JONES COUNTY, MS (WDAM) - An organization in Laurel is taking strides to help children who have fallen victim to child abuse find relief.
"My initial question was, do we have one here in Jones County? The answer was no. After that, my question was, why?” asked Dana Bumgardner, Attorney.
"I realized I needed to do something,” said Dawn Compton.
For years, children in the Pine Belt who have been victimized by sexual, physical, and mental abuse have to travel to Child Advocacy Centers (CAC) across the state to get the services they need.
"This would have made such a difference if somebody had just gotten involved,” said Compton.
Dawn Compton was sexually abused for the first 11 years of her life by a family member.
"No one ever said anything about it. No one ever acknowledged it in my own family,” explained Compton.
Compton is working with other advocates to make sure children in Jones County do not fall through the cracks like she did.
"I had become aware of what Child Advocacy Centers are and what they do. Whenever a co-worker had come to work on a Monday morning and found out that her daughter had been raped by her own father from the ages of six to ten, she realized why her daughter had been suicidal. Whenever we started making those phone calls, that’s when we realized we didn’t have a CAC in Jones County,” explained Compton.
Compton co-founded the organization, Cherished hearts, whose long term goal is to establish a Children’s Advocacy Center for Jones County.
"We’re trying to bring this CAC to Jones County so that we can help provide some services that we currently don’t have for children here in Jones county without having to go into other counties,” said Kristen Martin, Assistant District Attorney for Jones County.
The organization has just recently gotten it’s non-profit status and invested in a multidisciplinary team.
"Any victim that comes through the sheriff’s office or files a report through Child Protective Services, we look into every single case. As of now, we are probably at around 39 active cases right now that we’ve been working since the first of the year. That’s a lot from January to April to work sex cases on kids. We are just trying to be advocates for the kids of Jones County,” explained Tonya Madison, Chief investigator for Jones County Sheriff’s department.
Cherished Hearts board members say they feel the long distance traveling for child abuse victims is taxing on both the child and the non-offending family members, and propose these services be offered in Jones County.
"We need something here like a Child Advocacy Center to kind of pull resources and referrals and things like that. There really isn’t a place like that for these children and their non-offending family members to go and say hey we need a place to stay, we need a forensic interview for our child, we need etc. Whatever the case may be,” explained Bumgardner.
So far, Cherished Hearts has taking many strides in getting a CAC for Jones county. They are currently looking at different buildings to potentially house a center.
"This is all about making the whole process and all the processes work together for good so that these children get the services they need and the help they need. The effects of sexual abuse, especially today, are life-long. They are very detrimental for the children who go through these situations,” said Compton.
Compton is also co-founder of Voice for the Silenced, a platform where Compton and others routinely share their story of hope as sexual abuse survivors.
If you or someone you know has a child that has fallen victim to any form of abuse, call the national child abuse hotline at 1-800-422-4453