Category SAFETY

Someone’s Gotta Say It


Out from the Shadows: The Battle With Taboos and Stigma


By Marina Sampanes Peed
Executive Director of Mosaic Georgia

If you have circled the sun’s orbit at least a dozen times, you’re likely familiar with the double-edged sword of social taboos. Lucky are the few who have skirted the jagged edges of stigma; for many this isn’t the case.   

Every culture wraps certain topics in an invisible cloak of discomfort and prohibition. These are our taboos, ranging from the mundane – like talking on speakerphone in public places – to the deeply personal, like discussing sexual violence. Originating from the Tongan word “tabu,” meaning set apart or forbidden, taboos sculpt our beliefs of what is socially, morally, or religiously unacceptable. They wield the power of social stigma as their enforcer. This invisible yet palpable force maintains social norms but at what cost? 

In the U.S., everyday taboos might include not cleaning up after your pet, belching at the dinner table, or checking your phone during a job interview. Yet, it’s in the realm of “polite company” where the deeper taboos lurk, shrouded in euphemisms or silence — topics such as puberty, menstruation, and our very genitalia become unspeakable. Here is where stigma casts a long shadow, marking some people with shame and disgrace over certain circumstances often beyond their control.   

Stigma is defined as a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person. A powerful social force, stigma thrives on the fear of exclusion, of becoming “othered.” It embeds itself within our social networks and hierarchies, adapting by leveraging dominance to instill fear or using prestige to demand respect. The stigma of rape and abuse are very prevalent in American society and people don’t often realize that their comments and reactions humiliate sexual assault victims. 

Taboos give birth to euphemisms, those linguistic gymnastics we perform to skirt around the discomfort of reality. Euphemisms are generally used to make phrases more positive than the actual word. Consider how we soften the blow of death with phrases like “passed away” or tiptoe around illness by saying someone has “caught a bug.” These linguistic detours are our society’s attempt to navigate the uncomfortable, yet they also serve as early beacons of our implicit biases. From childhood, we’re taught to cloak our bodies in euphemism, learning about “pee” and “poop.” Why are some body parts easy to say and learn – eyes, ears, nose, elbows, knees, and toes, yet penis, vulva, and anus are given other names? We receive messages early in life that some parts of our bodies are taboo. Thus our implicit biases begin. 

But what happens when these dynamics intersect with the most vulnerable moments of our lives, such as disclosing an experience of sexual abuse or assault? 

Will You React or Respond?  The Choice is Yours 

The way we react to someone – whether a child, teen, adult, or senior – when they disclose an experience of abuse or assault can significantly shape the survivor’s healing journey and willingness to seek further help. The responses, influenced by a blend of societal norms, personal beliefs, and psychological factors, can either pave a path toward healing or exacerbate an already profound trauma.  

Understanding these reactions and how to navigate them is crucial for anyone who might find themselves in the position of a confidante or first responder to such disclosures. Here’s a nuanced look at common reactions, along with practical advice for fostering a more supportive and healing-oriented response. 

Embracing Support and Belief 

The ideal response involves offering unconditional support and belief. This positive reception stems from empathy, awareness, and an absence of judgment. It is crucial to affirm the survivor’s experience, validate their feelings, and assure them that the abuse or assault was not their fault. 

Tips for Being Supportive: 

  • Listen Actively: Let them share as much or as little as they wish, without pressing for details. 
  • Affirm Their Courage: Acknowledge the bravery it takes to tell you.  
  • Offer Resources, Not Directives: Find and share information on professional support services (like Mosaic Georgia), empowering them to make their own choices.  

Navigating Skepticism and Disbelief 

Often, our initial reaction to surprising news is disbelief. “No way!” we might explain. In instances of sexual violations, skepticism can be a reflex especially if cognitive dissonance arises from knowing both parties involved. (e.g., He’s such a nice guy; I can’t believe he would do such a thing).  It can be a struggle to align this new information with their existing perception. Check these impulses, recognizing the courage it takes to disclose such experiences. 

Tips for Managing Disbelief: 

  • Educate Yourself: Learn about the dynamics of abuse and the varied ways survivors respond to trauma. There is no “right” way to respond to trauma.  
  • Challenge Your Biases: Reflect on any preconceptions you have about abuse and its survivors. 
  • Prioritize Empathy: Focus on the survivor’s emotional state and needs, rather than your doubts

Avoiding Blame and Victim-Shaming 

Language plays a role in either perpetuating stigma or moving towards understanding. Even well-meaning family or friends ask questions like “what were you wearing/drinking?” or “were you flirting with him?” to try to make sense of what happened.

But these questions reflect deeply ingrained societal norms that wrongly hold individuals responsible for preventing their own victimization.    

These questions shift accountability of the perpetrator and create emotional distance between you and the person you care about. This reaction is harmful and isolates the survivor. 

Would you ask these questions of someone who was mugged or car-jacked? No, because the offender is responsible for their actions.  

Tips for Avoiding Blame: 

  • Avoid Judgmental Questions: Do not question their actions, attire, or decisions during the event. 
  • Challenge Victim-Blaming Myths:  Remind yourself that the only person responsible for the abuse or assault is the perpetrator. 
  • Focus on Support: Center the conversation around the survivor’s feelings and what they need from you.

Dispelling Denial or Minimization 

Sometimes people respond with comments like, “It wasn’t that bad” or “At least…” or “You don’t look / act like you’ve been raped.” These are not helpful to the survivor. Denial and minimization serve to protect the responder’s worldview or the reputation of the accused, but they invalidate the survivor’s experience.  

Tips for Confronting Denial: 

  • Acknowledge the Survivor’s Reality: Honor their story as their lived reality, validating their feelings and experiences.  
  • Educate Yourself on Trauma: Understand that minimizing their experience can compound their trauma. 
  • Encourage Professional Support:  Recognize when the situation is beyond your capacity and encourage engagement with professionals and specialized services (like through Mosaic Georgia).  

Harness Expression of Anger or Desire for Retribution 

For a parent or a partner of one who has disclosed abuse, this is especially for you: express your anger away from your loved one. While a natural response, reacting with expressive anger about the assault/abuse will only add to the stress for the person who shared with you. Many children and youth report a reason for not telling a loving parent is fear the parent will respond violently against the perpetrator. “I don’t want my dad to go to jail because he wants to defend me.”  

