A music producer and songwriter, a York police officer and a York Hospital emergency room doctor got together last April to make a difference in people’s lives. Although from disparate backgrounds and professions, the three women shared one thing in common: they had all been victims of sexual abuse when they were children.
In the weeks and months that have followed, former “American Idol” television singing judge Kara DioGuardi, Officer Jamie Robie and Dr. Jeanine Ward launched the first Maine effort of a national program called the Enough Abuse Campaign. Today, 12 York area residents are now trained and certified to present free education and prevention workshops to local organizations, businesses, schools and other groups.
And the effort is made all the more poignant because it was launched by three women who shared their own stories up front — of a neighborhood man who victimized young children, of an older teenager preying on a prepubescent girl, of an uncle who said to be quiet. And so, The York Weekly chose Robie, Ward and DioGuardi to be recognized as three of its 2017 Christmas Angels, its series about local people who give back and help others.
“These three women speak to how victims can build the strength to tell their stories and stand up for what is right and just,” said Police Chief Douglas Bracy. “They are truly inspiring role models who have found strength in spite of being victims to become highly successful individuals. They are definitely inspiring others to tell their stories and are developing the support network necessary to assist victims through the process.”
DioGuardi and Ward both had been aware of the Enough Abuse Campaign, which works in more than a dozen states. Ward became a trainer when she lived in Massachusetts and DioGuardi, who is involved at the state and national level in strengthening child sexual abuse measures, has long supported the campaign. Jetta Bernier, director of MassKids which created Enough Abuse, introduced the two when Ward moved to York. And it wasn’t long thereafter before local folks were telling Ward she needed to connect with Robie.
“Jeanine, Jamie and Kara exemplify all the great qualities of effective child advocates — passionate, persistent and powerful,” said Bernier. “We have been honored to work with them. They have been inspirations to other survivors and nonsurvivors alike, who believe every child has the right to grow up healthy, safe and free from the devastating consequences of sexual abuse.”
For DioGuardi, a Grammy-nominated music producer and songwriter, she said she first experienced child-on-child abuse, from the son of her mother’s best friend. For York police officer Robie, it was “Uncle Bobby” who baby-sat, and then again when she was 12, she said it was the father of a friend. For Ward, it was the man who lived across the street from her Quincy, Massachusetts home who sexually abused her when she was just 5 years old.
According to Bernier, the 12 residents who have been trained to teach workshops are actively working to let the community know they are available. Already, York Hospital and area churches are requesting training, and “in 2018, we expect the demand to be in full swing,” she said. Meanwhile, the effort has taken on its own moniker, Enough Abuse Maine.
At the same time, DioGuardi, Ward and Robie have also been working to assist the Child Advocacy Center of York County, which works with known victims of abuse. The three have donated toys, furniture, books, art supplies and funds to support the CAC. DioGuardi also donated funds to create a “bright and child friendly place that our clients tell us they love,” said Molly Louison, the CAC program manager.
“The Enough Abuse campaign works on the other end of this fight, to prevent abuse before it happens,” said Louison. “All prevention helps us by helping people see warning signs and keeping kids safe. These efforts work toward someday putting me out of a job, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.”
She said she knows that she can count on any one of the three women from York to help her and her work. “As a small center under a nonprofit, we have been so fortunate and grateful to benefit from their desire to make York County better and safer for children.”
Ward said that since the Enough Abuse Maine campaign began, people have come up to her “disclosing their abuse. And I think, ‘Wow, it’s happening to them, too?’ This is both heartbreaking but also encouraging, since they’ve also now taken the first step toward healing.”
Robie, as a school resource officer at York Middle School, has also had students disclose to her since she opened up about her own childhood trauma — incidents that took her “about 30 years to even talk about, never mind face head on. I feel I am at a point in my life where I have finally released myself from the guilt and shame of everything that happened — and used those experiences as fuel to help others find their voices.”
DioGuardi said it is heartening that the campaign has already trained 12 people in the community “who feel as strongly about prevention and education as we do. They are out there and they are coming to the table. Having women like Jamie and Jeanine who are so respected in their fields has given a legitimacy to the group from day one.
“Working alongside them only reaffirms my belief that child sexual abuse is a subject we can talk openly about and do something about.”
York Hospital President Jud Knox said he applauds the work of the Enough Abuse campaign.
“People who create opportunities to help others in their communities inspire all of us to do better. This group of women is doing just that,” he said.
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