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Support of friends, therapy key to recovery

Stephanie “Pezz” Pezzullo found friends to trust with her story.

Karen Cook, program director of Hope Circle Children’s Advocacy Center in Gaston County, says 9 of 10 child victims of sexual abuse never speak of it. “Children are frightened or threatened by their abuser,” she says, “and so continues their reluctance … until they are of an age they feel safe.”

No one recovery path fits all victims, says Kenneth Dodge, director of the Center for Child and Family Policy at Duke University.

Relocating to start fresh – as Pezz did three times – may eliminate daily reminders, Dodge said. “But if moving is merely a way to suppress issues that must be dealt with, they will return, and the person will be no better off.”

Confronting the abuser, as Pezz has done, can be effective, Dodge said, “but it is risky because it escalates conflict.”

Generally, however, experts agree that professional psychotherapy and social support are crucial. Pezz had both.

“Talking or writing about the event and how one is trying to get past it is another method that has helped some people,” Dodge says.

• If you know of an abuse victim: In Mecklenburg County, call the 24-hour child abuse hotline: 704-336-2273, or call children’s advocacy centers such as Pat’s Place in Charlotte: 704-335-2760.

“No matter what capacity you are in with children, you have a moral duty to report suspected child abuse,” Cook said. If you work with children, you are required to report it. “You may be the only voice a child has for getting help.”

• If someone has suffered abuse but isn’t in danger: “Depending on the person’s age and relationship ... consider approaching the person in a supportive way,” Dodge says. “It may be frightening to consider direct intervention … but it can be enormously supportive. Indirect support without direct confrontation can also be helpful.”

Theoden Janes

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