Seeking retribution without the survivor’s consent can further disempower them. 

Tips for Managing Anger: 

  • Process Your Feelings Separately: Seek your own support system to deal with feelings of anger. 
  • Respect the Survivor’s Wishes: Align your actions with what the survivor feels is best for their healing. 
  • Promote Agency: Support the survivor in making their own informed decisions about seeking justice or other next steps. 

We can’t control what happened, but we can choose to respond rather than react.  

How you react to the news can profoundly affect the person who was harmed by abuse or assault.  When you start by supportive listening and acceptance, you facilitate a path toward healing.  

Breaking down the stigma surrounding sexual violence begins with challenging our implicit biases and reframing the language we use to discuss these issues. By focusing on the perpetrator’s responsibility and recognizing the courage it takes for survivors to come forward, we can hold offenders accountable and create a safer, more supportive society for all.  

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A Day in the Life of a Counselor at a Child Advocacy Center

Kendall Circle Headshot

By Kendall Wolz
Mental Health and Wellness Manager at Mosaic Georgia

When I was in graduate school, I regularly heard my peers talk about their dreams of owning a private counseling practice, working in a school system with students, or working on a behavioral health unit of a hospital. I do not recall anyone talking about opportunities to work as a therapist/counselor at a Child Advocacy Center.

A Child Advocacy Center (CAC) is a child-friendly, safe and neutral location where law enforcement and other investigators conduct and observe forensic interviews with children who are victims of crimes. The center is also a place where children and non-offending caregivers receive support, crisis intervention, and referrals.

Working as a therapist/counselor at a Child Advocacy Center is a unique opportunity that requires dedication, patience, and a willingness to walk with people through their significant traumatic experiences. Some days are filled with sadness for the child who has been hurt, outrage at systems and policies that still fail children, and anger towards perpetrators that have grossly harmed little ones. Amid the hard days, there are many glimmers of hope and celebrations. Our “why” reignites when we hear how a child effectively managed a trauma trigger using coping skills practiced in session. Our hearts are filled with joy when a child completes their trauma narrative signifying, they are ready to graduate from therapy. Each time a child shows up to session, willing to do the work of therapy, we are reminded of the resilience and strength children possess.

So, what is a day like for a therapist/counselor at Mosaic Georgia?

We rarely have two days that look the same in a given week at Mosaic Georgia. Our therapists manage a caseload of individual clients and schedule weekly sessions with each of them. We also facilitate various support groups during the week for non-offending caregivers and adult survivors of sexual trauma.

We participate once a month in multi-disciplinary team (MDT) meetings which allow us to interact with our partner agencies to ensure the clients we serve are receiving the assistance they need. Child Advocacy Centers work within a multi-disciplinary team of law enforcement, child protection agencies, district attorney’s offices, and other organizations involved in cases where child maltreatment has been disclosed. Multidisciplinary teams are integral for trauma-informed responses to children and their families. One way the MDT serves children and their families is that the intergroup communication prevents a child from having to tell their story multiple times to each agency involved in the response.

Our team of therapists/counselors also provide crisis counseling intervention when a child or adult comes to the center and needs immediate mental health support. Between sessions with clients, leading support groups, and meeting with the rest of the Mosaic Georgia staff and partner organizations, our team is busy building treatment plans for clients, attending trainings to increase awareness of best practices, and building resources for clients and the community.

Did you know that there are 47 Child Advocacy Centers in Georgia?

Throughout the United States there are Children’s Advocacy Centers providing critical services to children and families after outcries of abuse. If you know someone pursuing a career in the mental health field, I encourage you to share with them and make sure they are aware of the opportunity to provide therapy/counseling to children at a Child Advocacy Center.

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Someone’s Gotta Say It


Teen Years in a Cyberworld Requires Parent Re-boot


By Marina Sampanes Peed
Executive Director of Mosaic Georgia

A friend who is helping raise his grandkids asked me why I keep saying it’s important to start conversations with tweens and teens about relationships, dating, and sexual health. “We’re old school and learned the old-fashioned way (from the streets and Playboy magazine).”

Yep – when car wheels had hubcaps and whitewalls, CDs were Certificates of Deposit, and family rules like “what goes on in this house stays in this house” reigned. We had pen pals. We had 3 local TV stations and were thrilled when MTV and CNN came along. There was no internet, social media, on-line “friends” and “likes” or doorbells with cameras & microphones. Our developing brains could process these advances due to the tolerable pace of change.

The teenage years are a time of incredible transformation and growth. As parents, understanding these changes can empower us to guide our children through this pivotal developmental stage in today’s environment.

Here is a refresher on the intricacies of the adolescent brain, the impact of hormones, societal pressures, and the role of technology and media in shaping our teens’ development. We’ll also explore how teenagers learn about love, relationships, self-worth, and address the pressing issues they encounter, such as the normalization of sexualized violence and the risks associated with teen dating abuse.

1. The Adolescent Brain and Hormonal Shifts

Human adolescence is marked by significant brain development, influencing decision-making and emotions. Did you know the brain continues its development until 26-28 years of age? Hormonal changes add an extra layer of complexity to this journey, affecting mood and behavior. It’s essential for us, as adults who care for youth, to recognize these biological transformations and approach them with empathy and understanding. When you ask “what were you thinking?” and they say, “I don’t know” they are telling the truth.

2. Navigating Complex Social Structures and Expectations

Today’s teens are navigating more complex social structures and grappling with mixed societal expectations. “I live in two worlds – my home sounds, smells, and tastes (insert parents’ country of origin) and then at school, I want to fit in. I switch back and forth and it’s hard sometimes.” Many kids split their daily lives between two homes when parents separate; they adjust to different rules and norms before they head to school. They’re learning to find their place in the world while forging their individual identities. Social cliques have implicit and explicit rules of attitude and behavior, and peer pressure is strong.

3. The Digital Age: Impact of Technology and Media

I remember when call-waiting was a big deal – with five teens in the house and one landline, competition for connectivity was fierce. My kids got flip-phones (without internet) and I thought they were so spoiled; but we needed to be able to reach each other. Today’s teenagers have “smart phones” with more capacity and access than our first computers. With constant connectivity, they’re exposed to a myriad of influences, including easy access to explicit content, and marketing strategies that often promote unrealistic standards. This continuous exposure shapes their views on relationships, self-worth, and sexuality.

