ITHACA, N.Y. — The first sentence of this true account starts the way so many narratives will start in Ithaca this weekend: a young woman goes to downtown Ithaca and meets “a very nice young man.”

Except the nice young man was not what he initially seemed to be.

“So for the next 12 hours, she was given drugs, she was raped by multiple men and she was told she had the opportunity to work in New York City the following morning,” said Probation Officer Abigail Bixby, who has worked on sex abuse cases for the past seven years in Tompkins County.

But despite being drugged, the young woman realized she was in danger and was able to “use technology” to save herself. She was found just hours before she was going to be taken to New York City.

“If that had happened, we might never have seen her again,” Bixby said. 

Not all of Bixby’s cases are resolved just in the nick of time, though.

She recalled another case where a young woman went to a city in the south to record a song with a man who claimed to be a talent agent.

“She did record a song, which I’ve heard myself,” Bixby said, but she did not get the career opportunity she’d been looking for. 

“I don’t think I’ll ever stop thinking about where this individual is or what she’s doing.” 

Bixby spoke at the the 16th annual fundraising breakfast for the Advocacy Center Wednesday morning, where acting Ithaca Mayor Deb Mohlenhoff officially proclaimed the city an Enough Abuse Tompkins Community Champion, standing in solidarity with preventing and responding to the abuse and exploitation of children.

Related: 15th annual fundraiser breakfast raises $34K for Tompkins Advocacy Center

Throughout Bixby’s keynote speech, she reminded the roomful of people that sexual trafficking and the commercial sexual exploitation of children happens right here in Tompkins County to some of the most vulnerable children and teens.

“Exploiters have a radar for this. They send it out and it bounces right back off the most vulnerable kids,” Bixby said. 

Photo courtesy of Aurora Golden-Appleton

That includes, though not exclusively, runaways, those who have gone through the juvenile court system, LGBTQ+ youth, and children with low-self esteem.

But it’s not impossible to help these children, and it doesn’t rely on chance. The solution involves what Bixby referred to as listening to the static – tuning in to what is happening within communities.

Bixby is part of a team of local officials who have been working under the Safe Harbor Funding for almost a year.

According to the Office of Children & Family Services, “The Safe Harbour: NY program supports counties in developing their capacity to identify youth who have been trafficked, sexually exploited, or are at risk of victimization and to meet identified service needs of these youth. ”

Tompkins County is among about 30 counties statewide that participates in the program.

Locally, Bixby’s team is among one of the initiatives created to help youth. It’s comprised of representatives from law enforcement, the District Attorney’s Office, the Advocacy Center and child protective service workers.

Together, they work to identity victims, help those who have reported abuse and prosecute offenders and exploiters. They also offer support services to survivors, primarily through the Advocacy Center.

But the prevention of child abuse and exploitation, however, also relies on community awareness about those issues.

Bixby said that people who see suspicious activity can contact child protective services, the Advocacy Center, police, or the probation department. 

Training is also available for people who want to become proactive on the issues and learn more.

“Listen to that static, and tune in and hear what you can. Tune that dial up a little bit. Drive to place where you have a better signal….take what you do hear and tell someone.”

The proclamation from the city of Ithaca is as follows:

  • Whereas, we, as a community, recognize that the responsibility to bring an end to child sexual abuse lies with all of us; and
  • Whereas, we acknowledge that offenders rely on our discomfort, silence and denial of abuse to exploit the vulnerabilities of children and teens; and
  • Whereas, we recognize that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men report experiencing sexual abuse before they were old enough to vote; and
  • Whereas, in 2016, the Advocacy Center provided support and services to nearly 1,350 individuals in Tompkins County including 91 youth who were impacted by domestic violence or sexual abuse including commercial sexual exploitation, and 355 parents, guardians, professionals and community members supporting youth victims; knowing so many more are unable to come forward; and
  • Whereas, to achieve true prevention we, as adults, must prioritize the safety of children over our own discomfort by learning and speaking about child sexual abuse; and
  • Whereas, all adults have the responsibility to become educated about, speak out against, and identify and interrupt child sexual abuse in our schools, youth serving organizations, athletic programs, faith institutions, communities and homes; and
  • Whereas, Enough Abuse Tompkins is a continued example of the commitment of our city, county, and those in it towards achieving a community that is aware, vigilant, active, responsive, vocal, and committed to ending child sexual abuse; thereby allowing kids to be kids;

Now, therefore, be it resolved, that I, Svante L. Myrick, Mayor of the City of Ithaca, do hereby proclaim this Wednesday June 7th as a day to name:

The City of Ithaca as an Enough Abuse Tompkins Community Champion

In witness whereof, I have hereto set my hand and caused the great seal of the City of Ithaca to be affixed this 7th day of June, 2017.

Featured photo: Abigail Bixby speaks at the 16th annual Advocacy Center breakfast Wednesday. Photo Courtesy of the Advocacy Center Facebook Page. 

Jolene Almendarez

Jolene Almendarez is Managing Editor at The Ithaca Voice. She can be reached at jalmendarez@ithacavoice.com; you can learn more about her at the links in the top right of this box.