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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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Someone’s Gotta Say It

 

Kindred Spirits Work to End Gender-Based Violence Around the World

 

By Marina Sampanes Peed
Executive Director of Mosaic Georgia

“The value of these exchanges and experiences includes building global solidarity in the mission toward a world free of violence.”

Lagan Denhard, MPH, Health Scientist, Gender & Youth Team, HIV Prevention Branch, Global Health Center, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention

In October, Mosaic Georgia had the privilege of hosting a learning exchange with 30 public health practitioners from 21 countries across Africa, Asia, and the Americas, organized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s Global Health Center – HIV Prevention Branch. This remarkable gathering brought together practitioners from the Gender & Youth team, collectively dedicated to addressing Gender-Based Violence (GBV) on a global scale.

GBV, an internationally recognized term, includes any type of harm that is perpetrated against a person or group of people because of their factual or perceived sex, gender, sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

The US Department of State shares, “Although persons of all gender identities may experience gender-based violence, women girls, and gender non-conforming persons face disproportionate risks across every context due to their unequal status in society.” Types of GBV include child sexual abuse; physical violence; intimate partner violence; all forms of sexual violence including forced prostitution, sex trafficking, conflict-related, forced pregnancy; child, early, and forced marriage; femicide; honor-based violence; female genital mutilation/cutting; technology-facilitated; and femicide.

Our excitement to show Mosaic Georgia’s community-based approach to preventing and responding to child abuse and gender-based violence in Gwinnett was met with curiosity and insightful questions.

The cornerstone of our model lies in providing specialty care outside traditional institutional settings like hospitals. Many hospitals worldwide lack the resources and expertise to provide trauma-focused care and support for patients who experienced sexual violence and the forensic & evidentiary practices needed to secure evidence for investigative purposes. We take great pride in being the first sexual assault center in Georgia to bring medical forensic care into a private, community-based setting 30 years ago. Mosaic Georgia shares proven practices with other communities in Georgia and states around the country.

One aspect of our approach that resonated profoundly is the practice of an advocate staying with the victim/patient during the medical forensic exam. One visitor remarked, “I think more young women would have the exam if they had confidential support. They are afraid to tell anyone for the shame it will bring to their family.”

Our international colleagues are no strangers to the challenges of addressing and preventing gender-based violence. The Global Health Center’s Gender & Youth team focuses on youth-specific and Gender Based Violence (GBV) programming as cross-cutting priorities in ending HIV as a public health threat. Many of them are providers themselves or have played critical roles in ensuring or expanding services for victims and survivors. At our gathering we learned about how CDC offices around the world are engaged in supporting GBV prevention and response efforts in one-stop public facilities, in communities, within integrated primary care services, in standalone clinics for the LGBTQ+ community, and for sex workers.

We have much in common with our colleagues despite visible differences such as nation wealth, household income, technology access, literacy rates, etc. For example, when crises arise (i.e., natural disaster, pandemic, economic scarcity), so does gender-based violence. The pandemic brought with it a rise in child sexual abuse here in Georgia. This very intimate violence creates additional trauma in an already stressful circumstance. Violence takes a long-term toll on physical and mental health, relationships, and overall quality of life.

There was great interest in how we maintain the trust of survivors and the respect of law enforcement when dealing with the complexities of these harms. We are fortunate to have an active, ongoing relationship with our local law enforcement agencies. The multi-disciplinary team model, adopted by Children’s Advocacy Centers across the country, stresses building relationships, regular meetings, recognizing and respecting each discipline’s roles and limitations, and healthy conflict resolution skills. Success requires mature leadership of all institutions to fully support the model. Again, the community-based setting creates a neutral forum for sometimes uncomfortable conversations.

From a public policy perspective, the community protocols for child abuse and sexual assault response and Georgia’s Sexual Assault Kit Tracking program generated a lot of discussion. They questioned how effective these measures are and if all parties participate. We explained the protocols must be certified by the Chief Justice of the Superior Court and filed with the State, and the Governor receives a report of Counties that are not in compliance. This is a strong incentive to participate, regardless of the political party in power.

During our exchange, common themes emerged.

A. Shame wields significant power. People – including faith communities, families, schools, and social groups – are uncomfortable talking about natural sexual development, sexuality, and sexual abuse & violence. Euphemisms are used to avoid offending others or causing embarrassment. This is intriguing given the widespread use of pornography.

B. Gender-based violence is widely under-reported due to victims’ unequal social standing as compared to heterosexual males. Homosexuality is a crime in some countries and culturally shamed in many others. Predators abuse these vulnerabilities with little risk to their safety or reputation.