4. Learning Through Observation: Love and Relationships

Children listen and observe MUCH more than we realize. Teenagers gather insights about love and relationships from various sources, primarily through family interactions. Adults around them set the norms. Do they hear arguments followed by calm resolution? Yelling, blaming, and name-calling? Emotional, physical, or financial abuse of power? Relationships on social media, TV shows, movies, music videos run the gamut from rom-com silly to outright violence. In American society, violence has become normalized over the last 30 years. Violence is regarded as currency in some “real man” sub-cultures.

5. Nurturing Self-Worth and Potential

A teenager’s sense of self-worth and how to engage in the world is shaped by their family dynamics and peer groups. All kids hear how the male adults in their lives talk about women and girls and learn 1) this is how to treat them; and 2) this is what to expect from men in my life. Do they cat-call? Comment on their physique or outfits? And expectations of males are also modeled – studies show positive reinforcement from male adults can boost their confidence and help them recognize their inherent value.

6. Challenging Unhealthy Belief Systems

Several belief systems perpetuate unhealthy relationships, including gender stereotypes and misconceptions about consent. It’s crucial for parents to actively challenge these beliefs and initiate conversations about respect and healthy sexuality.

7. Pornography and Media as Educators on Sex

Unfortunately, pornography has become a primary source of sex education for teenagers. Since the advent of high-speed internet around 2007, free porn sites have become accessible to anyone with internet access. Pornography that attracts the most views entails violent sex acts against women and disregards the importance of consent and mutual pleasure. Porn addiction rates have sky-rocketed in recent years and represent the leading cause of erectile dysfunction among males age 20-40. The little blue pill does not help because the ED is caused by neurological changes in the brain.

Social media is full of erotic images that are edited and unrealistic; and reinforce insecurities of teens and adults who try to fit in. This presents a distorted view of sexuality, often fixating on unrealistic body images. Parents must be aware of this influence and provide accurate, age-appropriate sex education.

8. Confronting the Normalization of Sexualized Violence

Terms related to sex, music, video games, and online content often normalize sexualized violence. For instance, teens see sexist and pro-rape comments in men’s magazines and popular music. Objectifying women and glamorizing violence trivializes or normalizes inappropriate behavior. When adults recognize and address this issue with teens, they provide opportunities to discuss the importance of healthy relationships and respect.

9. Teen Dating Abuse: A Growing Concern

Alarmingly, a significant number of teenagers experience abuse in their dating relationships, which can manifest as physical, emotional, or digital abuse. As parents, understanding the causes and recognizing the signs of teen dating abuse is essential to protect and support our children.

10. Fostering Healthy Teen Relationships

Parents play a pivotal role in nurturing healthy relationships among teenagers. This includes modeling effective communication, respecting their privacy, and encouraging positive social interactions. A checklist for maintaining a healthy teen dating relationship can serve as a valuable resource.

Empowering Teens for the Future

As survivors of the teenage years, it’s our duty to guide and stand by our tweens and teens during these transformative years. By recognizing today’s environment, promoting open and honest communication, and providing resources, we can help them navigate this critical phase successfully. Hopefully, they can pay it forward to the next generation.

Remember, your voice and support can have a profound impact on your teenager’s life. For additional resources, explore websites such as That’s Not Cool (, Do Something (, Love Is Respect (, and others dedicated to fostering healthy relationships and empowering young people.

Feel free to reach out for more details or to arrange a customized training session designed for parents/adults or your youth groups/clubs. Get in touch with us at for inquiries.

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Someone’s Gotta Say It


When Following Becomes Obsessive: Stalking


By Marina Sampanes Peed
Executive Director of Mosaic Georgia

“He just won’t accept that our relationship is over. I’ve blocked him and he texts me from odd numbers and has friends text me and comment on my IG. He’ll show up outside my dorm or classroom and just stare at me, no talking. It’s creepy and I’ve changed my routine to avoid him. I’m on pins and needles – not sure what he’ll do next. I wake up with nightmares and it’s messing up my life. I didn’t know what he’s doing is against the law.”

Stalking is an insidious, deeply unsettling, harmful and dangerous behavior done to millions of people worldwide. It’s a crime that often goes largely unreported, in part because socially acceptable tools and behaviors are used in obsessive and threatening ways. Even when it is reported, victims find responses vary by police and the courts. This article aims to shed light on stalking, exploring who is at risk, and offering essential steps to protect yourself if you find yourself the target of a stalker.

What is Stalking?

Legal Definitions

While Stalking is a crime in all 50 states, the legal definition varies. In Georgia (OCGA § 16-5-90), “A person commits the offense of stalking when he or she follows, places under surveillance, or contacts another person at or about a place or places without the consent of the other person for the purpose of harassing and intimidating the other person.” An overt threat of death or bodily injury is not required to be made.

For academic institutions, per Title IX and the Clery Act, stalking involves engaging in a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to fear for their safety or suffer substantial emotional distress. This definition is included in every student code of conduct policy. This means that the behavior does not need to be adjudicated in the court system to be an infraction.

Stalking behaviors span from unsettling or creepy to downright frightening, even escalating to violence or worse. In some cases, stalking serves as the “warm up” crime and the stalker escalates to property damage, physical assault, rape or murder. In other cases, stalking occurs after a physical or sexual relationship ends.

Stalking behavior is coercive and controlling. Victims usually don’t realize what is happening immediately. Stalking often accompanies gaslighting. Gaslighting is a common form of psychological manipulation that triggers self-doubt of the victim’s own perceptions, memories, and even sanity. This self-questioning creates a state of emotional turmoil and uncertainty.

After a sexual assault, even seemingly friendly contact can be traumatic and unsafe for the victim. Sometimes a perpetrator utilizes stalking techniques to try to prevent the victim from reporting the sexual assault. In fact, 43% of college student stalking victims do not identify their experience as “stalking.” Stalking offenders are diverse in gender, age, or background; and anyone can become a victim.

