It may be one of the most difficult tragedies a parent confronts: What to do if their child has been a victim of sexual assault or molestation.
But parents now have a guide written by an Ahwatukee woman who has spent years working with young sex abuse victims as a forensic interviewer for law enforcement agencies as well as a counselor.
The title of Christina Schopen’s book sets out its purpose: “When Your Child Discloses Sexual Abuse, A Step-by-Step Guide for Parents.”
The book resulted from her work.
“I found that parents were soaking up all the information and education I would provide to them after interviewing their children,” recalled the Louisiana native, who has lived in Ahwatukee since 1999.
“Having been a therapist and understanding the importance of incorporating parents in the therapeutic process with their child, it became even more evident to me that we still don’t do the best job of teaching and providing practical, hands-on techniques for parents to better communicate and assist their child through the healing process after an abuse disclosure.”
Schopen aimed to make the book a resource on child sexual abuse that would “make it easier for families to discuss abuse, better understand its effects and be able to heal with the necessary resources.”
As a forensic or dedicated interview specialist, she is trained to talk to children in a “developmentally appropriate and sensitive manner” about what a child may have experienced or witnessed regarding a crime, usually sexual assault.
That training includes a knowledge about child development, linguistic abilities and even offender dynamics. There are presently nine dedicated forensic interviewers in Maricopa County alone.
Originally a counselor who worked with families on abuse and trauma issues, she became a forensic interviewer shortly after she began working as a counselor for the Childhelp Children’s Center in 2000.
She had been approached because she knew Spanish and became the state’s first bilingual forensic interviewer.
Presently a contract employee with the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office to conduct forensic interviews, Schopen also assists other agencies, including the FBI and tribal communities. She also teaches law enforcement agents, attorneys and others who work with children.
And she provides expert witness testimony across Arizona on topics of delayed disclosure of abuse, the process of victimization, the general characteristics of abuse and why victims may initially disclose and then attempt to recant, or take back, their disclosures.
Is it emotionally taxing to work with young victims of abuse?
“When I tell people what I do for a living, I usually get a response of empathetic sadness along with a comment about how tough it must be to do this work,” she replied. “However, it is actually one of the most rewarding jobs I’ve ever had.
“Each day I get to provide an environment where children can feel safe and not judged talking about their experiences. I often equate my job to one of a hospice worker, in that we both deal with emotionally laden, sometimes traumatic, events that can be filled with sadness, fear, grief or loss, but our goal is to make that process easier, not just to talk about, but to also move forward.”
Surprisingly, her book fills a vacuum in the lexicon of books related to abuse.
“There have been books along the way that talked about child abuse, and some discuss what to say to your child, but to my knowledge, no books have concisely covered the ‘why’ behind children’s disclosures, practical suggestions on how to handle these disclosures and how to find the necessary resources when dealing with child abuse,” Schopen said.
“Seeing firsthand the stress and confusion these cases can bring to families, I felt it was necessary to have a resource with readily available information contained in brief, easily readable chapters,” she added.
And while the book is available through her website, chrisschopen.com, and amazon.com, she’s had trouble getting it into public libraries. The website also “talks to parents about how to handle an initial response to an abuse disclosure (who to contact and what to do)” as well as a link to other resources.
So far, only the Chandler and Glendale Public libraries carry the book.
She said she went to every library located near a police station, offering free copies of the book so they would be available for indigent families and other shattered parents.
“I will say the process of getting a book into the library is a much harder process than I ever imagined – which I guess in some respects, like quality control, is a good thing,” said Schopen.
For every book she sells, she donates $1 to Childhelp Children’s Center of Arizona’s counseling program and $1 to Prevent Child Abuse Arizona “in hopes of supporting each of these agencies’ efforts in supporting families dealing with abuse, as well as helping communities to prevent abuse.”
Asked why parents would find her book useful, Schopen pointed to the introduction, in which she writes that she wants them “to have a greater sense of what happened, what it means for you and your family, and provide you with a hopefulness and renewed sense of power to heal and move forward after abuse has been disclosed by your child.”
“I wrote this book to be concise, yet thorough, in its answers so that a parent or caregiver has immediate answers to some of the more common questions encountered when a child discloses abuse.”