A local nonprofit hosted an educational panel and discussion for parents, guardians and staff of the East Lansing School District on how to prevent, identify and support children and families who have experienced sexual abuse and trauma.
About 65 people attended "Child Sexual Abuse: Prevention and Response" at East Lansing High School on Saturday, March 10. The Firecracker Foundation organized the daylong seminar with support from the East Lansing Public Schools Mental Health Advisory Committee.
"This particular panel is one of our first community engagement activities designed to provide adults with access to professionals who can answer questions they may have," says Tashmica Torok, founder of the Firecracker Foundation. "This is part of our next level of work to protect children and help prevent childhood sexual abuse."
Panelists defined sexual abuse and trauma, outlined its effects on children and families, explored facts and stigma, and provided guidance on how to report, advocate in medical situations, and take proper steps when incidents are disclosed. Torok was joined on the panel by Erin Roberts, Executive Director of End Violent Encounters (E.V.E.), Andrea Hertel, MSU Police Department, Erica Schmittdiel, MSU Safe Place/CARE advocacy coordinator, Alex Brace, executive director of Small Talk Children’s Assessment Center, Steve Kwasnik, assistant prosecuting attorney, and Deb McKenzie, physical therapist. Alaini Letang from WILX TV-10 facilitated.
The Firecracker Foundation was founded in 2013 to provide holistic healing services to child survivors of sexual trauma under the age of 18 and their families in the tri-county area of Mid-Michigan. Torok says the idea for the prevention and response seminar originated with Erin Graham, vice president of the East Lansing Public Schools Board of Education.
Graham says she called Torok in January as impact statements in the Larry Nassar sexual assault case shook the East Lansing community and brought renewed attention to the issue of childhood sexual abuse. She says her work at MSU where she teaches women's studies provided additional motivation. Graham was also driven by her personal history of as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse
"My personal and professional experiences caused me to speak out and to help organize this event,” she says. “This is about empowering people. It's about facing an issue head on instead of hiding from the shame and stigma. But ultimately, it's about creating a community that is safer for our children. That's the goal."