Understanding Stalking

Stalking is characterized by a pattern of unwanted, disturbing, and/or threatening behaviors. Initial unwanted contact may appear harmless to outsiders but have threatening meaning to the victim. Continued rejection or ignoring of contacts can trigger escalated tactics. There are many ways a disturbed person can stalk others. Here are the most common types. It’s important to know that these have serious impacts on the targeted person. Any one action is typically brushed off by the victim and their friends/family. But collectively, these are not only harmful, they are dangerous and costly.

Surveillance is the most common method of stalking. Technology is used to monitor, watch, contact, control, threaten, sabotage, isolate, and frighten victims. They also use technology to damage the victim’s credibility or reputation. From hacking accounts and changing passwords, keyboard tracking, location tags and apps, using smart home technology, and more. Some stalkers engage others to monitor the victim and report back.

Life invasion methods range from repeated unwanted contact to showing up at places when the victim does not want them to be there (i.e., victim’s work, gym, church), sending unwanted “gifts”, using social media to monitor or harass, or spreading sexual rumors. Some have impersonated the victim to change their personal accounts.

Intimidation methods of stalking include threats to publish or share sexual images or information to employers, family members, on social media, etc. This includes creation of fake sexual images through photoshop, artificial intelligence, or deepfakes. Persistent blackmailing of the victim in exchange for sexual activity, photos, or videos is also common.

Interference through reputation sabotage or inciting others to attack the victim. Some create fake profiles pretending to be the victim, then make statements or comments to sabotage their victim’s reputation. This can be done through spoofing (call, text, email appears to be coming from someone else), doxing the victim (publish private information publicly online often encouraging others to harass),

stealing and/or sharing sexual photos/videos without consent (e.g., “revenge porn”).

Gangstalking, also known as organized stalking, involves a group of people covertly targeting an individual with consistent harassment, surveillance, and psychological intimidation. These actions lead to their victim being sabotaged, discredited, and isolated.

The Mind of a Stalker

Stalking is a complex behavior driven by various factors — none of which make harms acceptable. Stalkers may be motivated by obsession, desire for control, or revenge for being rejected. Some enjoy the adrenaline rush of pursuing someone and causing their discomfort, and eluding authorities.

Mental health issues, isolation, or low self-esteem are factors. Regardless of their reasons, stalking is illegal and can cause severe distress and fear for victims.

Stalkers devote a fair amount of time and energy to this behavior. Two-thirds of stalkers pursue their victims at least once per week, using more than one method. 78% of stalkers use more than one tactic. Weapons are used to harm or threaten victims in 20% of cases.

Stalker’s Relationship to Their Victim

No one is immune from becoming the object of a stalker.

  • Former Intimate Partners: Stalking often begins after the end of an abusive relationship. Perpetrators may feel a loss of control and resort to stalking to maintain a sense of power over their former partner.
  • Current or Former Acquaintances: Sometimes, stalkers are acquaintances who become obsessed or feel spurned by the victim. This can include coworkers, classmates, or even neighbors.
  • Strangers: In some cases, stalkers have no prior relationship with the victim. They become fixated on someone they’ve seen or heard about and may escalate their behavior over time.
  • Public Figures: Celebrities and public figures are at a higher risk due to their visibility. Obsessed fans or individuals seeking attention may engage in stalking behaviors.

Steps to Protect Yourself from Stalking

If you suspect you’re being stalked or subjected to unwanted attention, taking immediate steps to protect yourself is crucial:

  1.  Trust Your Instincts: Don’t downplay your feelings of threat or discomfort.
  2. Document Everything: Keep a detailed record of incidents (date and time) and save evidence like texts, emails, and voicemails.
  3.  Inform Trusted Friends and Family: Share your concerns with close ones for emotional support.
  4. Create a Safety Plan: Adjust your online presence, change routines, install security measures, and establish a support system.
  5. Seek Assistance: Contact Mosaic Georgia or your local sexual assault center or domestic violence organization for guidance and help. Victim advocates can assist with your options. Consult law enforcement and obtain a restraining order if necessary.
  6. Self-Defense Training: Boost your confidence and physical safety by enrolling in self-defense classes.

Stalking is a distressing situation that can happen to anyone. Understanding its signs, recognizing risk factors, and taking proactive measures are essential. You don’t have to face it alone; there are resources and support available to help you regain control over your life.

The Stalking Prevention, Awareness, and Resource Center (SPARC) offers many resources at Remember that your safety and well-being are paramount, so trust your instincts and seek help when needed.

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The Devastating Wake of Childhood Sexual Abuse

Kendall Circle Headshot

By Kendall Wolz
Mental Health and Wellness Manager at Mosaic Georgia

Childhood sexual abuse leaves a continual path of destruction long after the crime has ended.

Most people acknowledge child sexual abuse is heinous, but when we educate others or use legal terminology to describe the crime, we rarely capture the devastation it brings. Many avoid reckoning with the long-term impacts of sexual abuse because it is uncomfortable, frightening, and a reality they do not want to believe. It is a lot easier to dismiss a victim’s story when you do not think about what the future holds for them.

Through resources Mosaic Georgia offers, such as our counseling services and Wholeness Collective healing programs, survivors will have the opportunity to experience brighter days and rebuild the various parts of their life that they may initially believe are permanently compromised. Each time they find spaces mutilated by an abuser’s crimes, it feels like they die another death. Mosaic Georgia creates a place of safety, while promoting the health of those impacted by sexual violence and pursuing justice alongside them.

I hope you will continue reading, despite the discomfort it may cause.

I hope when you hear about childhood sexual abuse occurring in your community, you will think about what the victim’s healing will involve before you think about what the perpetrator may lose.

I hope you will have greater insight into why victims cannot simply “get over it.” Victims do not choose this path- the perpetrators chose it for them.

Abuse Steals Imaginations

I will never forget the day I realized my imagination had been broken, destroyed. I loved playing with Barbie dolls as a child. I could spend hours with a hundred different narratives to play out. When my abuser forced me to do things that a child should never know exist, it altered the lens through which I saw the world. It was no longer a safe place. My playtime was interrupted by the new reality of what I believed (step)daddies and daughters were to do. When I looked at the barbies after the abuse started, I did not see a safe, loving Barbie and Ken doll to take care of and nurture the little Kelly doll. That narrative was no longer my reality. My brain literally could not move past the abuse to create an imagined healthy family dynamic. I stopped playing with my Barbies altogether. Children need to engage in imaginative play for healthy cognitive, relational, and language development. Abuse steals imaginations.

