Glasgow Hosts From Disclosure to Healing Child Sexual Abuse Conference

June 15, 2023 JOLIET—Professionals from throughout Will County in fields ranging from education to law enforcement attended the June 14 “From Disclosure to Healing” conference hosted by Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow. Conference speakers addressed topics that included how predators groom children, navigating the system as the parent of a child who has been sexually abused, and child trafficking.

“Child sexual abuse has been called the ‘silent epidemic.’ Children and adult survivors all too often suffer in silence, especially given the stigma associated with this heinous crime,” Glasgow said. “Tragically, more than 90 percent of abusers are known by the child. Each of us has a role to play in preventing the sexual abuse of youngsters. By learning how predators groom children and by paying attention to behavioral cues and signs of youngsters who have been abused, we can help protect our children and, if abuse has occurred, prevent further abuse from taking place.”

Three speakers addressed the audience at the day-long conference. During “Grooming 101: A Predator’s Playbook,” child sex abuse survivor and prevention educator Michelle Stolleis Denault discussed red flags of grooming and ways to intervene. Denault, who was abused by her driver’s education and health teacher as a student, uses her lens as a survivor “to show the participants all that we miss when a child is being groomed and all we often choose to not see to save our own interests.”

Amber Clayborne, founder of The Kerengende Foundation, shared her experiences in trying to navigate the system as the parent of a child sexual abuse survivor in “A Survivor’s Story.”  According to Clayborne, “no family should have to struggle alone while dealing with the aftermath and shock of such trauma.” Clayborne established the Foundation to help bridge the existing resource gaps in society so that families can get the help they need without feeling isolated.

In ‘From Trafficked to Healing,’ Cassandra Ma provided the audience the who, what, why, and where of trafficking and the journey to healing. Ma is the Founder and Executive Director of Reclaim 13, a nonprofit committed to freeing children from sexual exploitation.

“Sex trafficking is commercial sexual exploitation, as traffickers derive monetary gain from exploiting vulnerable children,” said Ma. “These perpetrators are preying on the most vulnerable of our young people, those abused and neglected. Tragically, a single incident of victimization increases the likelihood of further victimization. The vast majority of children caught in the trap of trafficking have been traumatized not just once but many times.”

Glasgow presented Ma with a $10,000 check at the conference to support Reclaim 13’s mission of healing children from the trauma of sexual abuse. Reclaim 13 operates Cherish House, a safe house for trafficked children ages 10-17; Courage House, which supports young adults in a transitional program; counseling; mentorship; and other services.

“Under Cassandra Ma’s vision and leadership, Reclaim 13 has helped children who have been exploited by sexual predators to reclaim their lives through a holistic program that helps the most defenseless among us,” Glasgow said. “By helping these children avoid revictimization and go on to lead productive lives, Reclaim 13 is providing lifesaving services to children, our most precious resource, each and every day.”

The event was sponsored by the Will County Children’s Advocacy Center, established by Glasgow in 1995 to improve the integrity of all investigations into allegations of child sexual abuse, while providing hope, healing and justice for the children and their families. The CACis a child-focused, coordinated response center that provides hope, healing and justice for children who have endured severe physical abuse, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, neglect, and exposure to violence.

Prior to opening the Will County CAC, children who suffered sexual abuse were subjected to numerous uncoordinated and sometimes suggestive interviews by multiple statements to numerous parties, including law enforcement, child welfare workers and medical professionals, thereby increasing their trauma and enabling predators to exploit differences in their various statements.

Now, when police or child protective services believe a child is being abused, the child is brought to the CAC—a safe, child-focused environment—by a caregiver or other “safe” adult. At the CAC, the child tells their story once to a trained forensic interviewer in a neutral environment who knows the right nonsuggestive questions to ask in a manner that does not retraumatize the child. Then, a multidisciplinary team that includes law enforcement, mental health, prosecution, child protective services (DCFS), victim advocacy, and other professionals make decisions together about how to best help the child based on the interview.

Annually, the Will County CAC serves more than 700 children who have endured physical and sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, child pornography, neglect, and exposure to violence.

State’s Attorney Glasgow presenting donation check to Cassandra Ma