Zoe first heard about the Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) when someone from there came to her classroom. She was in 3rd grade at the time. The person from the CAC talked to the class about “body safety.” Zoe knew about keeping herself safe for the most part. She always wore a helmet whenever she rode her bike. And she never talked to strangers. When the lady from the CAC started talking about private parts and “confusing touches,” Zoe felt her face getting hot. She had never told anyone, but she wondered whether other people could somehow see that she had a secret.
At morning recess, when the other kids ran into the hallway, Zoe stayed behind. She asked her teacher, Ms. S., if she knew any kids like the lady from the CAC had talked about. The teacher said that she didn’t know of any, but that if a student ever told her, she would do whatever she could to help them. Zoe couldn’t get the next words out, so she followed the others to the playground.
Zoe had a hard time paying attention in class after recess. She kept thinking about what the lady from the CAC had said, that it was okay to tell a safe adult. She believed Ms. S. was a safe adult, probably.
At lunchtime, she asked what her teacher would do to help a student who sometimes had confusing touches. Ms. S. said that she would call other safe adults and that they would come up with a plan to keep that student safe. Then Ms. S. told Zoe that she could tell her anything. Zoe could feel her heart beating. Her throat felt bubbly. She felt like she wasn’t going to be able to say it. She decided to try to push the words out. And she did.
Zoe told Ms. S. about what happened at night, after her mother went to work. Her step-dad, Bill, would sometimes come into her bed and touch her in her underwear. Bill told her that her mom would be really mad if she ever told, that her mom would probably never want to see or talk to her again. She didn’t want her mom to be mad at her. And she didn’t know what she would do if her mom didn’t want anything to do with her, so Zoe kept the secret.
Zoe’s mom was upset of course, but reassured Zoe that she wasn’t upset with her. That night, Zoe and her mom stayed at her grandparents’ house. Zoe’s mom told her that Bill wasn’t allowed there—that was part of a plan that Zoe’s mom worked out with Child Protective Services (CPS) to keep her safe.
The next day Zoe had an appointment to go to the Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC). There Zoe met with Jesse, a forensic interviewer. Jesse explained that their conversation was being recorded by cameras in the corner of the room. Jesse also told Zoe that there were a few people in another room who would be watching on a screen. Jessie asked Zoe to tell her about when she went to bed at night. Zoe told Jesse everything she could remember.
While Zoe was talking with Jesse, Zoe’s mom, Hannah, met with Betsy, a victim advocate. Hannah couldn’t believe this was happening. She never thought Bill would do something like this and she blamed herself for not realizing it was happening. Betsy told Hannah it was not her fault, and that she did the right thing by bringing Zoe to see them. Betsy told her that kids are resilient and with the right help, Zoe and her family can begin to heal. Betsy talked with Hannah about what to expect in the coming weeks with the investigation.
Hannah had noticed some changes with Zoe over the past few months. Zoe had started having bad dreams and trouble sleeping. She had bags under her eyes, which were often bloodshot. Hannah’s husband, Bill, told her not to worry, that most kids had bad dreams. Zoe had started wetting the bed at night too. She hadn’t done that since she was potty-training. Hannah called the pediatrician about the bed-wetting, but was just told to limit fluids in the evening. She never suspected these changes might be related to abuse. Betsy recommended therapy for Zoe and Hannah, whenever they were ready, and at no cost.
A couple months later, Zoe started seeing Amy, a therapist at the CAC. Zoe told Amy that even though she knew Bill couldn’t hurt her anymore, she had trouble getting to sleep and was still having nightmares. Amy helped Zoe make something called a “good dreams pillow,” a special pillow that Zoe could decorate with things that could help her mind and body get ready to have good dreams. Zoe covered the pillow with all kinds of words and pictures. Zoe wrote, “SPECIAL” in big letters, because she is special, with a princess crown over the letters, because she is a princess. Amy asked her to think about all of the things on the good dreams pillow before she went to sleep.
Bill was arrested based on the statement given by Zoe and some corroborating evidence (evidence that helped confirm Zoe’s story). Zoe knew she might have to go to court to talk about Bill and the confusing touches. She worked with Betsy and Amy at the CAC to get ready for court. Zoe was scared to see Bill again, but she knew she could do it. She’s STRONG (another word on her “good dream pillow”). In the end, though, she didn’t have to. Bill pled guilty.
Zoe completed therapy. Amy had helped her believe in herself and know that she could feel safe. Zoe still has bad dreams sometimes, but she has more good dreams than bad.
A few months later, she asked her mom to bring her to the CAC so she could give pictures to everyone there who had helped her. She handed out a lot of pictures.