Abuse Defaces Self-Image

When I was an elementary student, I witnessed a man exposing himself in a nearby sauna while I swam in a hotel pool. This incident and my response clearly demonstrate how abuse negatively altered the way I saw myself and my responsibilities. Though I was still in elementary school, I wholeheartedly believed that it was my duty to enter that sauna to do the same things with that man that my abuser had done to me. Had it not been for my younger siblings in the pool with me, and my desire to protect them, sweat and tears would have poured from my face in that sauna. I struggled to see a future beyond what abuse required of me.  Abuse defaces self-image.

Abuse Maims Autonomy

As I moved into my teen and young adult years, it became evident that the rules I lived by because of the abuse dismissed my desires in relationships. It is without question that childhood sexual abuse causes difficulties in trusting others, but it also causes difficulty in trusting oneself. I was taught not to trust my gut. My gut instinct as a child told me that what my abuser did to me was uncomfortable and maybe wrong. But the prevailing belief was that adults do not hurt children. The only way I could reconcile these conflicting experiences was to reject my gut feelings. In later relationships, I did not trust my gut instinct because the abuse narrative would hijack my cognitive processes and pressure me to yield to the desires of others. I did not believe I had the right nor the authority to reject what others wanted from me.  Abuse maims autonomy.

Abuse Dismantles Felt Safety

I think one of the most disheartening impacts of childhood sexual abuse are the sensory triggers that survivors literally cannot control. Over the years, many of the triggers that once plagued me daily have been desensitized- thanks to time, distance, therapy, and medication. I can remember the days in high school and college when I would experience multiple triggers in a single day. These triggers were instances like seeing the same work truck my abuser drove or passing a restaurant where we used to eat together. Trauma triggers activate our sympathetic nervous system resulting in the perception of danger. Our fight or flight response takes over and our sense of safety evaporates. It sometimes feels like the abuse is happening again. In those moments, strong emotions of fear, sadness and anger become overwhelming and hard to manage. Over time, I have learned to identify many of my triggers, but I am not always able to prevent them, and I discover new ones each year. Triggers can disrupt a seemingly normal day at the most inopportune time. It is hard not to feel defeated because, in some ways, my abuser’s actions still impact me.  Abuse dismantles felt safety.

This represents just a few of the long-term impacts of childhood sexual abuse. I hope reading this has provided a greater understanding of how childhood sexual abuse affects a person long after physical freedom from the abuser has been granted. Putting the future of survivors at the forefront and recognizing the long and burdensome path they will travel toward healing, creates an environment where it is more likely for abusers to be held accountable for the choices they make that leave such a path of devastation.

Maybe then perpetrators will face heftier consequences for this crime. Maybe then perpetrators’ futures will not be considered more significantly than victims.

Maybe then, more disclosures will be met with belief and support.

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Abuse Occurs in Ways We Least Expect: Keeping Children Safe at the Holidays

Kendall Circle Headshot

By Kendall Wolz
Mental Health and Wellness Manager at Mosaic Georgia

As the holidays are upon us, families and friends will gather around tables to share meals and spend time in each other’s company. Many people look forward to this time of the year to catch up with loved ones they may not get to see often. But for some, the holidays are filled with anxiety, fear, and potentially further harm. Over 90% of child sexual abuse victims know their abuser.1 As hard as it is to fathom, there is a disturbing possibility that a perpetrator could be involved in your holiday traditions.

The purpose of this post is to equip you and your children with strategies to prevent abuse during family gatherings and other holiday celebrations and to respond quickly and appropriately if your child discloses harm.

One of the most heart-wrenching impacts of child sexual abuse is the way it silences victims. The average age of disclosure of child sexual abuse is 52 years.2 Because of the power perpetrators wield over their victims, it is imperative we provide children the tools they need to speak if they experience harm.

Many of us rest in a false security when we gather with those we love. We may think, “no one here would hurt my child” or “there are so many people around and watching, nothing could happen here.” It may feel unbearable to accept the alternative.

When I was a child experiencing ongoing sexual abuse, there were many times my abuser was brazen enough to abuse me in the presence of others. He had manipulated and groomed me into compliance and silence. He knew that he if discreetly touched me inappropriately in a room full of people, I would not scream, I would not speak up. As I reflect on those painful moments, I recognize now what would have been helpful to me and might have prevented some of the harm I experienced.

1. People who say they love us may also harm us, and that does not make it okay.

Does your child know that even if someone says they love them, it is never okay for that person to hurt them? It is never okay for that person to make them feel scared, nervous, or icky. Can your child name an adult they will tell if someone makes them feel that way?

2. Secrets are never okay.

Have you talked about the differences between secrets and surprises with your child ahead of the holidays? If not, now is a great time to begin this conversation. The fundamental differences between secrets and surprises are broken down in one of my previous articles.

3. Empower your child with body autonomy.

Provide your child with the option of saying “no.” If your child doesn’t want to hug great uncle Bob and doesn’t want a kiss on the cheek from great aunt Sue, teach them phrases of polite decline. Then, tell Uncle Bob and Aunt Sue that they cannot hug or kiss your child if they resist or say no. Maybe your child is okay with a handshake, fist bump, or wave instead. Help your child recognize what feels safe to them.

4. Recognize the signs of grooming.

Unfortunately, in the early stages, grooming behaviors often mimic dynamics that occur in healthy relationships. This makes it hard to detect, initially. However, there are some things you can look for when an adult is grooming a child. Is there a person who suddenly begins to show an increased interest in your child? Maybe they have complimented your child’s athletic abilities or musical talents and show interest in supporting them in those areas. Are they spending time alone with your child? Have they started providing for your child in ways they did not previously? Reflecting on my own experience, one of the signs of grooming I recognize as an adult is my abuser inviting me to begin watching the television show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire with him. Prior to the show airing, we never watched television together in his bedroom.

My intention is not to make you fearful about every person your child comes into contact with, but to make you aware that abuse does happen in the presence of other people. Just because it is a holiday does not mean an abuser will abstain from abusing.

