(KAIT) - A former school teacher and board member of the Children's Advocacy Center of Benton County, the First Lady of Arkansas speaks with passion when it comes to the children of Arkansas.
"We need more centers," Susan Hutchinson said. "We only have 15 in the whole state."
Mrs. Hutchinson would like to see the establishment of more Children's Advocacy Centers in Arkansas—perhaps one per county.
Her fervor comes as a result of witnessing what can happen when a victim of child sexual abuse grows up and becomes an adult. Without naming names, she spoke of a close friend whose life was forever altered by the person she should have been able to trust above all else—her father.
"Her Dad was a pedophile and what that meant to her as a child, hurting her and the obstacles in her thought processes with that," Mrs. Hutchinson said. "Then, I discovered the Children's Advocacy Center in Benton County several years back. I realized that it was a secret that was being kept. If only there was a way to help children get their story out. Get it to the prosecutor, get it to DHS agents, get it to law enforcement so they could be protected and helped."
Mrs. Hutchinson made the trek to Northeast Arkansas on a rainy Tuesday morning to advocate for the Northeast Arkansas Children's Advocacy Center.
All child interviews at NEACAC are video recorded to reduce the need to have a child repeat his or her story of abuse multiple times. The Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner is available to offer every child who is interviewed at the center a forensic medical exam when appropriate.
"The prosecutor out of Huntsville, Alabama came up with this idea," Mrs. Hutchinson explained. "Why not have the children come and talk to nice, loving, caring people who know how to talk to a child, who train to talk to a child, who can videotape what a child has to say and then pass that information along. That's what we're trying to do."
Mrs. Hutchinson wants to help more children geographically in the state. With only 15 centers statewide, Children's Advocacy Centers are not always nearby. She feels getting a child that's been sexually abused to a center is vital.
"We are recognized by the Department of Justice of the United States," Mrs. Hutchinson said. "We're recognized by the state of Arkansas as being vital—as being that connector between the child."
Hutchinson was honored in 2015 as Arkansas Woman of Inspiration for her work on behalf of children.
At a balloon launch Tuesday afternoon, Hutchinson said places like the Children's Advocacy Center can provide a place that can help children in a definite time of need.
"To get to the children. To get to the young people as well as soon as possible for them to get this released and let the authorities deal with the badness and for us to be there to help them think this through is healing and powerful medicine," Hutchinson said.
Now, Children's Advocacy Centers of Arkansas will honor another woman, Lisenne Rockefeller, on Wednesday, September 6 with a special dinner event at the Statehouse Convention Center in Little Rock, with all proceeds used to support Children's Advocacy Centers of Arkansas.
"What we're trying to do is strengthen those cases so that prosecutors can do their job and the DHS agent can do their job," Mrs. Hutchinson said. "The children can be rescued and freed from this torture that they have been going through and we can follow-up with counseling."
If you know or suspect a child may be abused, make a report to the Arkansas Child Abuse Hotline at 1-844-SAVE-A-CHILD.
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