really expect. It gave me hope. Hope is really really important,” she said. “… I realized looking through the materials and the trainings I had done it gave me hope because what it says is: This is the adult’s responsibility.”

A photo from the Advocacy Center of Tompkins County from a “Take Back the Night” event in April.
A photo from the Advocacy Center of Tompkins County from a “Take Back the Night” event in April.

4 — General stats about advocacy center

Here are some other statistics about the advocacy center’s work in 2014:

— The center helped 99 youth affected by child sexual abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence, teen dating violence, stalking and sexual harassment.

— 20 children and 32 adults found shelter in the center’s safe house.

— Over 3,000 children in Tompkins County participated in prevention education programs.

— 8 youth locally had support while going through a post-sexual assault medical exam at Cayuga Medical Center with the SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) program.


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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.