If you have children, I hope you will take the time to talk about body rights and healthy touch.

If they appear fearful or nervous around certain people, do not brush it off as shyness- ask questions. Fight through the discomfort this type of conversation may bring.

Have these necessary conversations now.

If you suspect abuse and feel confused, scared, or overwhelmed about what to do next, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673). If you live in the Gwinnett County area of Georgia and abuse has been disclosed, please call our Mosaic Georgia crisis line at 866-900-6019 to talk with an advocate who is there to provide you with the resources you need and support you through the process.

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The Art of Compassion: Mosaic Masterpieces Awaits You! 

By Marina Sampanes Peed
Executive Director of Mosaic Georgia

Picture this: A quiet evening, you’re cozily settled in, deeply engrossed in that new bestseller or the latest binge-worthy series. Your phone buzzes, then rings. It’s a dear friend, voice quivering, entrusting you with a painful revelation – they or their child has experienced the unthinkable – the brutality of interpersonal violence/abuse.

Most people assume that a resource is available – through hospitals and local police departments. In fact, here and across most of Georgia, private, nonprofit organizations like Mosaic Georgia’s Children’s Advocacy & Sexual Assault Center, provide the direct services and support to victims of abuse and assault. Mosaic Georgia’s hotline 866-900-6019 is here for you.

What is it worth to you to know that help is available, 24/7, if you or your loved one needed it?

Interpersonal violence – be it physical, sexual, psychological – leave traumatic injuries that don’t just fade with time; they linger, hidden behind barriers of shame and silence. While we learn more about the neurobiology of trauma and make progress to lift the blanket of stigma, it’s community-based services like Mosaic Georgia that truly light the path to healing.

But why is this 24/7 support essential?

1. Immediate Support in Crisis: The aftermath of disclosure of violence is often chaotic, clouded with fear and confusion. An available helpline means immediate guidance, ensuring the safety of the victim and pointing them toward the right resources, whether medical, legal, or psychological.

2. Immediate Coordination of Care: Mosaic Georgia mobilizes a response team to provide advocacy supports, medical forensic care, mental health supports, and coordination with law enforcement.

3. Building Resilience: Lingering effects of violence affect one’s personal safety, ability to work or study, sleep, or focus. We assist with mental health and wellness care so people of all ages can develop their personal mental health toolkits that support and strengthen every aspect of their lives. We also provide no-cost legal services to access protection of their personal safety, and ensure their rights are not further harmed by the perpetrator.

4. Empower the Community: Knowing that help is always available strengthens the community as a whole. It empowers friends, neighbors, and family members to guide their loved ones toward the assistance they need.

How Can I Help?

People tell me they are glad that someone is doing this work, even though they don’t think they could do it. I feel the same way about surgeons and water reclamation experts. Here is a great way to support this mission and add to your art collection.

Our 4th annual “Mosaic Masterpieces”—an Art Auction & Happy Hour, not just for the art enthusiast but for every heart that beats for a compassionate community.

This event isn’t just an art auction. It’s a gathering that stitches together resilience, courage, and community spirit. With professional fine art, pieces by community leaders, students, and survivors, it’s a two-hour soulful experience.

By contributing – whether it’s through sponsorship, attendance, or art acquisition – you’re not just adding to your collection. You’re championing a cause, ensuring that every cry for help echoes with the comforting reply: “We’re here for you.”

Take a look at sponsorship opportunities, download a social media toolkit, contribute art, peruse our photo gallery from past events, or volunteer:

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When Love Hurts: A Look at the Realities of Intimate Partner Violence

Kendall Circle Headshot

By Kendall Wolz
Mental Health and Wellness Manager at Mosaic Georgia

What is the difference between intimate partner violence and domestic violence?

The term intimate partner violence more broadly encompasses violence within relationships, whereas domestic violence typically applies to individuals living within the same household.

In the 1970s and 1980s, women’s rights groups elevated the voices and raised awareness of crimes committed against wives by their husbands. In response to the campaigns, domestic violence shelters opened for women seeking refuge from their abusive husbands. Largely, people viewed domestic violence as a gendered issue- one where married women were the victims.

Because violence in relationships is not limited to heterosexual, married couples, the term intimate partner violence was introduced. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines intimate partner violence as “behavior within an intimate relationship that causes physical, sexual or psychological harm, including acts of physical aggression, sexual coercion, psychological abuse and controlling behaviors” and the definition covers violence by both current and former spouses and partners.1

Intimate partner violence and domestic violence apply to adult victims, while the term “teen dating violence” recognizes that minors and young adults also experience abusive patterns in relationships.

But, he doesn’t hit me.”  

Intimate partner violence includes but is not limited to acts of physical violence. The Power and Control Wheel visually depicts the various ways it shows up in relationships.2 The outer wheel recognizes physical and/or sexual violence as a common occurrence. But the spokes of the wheel describe intimidation, emotional abuse, isolation, denying/minimizing/blaming, using the children, using privilege, economic abuse, and coercion/threats.

Abusers use various methods to exhibit power and maintain control in the relationship. Without intervention, the cycle outlined in the wheel perpetuates itself.

What is the prevalence of intimate partner violence?

Intimate partner violence is more common than people realize and accounts for 15% of all violent crime. And according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence 25-50% of people in relationships experience at least one form of relationship violence.

  • About 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men report having experienced severe physical violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime.
  • About 1 in 5 women and 1 in 13 men have experienced contact sexual violence by an intimate partner.
  • 14% of women and 5% of men report having been stalked by an intimate partner.
  • The cost of intimate partner violence over a victim’s lifetime is estimated at $103,767 for women.

Data from the CDC’s 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey indicate that among U.S. high school students, 1 in 12 experienced physical dating violence and 1 in 12 experienced sexual dating violence within the previous year. Female students and those who identified as LGBTQ or were unsure of their gender identity experienced higher rates of dating violence.3

Ripple Effects

Lives of victims are affected in numerous and damaging ways.

