Victim's story highlights importance of child abuse awareness - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Victim's story highlights importance of child abuse awareness month

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MADISON (WKOW) -- April is National Child Abuse Prevention and Sexual Assault Awareness Month, but advocates say they are important issues to talk about year round.

One Madison child abuse victim has been using her story of abuse to help others recover. Hanna Roth created the Rainbird Foundation in 2009. It was after she spent decades dealing with the effects of a childhood full of abuse, she says from her mother and her father, who was a convicted pedophile.

Roth says she and her four siblings were physically, sexually and emotionally abused for most of their childhoods, until her father left the home when she was in high school. About 20 years ago, Roth says her father was murdered and the family was able to begin to move on and recover from the trauma.

"Recovering from child abuse is sometimes as bad as the initial abuse and I vowed to myself for the sake of my children that I was going to fully recover," says Roth.

Roth says it took years for her to completely recover but she eventually came to terms with what happened and forgave her father and mother, who she says knew about and never stopped her father's abuse.

"I could make peace with that [my father] had done those horrible things to me and my brother and my sisters and he had made mistakes and they were horrible mistakes, no doubt about that, but I still loved my father," Roth says.

Roth says realizing she still loved her father was the hardest part of the recovery. She still keeps in touch with her mother but says she doesn't have much of a relationship with her.

Now, Roth's story is inspiring others to share their stories and recover from child abuse trauma. She has more than 20 volunteers helping her foundation get the message out to stop child abuse around the world. They host an awareness event "1,000 Mile Journey" at the Capitol every year.

Rainbird Foundation is just one of many organizations working to fight child abuse.

Experts say more than 5,200 child abuse cases were reported in Dane County last year and the Rape Crisis Center helped victims of more than 400 sexual assaults, half of those were minors.

To kick off this month of awareness, leaders from outreach programs met with city and county service agencies to talk about breaking through the barriers to helping abuse victims. They say to look for warning signs in a victim who might not tell anyone what's wrong.

"I think understanding all of those indicators not only of behavior that could be external, but it can also be internalized, so you do see more in terms of depression in terms of self harm," says Sharyl Kato, chair of the Child Abuse and Neglect Task Force and head of the Rainbow Project.

Experts believe between 60 to 90 percent of sexual assaults go un-reported.

"Reporting is often a real barrier and we see what happens when people do report sexual assault, that often it's the victim who gets blamed and judged and often it's her behavior that gets talked about in the public," says executive director of the Rape Crisis Center, Kelly Anderson.

Another struggle advocates face is those crimes that do get reported, often end up not being prosecuted. They say the crimes are often difficult to prove, especially when district attorney's offices are faced with staffing shortages and an overwhelming number of cases.

Kato says despite concerns that victims will be discouraged from telling their story because they feel it won't result in a conviction, there are an increasing number of victims coming forward to these agencies on their own.

These agencies are hosting a number of events throughout the month of April. Visit Rape Crisis Center's website for a calendar of events and to learn more about the 24-hour help services they have to offer sexual abuse victims.

Other links:

Dane County Human Services

The Rainbow Project

The Rainbird Foundation

Domestic Abuse and Intervention Services (DAIS)

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