C. Withdrawal or recantation of an abuse/assault report is common, especially among young victims. The reception of the outcry and the treatment thereafter often causes significant family disruption or financial pressures. Stigma tends to be placed on survivors more than perpetrators in every country.

D. At the same time, psychosocial support, especially when facilitated by peer navigators / advocates, holds immense power for survivors in the healing process.

E. The need for new strategies and accountability tools to prevent GBV, as no country has succeeded in reducing sexual violence with its criminal justice system alone.

Several opportunities to improving trust and safety for people most vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse and violence were lifted up:

  • Early education of boys and girls on self-respect, empathy, healthy communication, can build a foundation for strong, healthy relationships.
  • Develop and support community-based peer navigators/advocates with knowledge and skills for confidential, judgement-free psychosocial support. Supporting local communities with trauma-informed training and activities can initiate great healing. Train-the-trainer models with sample program outlines/curricula can help jumpstart discussion for a community to create their own programs.
  • Build in training and understanding of the dynamics of Gender-Based Violence and maltreatment in public safety policies & practices. Include skill-building on trauma-informed practices when engaging with a victim of such interpersonal violence.

Our Wholeness Collective has harnessed the power of healing and mind-centering activities such as yoga, painting, dance, music, and spoken word in trauma-informed ways which reduces trauma symptoms of participants. These activities offer a path to healing that transcends language and cultural differences.

In light of these discussions, it’s evident that even when considerable economic power exists, the political will and commitment to end gender-based and sexualized violence worldwide has the capacity to be further strengthened. Cultural norms continue to shape attitudes toward gender and violence. When your ZIP code or village shapes your life experience and potential, the disproportionate male representation in local government contributes to the complexity of addressing GBV.

We recognize that this journey to reduce gender-based violence is one that transcends borders and demands collective action. The practitioners in Botswana, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Eswatini (formerly called Swaziland), Ethiopia, Ghana, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe left us with inspiration and hope that we can each make a difference in our communities, with what we have.

The sounds of hope, resilience, and persistence rang loud and clear.

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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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From the Outside Looking In: Top 3 Reasons Mosaic Georgia is on My Giving Tuesday Shortlist

Mandy Headshot

By Amanda Makrogianis Mickelsen
Marketing Project Manager Consultant

Some causes are loud.

And some work is done quietly and selflessly behind the scenes, firmly but compassionately making a difference to those in a vulnerable place.

People (understandably) don’t like to acknowledge, let alone talk about, the disturbing topic of sexual violence. But it happens all around us. And in a world fraught with injustice, it is comforting to know there are helpers—people who care, working to minimize the suffering in seemingly small ways that make the biggest of differences.

I have worked for Mosaic Georgia’s Sexual Assault and Children’s Advocacy Center as a project management and marketing consultant for over two years, after feeling compelled to move from the corporate space to causes that contribute to a more just and humane world.

I become a donor each year on Giving Tuesday. I’d like to share with you why.

Burdens Lifted

Mosaic Georgia helps to alleviate the tremendous strain that envelops the lives of survivors and their families.

I have learned in my time here that sexual assault is not an isolated occurrence for the victim. There is a cascading ripple effect that can disrupt and sometimes debilitate the victim’s inner circle.

I imagine a mother who has just discovered the unthinkable who, amid the tragedy, is faced with the towering responsibility of single-handedly finding a safe living space for her children and providing for them while navigating the array of complicated social issues now encircling her. Mosaic is a place where she can find resources and referrals for rental assistance or transitional housing…a place where she can then access the legal services necessary to obtain a protective order or a divorce…a place where her little one receives a comfort kit with items that help them feel a little more safe and comforted as they realize they cannot return to the place they call home.

I imagine the tremendous burdens lifted at a time of immense stress, pain, shock, and confusion.

A Staff of Everyday Heroes

Mosaic allows their clients to feel seen, heard, safe, protected and as comfortable as they can be in those critical moments during a trying time no human being should ever have to face.

Whether a medical clinician or the first voice on the other end of the phone, everyone on the staff is caring and dedicated in a way I have never personally seen at an organization. From the moment someone walks through the crisis center door to the moment they leave their first trauma-informed yoga class, the team rallies around them, providing professional and compassionate care.

Every. Single. Time.

I consistently see messages of praise come through from parents who are grateful for the kind and caring way their loved one was treated at our center. And messages congratulating and affirming each other for coming together during a most trying case to provide the team support required to bring exceptional care to someone in crisis.

Some are there because of a personal connection to the mission and some are there to simply serve others in a time of need. They are a bonded group, collectively offering their clients dignity and warmth after a traumatic experience.