Emotional pain is at the forefront. This can manifest as distress, loss of self-confidence and self-esteem, anxiety, panic attacks, sadness, shame, guilt, internal tension, stress, anger or despair. Many victims experience post-traumatic stress disorder, commonly known as PTSD. In addition to physical injuries, emotional stress contributes to deteriorating health such as sleep and eating disorders, chronic pain, digestive issues, and weakened immune systems.

Humans are social beings, and their interactions fulfill a wide range of physical, emotional, psychological, and social needs.

Intimate partner violence causes a pattern interrupt.

Routine, healthy dynamics and interactions shift. A support network is crucial yet those living with intimate partner violence often lose the trust and esteem of loved ones which can cause isolation. Power imbalances also negatively affect relationships with children.

The broader societal implications of partner violence are extensive. For the victim, requiring sick leave and trouble focusing can lead to job loss. On the grander scale, there are public health costs such as strain on healthcare, social services, and the public safety and legal systems. Employers are affected through insurance costs and reduced employee productivity.

Effects on Young Bodies and Minds

Furthermore, intimate partner violence leaves lasting imprints on children who witness the abuse, and it places them at higher risk of being victimized also.

As many as 1 in 5 children witness intimate partner violence in their lifetime.4 One of the most concerning realities of the impact of intimate partner violence on children is that approximately 1 in 5 homicides of children aged 2-14 are related to intimate partner violence. Children growing up in homes where abuse and violence are normalized are more likely to use violence as a means of conflict resolution than their peers not exposed. Witnessing intimate partner violence as a child is an adverse childhood experience (ACE). Higher ACE scores are associated with a multitude of negative long-term outcomes including early death, chronic physical health issues, mental health challenges, and relationship struggles.

Shining a light on the realities of violence helps to bring about awareness. Intimate partner violence is all around us and needs to be exposed rather than shrouded in secrecy and kept behind closed doors. Talking about it, sharing (the uncomfortable) information, and modeling healthy behavior can help initiate a shift in the societal norms and attitudes that perpetuate violence in intimate relationships.

If you or someone you know has experienced intimate partner violence, there is help available. You can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or text “START” to 88788.

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Someone’s Gotta Say It

From Awkward to Empowered: Rethinking “the Talk”

By Marina Sampanes Peed
Executive Director of Mosaic Georgia

Do you remember the whirlwind of emotions and questions that came with growing up? I sure do. Not too long ago, I was gently reminded that I’ve stepped into the “woman of a certain age” chapter in life. And what a vibrant chapter it is! As a proud mom of two wonderful grown-up kids, and having weathered life’s many unexpected twists, I often find myself reflecting on those pivotal parenting moments. Recently, a close friend (and a mom to some spirited youngsters) curiously asked about my journey through their hormone-driven teenage years. With a smile, I admitted, “You know, I thought I had all the answers and would be the perfect parent… until we brought our daughter home from the hospital. Talk about humbling!” 

As parents, our protective instincts are on high alert. From the rising cost of living and healthcare to the daily news about guns, active shooter drills, student debts, and challenges to our fundamental rights, it can feel a bit overwhelming. But amidst this whirlwind, it helps to start where you are, with what is in your control. Let’s begin with those heart-to-heart talks about the changes they are feeling.   

In this rapidly changing world, it’s crucial for adults to overcome their hesitations and ensure our children and teens are well-informed and equipped with facts about their bodies, sexual contact, self-confidence and communication skills.

Discomfort is Just a Feeling: You’re Not Alone

We’ve all been there. That slight unease when broaching certain topics with our kids. Most of us didn’t have great role models in the “birds and the bees” conversations (that I even wrote “birds and the bees” in 2023 should be instructive). Some fear that if you talk about sex, it will encourage them to act on that new information. As if they aren’t naturally curious about the body parts they carry with them already.  

Why Your Silence Isn’t Always Golden

Whether we like it or not, today’s youth are surrounded by sexualized messages – from advertisements, TV and movies, music, social media, and even pornography.  

Here is what we know to be true: Normalizing discussions about bodies, hormones, relationships, values, and consequences are protective factors that can reduce early risky sexual activity and sexual harms.   

Calling body parts the proper terms without blushing or whispering is the first step. Read this next section out loud: 

Start at the top:  Head, forehead, eyes, nose, lips, ears, shoulders, arms, hands, fingers, chest, breast, abdomen, penis, testicles, anus, vulva (includes labia, urethra, clitoris, vagina), thighs, calves, foot, toes.  

If you can’t read or say these words out loud, your assignment is to work through your discomfort.  Parts are parts. 

The Danger of Secrecy and Shame

Kids can read the room. When adults avoid talking about human development or speak with declarative statements that shut down conversation, they create an environment of secrecy and shame. Parents who tell kids to “wait until marriage” (message reinforced to girls) for religious or cultural reasons, without educating about sexual activity, put their kids at greater risk for unintended harms. This creates a fertile ground for abusers. People who sexually abuse and exploit others thrive on coercion and secrecy. They manipulate their victims over time, creating damaging repercussions. The lifelong effects of childhood sexual abuse are many and varied, depending on the type, frequency and intensity of abuse, and child’s relationship to the abuser. 

Did you know 25% of girls and 17% of boys K-12 ages (in both public and private education) have experienced some form of sexual abuse? These statistics represent real individuals, often victims of people within their close circle. Their language used often in describing genitals and the sexual acts reveal a lack of basic education about their bodies. Concerns about pregnancy from non-vaginal intercourse are common

The Statistics Have Names and Faces

At Mosaic Georgia, for example, over 1,500 children and youth are seen each year for harms arising from sexual abuse or exploitation. We’ve worked with minors who became parents due to familial sexual abuse and commercial trafficking. The trajectory of their lives are forever changed because of sexual abuse.

Parents of these youth are often shocked that the abuse was happening and lament that they thought their child was too young to talk about such things. 

And there are as many adults who experienced sexual abuse as children, who later in life seek resources and support in their healing journey. Most victims hold their experiences in silence, fearing that “telling” will cause more harm to themselves and their family. Abstinence-only messages further inflict shame and guilt on young victims, contributing to mental health struggles, including depression, substance abuse, and suicidal thoughts. 

Shifting Perspective: From Discomfort to Empowerment

Think back to your childhood. Do you remember the tingles, the whispers, the giggles, and the myths associated with s-e-x? Remember the confusion and perhaps even the fear?  

