Local Organization Changes Name to The Indiana Center for Prevention of Youth Abuse & Suicide, Continues Focus On Helping Children Feel Safe
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Sexual abuse is often shrouded in shame, secrecy and silence — and this is especially true when the victim is a child. In addition, research has shown that there is a direct link between childhood trauma/abuse and suicide ideation, suicide attempts and suicide completion.
By the time Chaucie Quillen, a resident of Hamilton County, finally worked up the nerve to report the decade of sexual abuse she had endured from her father, she had suffered great emotional and psychological trauma. It took such a toll that in 1995, at the tender age of 21, she took her own life. Quillen’s death rocked the tight-knit community, who wanted to find a way to not only honor Chaucie but also help prevent other children from suffering the same horror. In 2001, Chaucie’s Place, a 501(c)(3), was formed by members of the Hamilton County community. Though they began as a child advocacy center, 10 years ago they shifted their focus to prevention. They also recently changed their name to the Indiana Center for Prevention of Youth Abuse & Suicide.
“We will always honor Chaucie’s memory, but we found that the name Chaucie’s Place didn’t really reflect what we currently do,” says Melissa Peregrin, Executive Director of the center.
Their main focus is on prevention, so in that vein they spend a lot of time going into elementary school classrooms and other youth-serving organizations (like churches), educating students about the concept that they are the boss of their bodies. They also suggest to students different trusted adults they may go to should they feel unsafe.
“Think of it like any other body safety rule such as wearing your seatbelt in a car or donning a helmet when you bike,” Peregrin says. “Learning this stuff doesn’t mean anything bad is going to happen. We’re just teaching kids how to stay safe in case it does.”
Another aspect of the organization is teaching adults (teachers, parents and the general public) the art of QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer). These are three simple steps anyone can learn to help someone who may be feeling suicidal.
“We’re not training anyone to be a health professional, but suicide is the most preventable death there is,” Peregrin says. “When people recognize warning signs and risk factors of someone in trouble, this training can teach them what to say and do to keep someone alive long enough to help them.”
According to Peregrin, Indiana has been above the national average in suicide since 1999. That’s why she maintains that the more we create a community that knows how to respond to suicide, the better.
“Every one of us can be that person,” she says. “If we feel comfortable asking questions and pointing people to the right resources, that can save a life. It can be as simple as asking, ‘Are you okay?’ A sincere human connection is one of the greatest preventable measures we have.”
Perhaps the most important aspect that staff with the center drive home is to impress upon children that abuse is never their fault because perpetrators reinforce the notion that it is in order to keep the child quiet.
“Learning, and believing, that no blame lies on you is how one begins to heal,” says Peregrin, who herself is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. “It happened when I was eight and it took me to age 40 before it sunk in that I was not at fault.”
Currently, the Indiana Center for Prevention of Youth Abuse & Suicide serves schools in Grant and Boone Counties as well as several schools in Marion County. Peregrin would like to expand the coverage and notes that if every parent of every child they served donated just one dollar, that would cover the cost of the program for that institution.
Ultimately, Peregrin would like to blanket the entire state with knowledge and education towards prevention.
“I want to have an entire state that knows what to do when a child is being abused,” she says. “An entire state that knows how to ask the questions to help someone. And children who know how to protect themselves.”
The Indiana Center for Prevention of Youth Abuse & Suicide is located at 4607 E. 106th Street in Carmel. For more information, call 317-759-8008.