Breakfast shines light on child abuse in Stanly County

Those attending the annual Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness Breakfast, sponsored by Butterfly House Children’s Advocacy Center and supported by the Stanly County Department of Social Services, were dispatched with a charge from keynote speaker Deana Joy to protect and encourage all area children, especially those who have suffered from abuse, neglect and maltreatment.

“I challenge all of you in this room to continue to support the children in your community, and to be champions for them from the smallest to the largest of things,” said Joy, executive director of the Children’s Advocacy Center of North Carolina, whose remarks capped a morning of recognition and thanks to those in the community who work to assist and advocate for victimized youngsters.

Amy Yow, director of the Butterfly House, thanked the more than 150 attendees for supporting the center’s mission, and offered special appreciation to the organization’s community partners including Stanly County Social Services, Stanly County Schools, Atrium Health, the Stanly Health Foundation and local law enforcement agencies, as well as the Friends of the Butterfly House organization.

“I’m blessed to work alongside an amazing team in providing victim and family advocacy, forensic interviews, medical exams and community outreach and education,” she said.

According to Yow, the center has served more than 3,400 families since its opening in 2005, with more recent statistics indicating 259 victims assisted during 2023. These included children who were sexually or physically abused, who were neglected or who were witnesses to violent crime. In addition, more than 1,700 persons participated in abuse education and prevention programs (1,500 children and 260 adults).

Joy related the need for Children’s Advocacy Centers (CAC’s) by recounting the case of “Robin.”

“Robin exists here, across neighboring counties, and all across North Carolina,” said Joy. “But unfortunately, Robin became the victim of abuse long before there were CACs.”

After having told adults at her school that she had been victimized, the abuse was reported to authorities, who proceeded to investigate.

“Unfortunately for Robin, she was then interviewed 13 different times by 13 different professionals, with every person asking her to explain the darkest moment of her life to them, over and over again,” Joy said. “Then, when she finally got to the prosecutor’s office, where the person who had done her the most harm was being held accountable, the prosecutor again asked her to recount her story…and Robin’s response was, ‘I’m not talking about this any more…I don’t understand why you (agencies) can’t talk to each other…I’m done answering your questions.’ ”

Knowing what Robin had been through, the prosecutor was motivated to work toward making the process less traumatic for victims.

“And from that, CACs were born,” Joy said, noting that now, thanks to CACs, a youngster in Robin’s situation, “only has to tell her story one time, not 13.”

Today’s CACs utilize a multi-disciplinary team consisting of professionals including, but not limited to, law enforcement personnel, prosecutors, mental health professionals, victim advocates and medical professionals.

“Child abuse is the most under-reported crime that exists,” noted Joy, “and in 2023 more than 12,000 new children reported to CACs for service provision to begin.”

Joy also saluted the staff, multi-disciplinary team and community partners of Butterfly House, to whom she referred as “heroes.”

“It’s my great honor to stand among the heroes in this room,” she said in closing. “You change lives every day — lives upon which you may never know the impact you made. Just remember when you sit with (victims) in their darkest moments to hold on to the light that you are bringing to them, and remember that light will shine through and change the lives of others for the rest of time.”

Call 980-323-4625 for more information on the Butterfly House.

Toby Thorpe is a freelance writer for The Stanly News & Press.