Meet Maddie, a 5-year-old girl who was being sexually abused by her biological father. Maddie came to Project Harmony for a forensic interview for sexual abuse allegations made against her dad. Maddie’s mother saw her make an inappropriate gesture towards her step-father and redirected Maddie, who then said her dad lets her do it all the time. Her mother reported this information and law enforcement requested the forensic interview. During a forensic interview at Project Harmony, the young girl made some disclosures to the interviewer and was clearly uncomfortable talking about the details of her abuse. Because she expressed fear, the team suspected more happened, but Maddie wasn’t ready to talk about it. The team referred Maddie to a Project Harmony therapist, and Maddie began to open up about what happened to her.
The treatment plan for Maddie focused on body safety and appropriate boundaries along with coping skills for feelings of sadness, worry and confusion. Her therapist utilized the book, “The Invisible String,” to address her grief and sadness about not seeing her dad. The overall message of the story is even if someone you care about is not around, your hearts are always connected by an invisible string. She wanted to read it almost every session. Eventually, the book would help her feel safe during her second forensic interview. She wanted her therapist in the room with her during the interview; while that was not possible, the therapist could be right outside the door. Together they created a string with two hearts, which they tested so it would be long enough to reach outside the door. Once this was done, Maddie said she was ready for another interview.
Three months later, Maddie had her second interview. Throughout the interview, Maddie would tug on the string and her therapist would tug back — letting Maddie know she was right there. Maddie disclosed sexual abuse by her dad that started when she was three years old. After her interview, Maddie shared she felt brave and happy. She continued in therapy, which allowed her to address her experiences and symptoms. It helped make sense of what had happened and helped her to understand the abuse was not her fault.
Her father was ultimately charged and pled guilty to sexually abusing her. Some of the challenges of prosecuting sexual assault crimes with young victims is the lack of evidence as well as the statement from the victim — asking the right questions, using appropriate language, memory until trial, tampering, etc. This is mitigated by the streamlined process at Project Harmony.
Project Harmony uses a collaborative approach to investigate child abuse, support and treat children, and prosecute child abuse offenders. Maddie is only one of over 2,000 children who will be interviewed in a single year. Project Harmony is boldly focused on ending the cycle of abuse and neglect in our community. Together, we strive to help every child who walks through our doors find the courage to share what they have experienced or witnessed.