(This article was published this month in Scars of Survival Magazine)
Dajia loves unicorns. Liam likes sports and hopes to play college basketball. Aadhya dreams of becoming a TikTok star. Each of these children will experience the trauma of child sexual abuse before they reach the age of 18.
The nonprofit, Saprea, is bringing awareness to the silent epidemic of child sexual abuse in an effort to reduce the trauma experienced by children like Dajia, Liam, and Aadhya.
April is designated as National Child Abuse Prevention Month and Sexual Violence Awareness Month, and Saprea uses this month of focus as an opportunity to boldly speak about this topic. Saprea, with offices in Georgia and Utah, is a global nonprofit that exists to liberate individuals and society from child sexual abuse and its lasting impacts.
Founder and Board Chair Shelaine Maxfield said the nonprofit has served more than 14 million people through its in-person and online resources in its first seven years. With this success she feels there is still so much more to do. “We are pivoting to something greater and are hopeful we can reach more survivors, more parents, more partners, and more communities worldwide.”
April’s awareness campaign is centered on educating the public to the facts of child sexual abuse. For instance, survivors are three times more likely than the general population to attempt suicide, five times more likely to be hospitalized for a physical or mental health problem, and 40% more likely to drop out of high school.
“Child sexual abuse itself is horrific and its lasting impacts are typically much greater than most people realize,” said Maxfield. “The prevalence of such abuse requires us to take an even more active role in raising awareness about this issue.”
One in five children in the United States will be sexually abused before they turn 18, which adds up to more than 1 million children being abused each year. Many of these children go on to experience the traumatic effects of this abuse well into adulthood.
Maxfield said millions of survivors are hurting and she feels a moral responsibility to expand Saprea’s services worldwide. “Saprea needs to do more: protect more children, strengthen more survivors, and change more communities.”
Saprea offers a free in-person healing retreat in Dawson County, Georgia, and Utah County, Utah. The retreat is a clinically informed four-day, in-person experience followed by a self-guided online course. The retreat teaches survivors about trauma’s impacts, provides opportunities to apply healing tools, and builds community among survivors. The in-person experience lays a foundation for healing, followed by the online courses that build on deeper understanding and application.
One survivor who attended Saprea Retreat writes: “The day I filled out the form to attend the retreat I was full of tears and emotions. I didn’t know what to expect; the only thing I knew was that I couldn’t keep fighting alone. When the retreat day arrived, I felt a roller coaster of emotions. I got off the plane and waited, looking around trying to figure out who else was there. Then we started gathering. Seeing so many faces and knowing that those women understood what I was going through without even talking, it was a feeling of comfort because I wasn’t alone anymore. There were more survivors like me! Once inside the house, the outpouring of support I received, the classes I attended, how spoiled I felt, and the relationships I built with the other attendees became life-lasting experiences. I finally understood that my feelings are valid, that there is a path of healing.”
Saprea realizes not every survivor can attend one of its retreats, which is why it also offers support groups across the globe. Saprea Support Groups provide a safe place where survivors can have a voice. Because every participant is a survivor of child sexual abuse, individuals who attend support groups can talk openly and honestly about their feelings and experiences with others who understand. Participants also learn ways of managing the effects of their trauma. Saprea currently has 101 support groups in 13 countries.
“Support groups can be validating and a healing space where you hear others share similar thoughts and feelings, almost as if they are speaking your truth and your story,” said Saprea Clinical Therapist Lauren Stewart. “Individuals can experience a sense of empowerment, control, and hope for their situation and their future.”
Most recently, Saprea launched a series of free, detailed online healing resources for survivors of child sexual abuse. These new resources provide valuable education on the effects of abuse, ways in which those effects commonly manifest in the lives of adult survivors, and practical tools and strategies they can use to reduce or manage them.
Saprea also provides online prevention resources and community education materials for parents and caregivers to reduce the risk of their children being impacted by abuse. The resources also give parents information on starting conversations with their children about healthy sexuality, online safety, and grooming behaviors. All of Saprea’s programs and services are provided for free thanks to generous donors and partners.
“We want to become the leader in the all-encompassing fight against child sexual abuse,” Maxfield reiterated. “I personally invite others to join today in this fight – for it truly is a fight to break the epidemic that impacts millions of children around the world. Every child deserves a childhood filled with love, laughter, innocence, safety, and security.”
Learn more at saprea.org.