Mom opens up about son's struggles with sexual abuse, help from Canopy Center

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MADISON, Wis. - A mom who asked not to be identified, is telling her family’s story after her son struggled with sexual abuse.

A few years ago, Ms. T started to see a change in her kindergartner. He was acting out and exhibiting sexualized behaviors after visiting with his dad. After several months of abnormal acts, she went to Child Protective Services and the police for help. There wasn’t enough evidence to file charges.

“Your instinct as a parent is to want to protect, and when systems are telling you you can't, it is so difficult. It was so hard. I can't even describe how difficult that was. I felt like I was sending him to more abuse.”

At one point, her 5-year-old started making statements about self-harm.

“He would lay on the floor and say, 'Stomp on me. I want to be dead. I'm bad. I'm as bad as a bad guy.’”

This eventually led to a referral to Canopy Center. The organization runs the Oasis program for survivors of child sexual abuse, as well as an advocate program for children under court protection. The nonprofit also runs a parent-to-child program to provide supervised visitation on nights and weekends for families that need it.

Donna Fox is the executive director of Canopy Center. When you walk into the new space on the far east side, you’ll notice a lot of toys.

“Little kids, they don't use their words to explain things very clearly, and they don't understand things initially through words, but they will play things out because play is the natural voice of a child,” Fox said.

Thanks to a grant from the Department of Justice, Canopy Center has opened up its services to young children like Ms. T’s son and any child under the age of 5 who can’t find help working through their trauma associated with neglect, abuse or the witnessing of a violent crime. The therapists are specially trained to work with those children, using play as a way to get to the truth.

“It used to be that if the child is preverbal, they don't remember the abuse, and that's not true. Research has shown that's just not true,” Fox said. “They do understand it in their bodies. And so we really need to use play to help them integrate what has happened to them.”

Fox says one in four girls and one in six boys experiences sexual abuse by the time they’re 18 years old.

Ms. T is now trying to learn more about the statute of limitation laws in Wisconsin and would like to make them more lenient for people who experienced sexual abuse as a child.

“My hope is that my son becomes a healthy, well-adjusted adult, and that he's able to overcome the trauma that occurred early in his life.”

If you would like to help Canopy Center maintain and expand its mission, this year’s Stand Up and Sing! For Kids event happens Wednesday night starting at 6:30 p.m. at the East Side Club. Tickets are $35 in advance and $45 at the door. You can learn more by visiting the event page on Facebook.