WV Child Advocacy Network ‘SHINES’ on abuse survivors

April 11, 2019

HUNTINGTON — Melanie Sachs was a bubbly, outgoing child until her light was dimmed as she experienced sexual assault and abuse.

“Shining my light has been a process,” Sachs said. ”... As I reclaimed my voice at the child advocacy center, I was really able to grab onto a deep seed of hope that was planted from the day I walked out of the CAC, and that then turned into a spark, and that turned into a flame of passion for survivors so that others could find what I found. And to be a survivor more than my story — to illuminate my story but also what I have done since then on my healing journey.”

Sachs, of New Hampshire, was the keynote speaker at the West Virginia Child Advocacy Network’s launch of a new statewide awareness campaign Wednesday in the Don Morris Room of the Marshall University Memorial Student Center.

The goal of the SHINE campaign is to change the conversation around childhood sexual abuse, focusing on thriving survivors and lifting up their voices. The campaign was

created in West Virginia and will be launched nationally this month under the leadership of the National Children’s Alliance with the goal of building a “universe of support” for child survivors.

On Wednesday, representatives from West Virginia’s 21 child advocacy centers (CAC) took a pledge to SHINE in support of survivors, being the light children can turn to and in turn find their own light again.

“We can all be a light for survivors in any capacity that we have,” Sachs said. “Everyone knows someone. The statistics will tell you that all day long. So really, taking that step, whether it is as a survivor yourself finding a way to be that light or as someone who supports survivors, to stand alongside survivors as they are discovering what it means to them to be a light, and also to illuminate survivors’ voices. This campaign takes the shame away for all involved.”

In the upcoming weeks, the campaign will unveil videos from survivors and advocates in West Virginia, inviting people to join in support by sharing their own stories or by donating to statewide child advocacy expansion efforts.

Kate Flack, executive director of the West Virginia Child Advocacy Network, said the campaign will continue over the next three years. Next year, she said they hope to do a statewide tour and host more intimate conversations in local areas, similar to events like Take Back the Night, which brings awareness to campus sexual assault.

“This whole campaign was born out of the idea that instead of talking about the negative experiences survivors have, talking about the hope and resiliency is going to shift the message to a place where people feel empowered with it versus repealed by it,” Flack said. “Child sexual abuse is not a topic people want to talk about because they say it’s weird or other. But 1 in 10 kids is a survivor. If we don’t talk about it, one-tenth of our population is being left out. We have to step up.”

Last year, child advocacy centers in West Virginia served 4,445 survivors, but the current estimate of children who are victims is almost 10 times the number being served. Right now, the advocacy network officially serves 42 West Virginia counties, but has plans to expand services to all 55 counties in the next five years.

For more information about the SHINE campaign or the Child Advocacy Network, visit wvcan.org/whyweshine.

Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.