We can do better. Comprehensive sexual education goes beyond biology and mechanics to include the emotional and ethical facets. It’s about teaching respect for self and others, understanding boundaries and consent, and fostering healthy relationships. It’s about creating an environment where our children can grow up understanding their bodies, respecting and valuing a partner, and building meaningful, respectful relationships.

Parents as First Teachers, Schools as Allies

Parents weave a tapestry of trust, respect, and knowledge with their kids through everyday conversations. Spending time to listen, share, and even laugh about life’s mysteries will build bonds and trust. While parents are a child’s first teachers, there is no knowledge test to pass in order to become a parent. Parents have varying levels of knowledge, skills, and confidence to talk about human reproduction, pregnancy, childbirth, and parenthood.  

Schools can bridge this information gap, ensuring all students have access to factual information and understand the risks and consequences of varied sexual activity. And the curriculum is a great basis for discussion between parent and child.  

A collaborative approach ensures that all our children receive consistent, relevant, and age-appropriate information. This shared responsibility can also alleviate some of the pressures parents might feel about having these discussions on their own.

Resources to Help

For parents who may be unsure where to start or how to approach these topics, there are numerous resources available. Organizations like Mosaic Georgia, among others, offer tools to initiate these essential conversations.  

There are more books and curriculum on-line that you can read first, then share with your kids. Sometimes it’s easiest for each to read on their own and then discuss together.  Like a book club for child/adolescent health.

Call to Act: An Investment in Their Future

It’s natural to feel discomfort, but let’s channel that unease into action. After all, our children’s empowerment and safety are well worth the effort. 

When we know better, we do better.

The path forward is paved with knowledge, empathy, and understanding. Let’s take the necessary steps to ensure that our children grow up with the confidence and tools they need to navigate the complex world of sexual health and relationships. After all, knowledge is not just power; it’s empowering. 

Thank you for reading this to the end. If you’d like to talk with me about protecting all our children, please reach out to  Let’s be the best village we can be for future generations. 

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National Suicide Prevention Month: The Impact of Sexual Violence on Mental Health

Kendall Circle Headshot

By Kendall Wolz
Mental Health and Wellness Manager at Mosaic Georgia

“I feel hopeless.”
“I just don’t know how I can continue with this pain.”
“Sometimes I think dying is the only way.”
“I don’t really want to die, but I think about it all the time.” 

It is common for therapists to hear phrases like these when sitting with clients in the aftermath of sexual violence. The phrases reveal the depth of the pain that sexual trauma creates. Many clients who share these words struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms such as nightmares, intrusive thoughts, hypervigilance, avoidance of reminders of the trauma, anxiety, and depression. The psychological impacts of sexual violence disrupt survivor’s daily lives.  

Real-World Aftereffects of Trauma

Take a moment to remember the last time you went grocery shopping. You probably got in your car, turned on the radio, drove to the store, picked up the items you needed, checked out, drove home, and unloaded the groceries.  

A survivor with PTSD symptoms may have a very different experience. A survivor may choose to go to a grocery store across town to avoid the possibility of running into their abuser at the local store. They may find themselves constantly looking in the review mirror for any indication that danger is nearby. If a vehicle matching that of their perpetrator pulls near them, they may experience a surge of anxiety and panic that lasts long after they realize it is just a similar vehicle not the abuser. As they browse the aisles in the store, they may find themselves frozen for an unknown amount of time when they see the type of chips they ate prior to being assaulted. When they finally return home, they barely have the energy to unload the groceries. This was a single shopping trip. While completing the shopping trip is a success for that survivor, they may also feel defeated because the previously simple tasks now require more than they feel they can sustain.

The Troubling Links Between Sexual Violence, PTSD, and Suicide Risk 

Research illustrates the significant link between sexual assault and PTSD. One study found that 94% of women who were raped experienced PTSD symptoms during the two weeks immediately following the rape. About 30% of the women reported continued symptoms nine months later. The National Women’s Study reported that almost one-third of all rape victims develop PTSD sometime during their lives and 11% of rape victims currently suffer from the disorder (1). 

The effects of PTSD can be unrelenting.  

Psychological distress, difficulty with activities of daily living, and disrupted sleep patterns often result in an increased risk of suicidal ideation and suicidal attempts. 

Left untreated, the symptoms of PTSD will often result in feelings of hopelessness which places someone at a significant risk of suicide. Eapen and Cifu (2020) found that among people who have been diagnosed with PTSD at some point in their lifetime, approximately 27% have attempted suicide. A body of research (2) provides evidence that traumatic events such as childhood abuse may increase a person’s suicide risk.  

When a client discloses in session one of the phrases above, the first response as clinicians often involves normalizing their feelings. It makes sense in the aftermath of sexual trauma that a person would not want to endure the pain that seems like it will last forever. It makes sense that they would experience feelings of hopelessness when their entire world has been changed. Clinicians strive to instill hope for their clients that with consistent therapy, the establishment of safety and a support system, and the regular use of coping skills, the symptoms that currently wreak havoc in their lives will decrease.  

Healing can and does happen following sexual violence. 

What to Do If You or a Friend are Experiencing Suicidal Thoughts

If you are experiencing suicidal ideation and are thinking about ending your life, know that you are not alone and there is help available. There are likely people you know, love, and trust who have also experienced suicidal thoughts. This moment of pain, despair, and feeling like there is no other way will not last forever. If you feel like your life is in immediate danger, please call 911 right away. If you are in Georgia, you can call the Georgia Crisis Access Line 1-800-715-4225. If there is a person in your life that you love and trust, reach out to them and let them know you are having these thoughts. If possible, avoid being alone. You can also call or text the Suicide and Crisis Line at 988. Reach out and let someone support you in this time of need. It does not have to be the end. 

If someone you know is experiencing suicidal ideation or is talking about ending their life, the same resources listed above are available. If they have shared their thoughts and pain with you, acknowledge the courage it took for them to voice their need. Remind them how important they are and how much you care for them. If they are unwilling to call the resources listed above, you can take the step and call for them. Trained crisis counselors can guide you in supporting your friend. If they are in immediate danger, call 911 right away. 


  1. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and National Center for PTSD

     2. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and National Center for PTSD

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