I am not a survivor so I cannot personally relate to how it feels to be in this situation. I do know that as I’ve gone through some of life’s more challenging times, the caring support people who were there with a lifeline in the moment I needed it, made all the difference in the world. The situation felt a little more manageable, and the weight of the ordeal was lifted just enough to get through with ‘one foot in front of the other’.

In those moments when we are most vulnerable, those with the lifeboats are all we have.

And it is critical that those providing the lifeboats have the resources and support they need to keep doing what they do.

Healing is Not Just an Afterthought

At a visit with a local women’s group I heard Executive Director Marina Sampanes Peed speak to the grim reality that the majority of those who come through their center will unfortunately not find legal justice, and instead will likely have to find a way to come to peace internally with the trauma that is now a part of their being. This is a tall order. Flawed societal ideals result in inequities within our systems. Hence many survivors are faced with the undeserved and unfair reality that a sense of peace that often accompanies accountability for their abuser will not be a part of their story.

To address the need for internal emotional reconciliation, last year Mosaic unveiled a Resilience Center that focuses solely on the healing aspect of a survivor’s journey. From yoga to art to meditation, the Wholeness Collective program offers trauma informed healing programs, counseling sessions, and support groups for those ready to rebuild and reclaim their lives, including child-centered healing activities. It’s a beautiful thing to see those wounded by trauma come together to talk, share, laugh, cry, dance, drum, paint, sing – to heal in many shapes and forms. This important holistic component is not merely an afterthought but a solid pillar of Mosaic’s integrative programs and services.

Covering all the reasons a donation to Mosaic Georgia is worthwhile would make this much too long a read! I have shared just the top of my list.

This Giving Tuesday I encourage you to join me in letting the staff at Mosaic Georgia know their work is valued, and showing survivors that they are supported. A tremendous amount of financial resources are required to provide such comprehensive services to those affected by sexualized violence. Please donate today!

Mosaic Georgia is a Sexual Assault and Children’s Advocacy Center that provides crisis intervention and support services for victims of sexual abuse, assault and trafficking. Services include forensic medical exams, advocacy, forensic interviews, legal aid, counseling, education & training, and healing-oriented wellness programs. In Gwinnett County, clients come to the safe and private setting of Mosaic Georgia instead of the emergency room.

Our mission is to take action and guide change for the safety, health & justice of children and adults impacted by sexual violence.

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Someone’s Gotta Say It…

Nurturing Gratitude: A Lighthouse in Stormy Waters

By Marina Sampanes Peed
Executive Director of Mosaic Georgia

“Showing gratitude is one of the simplest yet most powerful things humans can do for each other.”
Randy Pausch (The Last Lecture)

Finding peace of mind in a world filled with interpersonal violence is not easy. With the constant barrage of multi-media journalism, pretend-news and social media, it’s a challenge to stay informed about current events without overdosing on images of man-made tragedies.

People often ask, “How do you and your team deal with all the horrible things done to people who come to you for help? I don’t think I could handle it.” To say it’s a calling minimizes the effects on the helpers. Without an intentional counterbalance, the natural response can be to become numb and jaded about people, systems, and life. And truth be told, I wrestle with frustration about our collective refusal to invest in measures known to prevent violence.

For all of us, the cultivation of gratitude is a powerful tool and a psychological anchor holding steadfast in the turbulent seas of human suffering. The practice of gratitude builds mental resilience, and it has sustained my actual life and all the goodness in it for decades.

More Grateful than Thankful

Gratitude is nuanced, existing on a plane deeper than mere thankfulness. Consider thankfulness the immediate reaction to positive outcomes or narrow escapes — the meeting concluding early or the unlikely absence of traffic on I-85. Gratitude, however, is richer and more conscious — an appreciation that lingers and proliferates. It’s the recognition of ongoing goodness and the contributions of others, generating warmth and solidarity that extend far beyond the self.

For example, I am grateful for all the people who donate blood and platelets; they kept me alive for over a year. That gratitude arises each time I see a blood donation event in the community.

Gratitude, like love, is a practice as well as an emotion. It requires a conscious effort to see beyond the immediate, the loudest distractions. Observing and appreciating the positive facets of life develops mental resilience, even when overwhelmed with fear or pain. I called upon it in my darkest moments (sometimes teasing it out with some macabre humor).

The Science Behind Gratitude

Research within positive psychology corroborates the benefits of a grateful mindset. Studies indicate that practicing gratitude consistently contributes to mental well-being, reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety. By acknowledging the good, individuals combat the natural negativity bias, which, while evolutionarily protective, can be debilitating.

This shift is not about wearing rose-colored glasses but about recalibrating the mind to appreciate moments of kindness, success, and love that do exist amidst the chaos.

Exercise that Gratitude Muscle 

For personalities with higher levels of pessimism, the practice of gratitude may feel unsettling at first. Start simple: First: over a meal with another person or group, share one lowlight of the day and then three highlights. Invite others to do the same. When you spend more time and thoughts on the positive elements of the day, the meal will be tastier and you will leave the table more satisfied. Second: when you are in bed with the lights out, before you go to sleep, speak three things you are grateful for from the day. Let your mind rest for the night with those thoughts.

Gratitude allows those confronting or experiencing human suffering to maintain their humanity, find contentment, and continue their indispensable work. It is a choice to seek light and create an inner sanctuary of peace, from which we draw our strength.

Think of gratitude as more than a personal practice; it is a gift we share, through our continued hope and our belief in a better tomorrow. You’re welcome!

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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: https://www.mosaicgeorgia.org/mosaic-masterpieces/

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True Love After Trauma – Safety Tips for DV Survivors Seeking Healthy Relationships 

Ashia Headshot

By Ashia Gallo
Wholeness Collective Coordinator at Mosaic Georgia

Domestic violence (DV) is a soul-wrenching issue that affects millions of people worldwide, leaving lasting scars on both an individual’s physical and emotional wellbeing. While escaping an abusive relationship is a necessary and courageous step towards safety (click here for local resources from the Gwinnett County Family Violence Task Force), survivors often encounter significant challenges when trying to form new, healthy relationships later on.

Recovery is a complex journey that survivors of DV face in their pursuit of the loving and secure connections they deserve. Finding love after experiencing domestic violence can be challenging, but there are several important steps and solutions to consider before taking that next step:

Self-Healing

Prioritize your own healing and wellbeing first. Seek trauma therapy or counseling to address any emotional scars and trauma from the abusive relationship. Some of these scars may be well hidden, even to yourself. Healing takes time, and it’s essential to be in a healthy emotional state before pursuing a new relationship.

Support System

Building a strong support system with friends and family who can provide emotional support and understanding during your healing process is essential. This can understandably be a difficult step. One of the primary challenges for survivors of DV is the profound erosion of trust – trust of self and others. It’s because of this that having a solid support network is crucial for your recovery. Identify your people and confide in them.

Therapy or Support Groups

Consider joining support groups or attending therapy sessions specifically designed for survivors of DV. These environments can help you connect with others who have had similar experiences and provide valuable guidance. Mosaic Georgia offers Finding Hope Support Groups for women 18+ who are survivors of sexual abuse specifically. If this fits into your DV experience, you’re always welcome to join us.

Educate Yourself

Learn about healthy relationships, boundaries, and red flags for potential abuse. Knowledge is power, and that sense of empowerment can help you make better relationship choices in the future.

Take Your Time

There is no rush to enter a new relationship. Sometimes the potential comfort of a new emotional connection can feel like an easy fix – but moving on too quickly after a traumatic DV experience will likely not turn out the best for you long term. You don’t want to risk accumulating more trauma during your healing journey. Take as much time as you need to mend and build your confidence before seeking love again.

Set Boundaries

Clearly define your personal boundaries in a new relationship and communicate them openly with your partner. No hanging out in intimate spaces for six months? No kissing or physical affection until you initiate? Your dating rules are up to you, and anyone who truly cares for you will happily follow them to ensure your comfort. Boundaries help establish a healthy and respectful dynamic.

Trust Your Instincts

Listen to your gut feelings. If something doesn’t feel right in a new relationship, don’t ignore it. Rely on your instincts and take action if necessary. You’ve walked away once, and you can always do it again.

Online Dating Safety

If you choose to explore online dating, be cautious. Share personal information sparingly, meet in public places initially, and inform a trusted friend or family member about your plans to meet up. Also, pace getting to know the real identity and intentions of this stranger, and not just what they are presenting to you.

Legal Protection

Sometimes moving on can incite controlling ghosts of your past. If necessary, consult with legal professionals to explore options for restraining orders or legal protections against your abuser.

Finding love after domestic violence is possible, but it should be secondary to your journey of self-care, healing, and personal growth. Prioritizing your well-being and safety is paramount throughout this process.

It’s also very hopeful to know that you will smile again, date again, and love again. Our most beautiful connections sometimes exist on the other side of darkness. Wishing you so much luck in the quest for yours!

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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 marinap@mosaicga.org  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. 

References

  1. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and National Center for PTSD
    https://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/treat/type/sexual_assault_female.asp

     2. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and National Center for PTSD https://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/treat/cooccurring/suicide_ptsd.asp

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