Sandra and Dave: Ending the Silence
The children in the neighborhood called him “Mr. Theo.” He was the guy all the families knew who helped his neighbors when not working around his own home. When he lost his job, he offered to take the neighbors’ children to school when he dropped his own children off.
Then, Mr. Theo and his family moved away. That’s when two of the children, Sandra and Dave*, found the courage to tell their parents what had happened during those rides to school.
It was late that night but Sandra and Dave’s parents immediately took them to their local precinct. There, they reported that Mr. Theo had sexually abused the children. The officers who took the report then referred Sandra, Dave, and their parents to one of Safe Horizon’s Child Advocacy Centers.
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The officers at the precinct referred the family to our center because abused children can find the specialized care they need during times of crisis. At our centers, children and their families walk into an inviting, child-friendly space where we welcome them, and where they can find help from a team of trained professionals all in one location. Law enforcement agents, representatives from the district attorney’s office and child protective services, and Safe Horizon’s own clinical staff all work together to respond to children who urgently need support when abuse happens.
We were ready that night when Sandra and Dave came in, and in spite of the late hour we were ready to listen as they repeated what they’d told the police about Mr. Theo. As they talked, they revealed another secret: Mr. Theo had not only hurt them, but had hurt some of their friends as well.
Our police detective partners immediately contacted the families of the other children that Sandra and Dave mentioned, and asked for them to come in to talk about what happened. That night, the other children arrived with their parents, ready to talk. And they confirmed that Mr. Theo had hurt them, too.
Our medical partners examined the children to make sure they were okay. While the doctors worked with the children, the detectives left to search for Mr. Theo.
It was four in the morning when detectives returned with Mr. Theo. The detectives confronted him with the children’s stories. Faced with the revelation of his crimes, Mr. Theo confessed to abusing seven of his neighbors’ children, as well as his own stepchildren.
In the weeks following Mr. Theo’s confession, our clinical and counseling staff met with the children while the district attorney’s office prepared its case against Mr. Theo. We needed to help Sandra, Dave, the other children, and their parents find the critical services they needed if they were to overcome the effects from the abuse. At Safe Horizon, we offer children a range of support from finding basic items such as clothing to providing mental health treatment so children and their families can recover from trauma.
Mr. Theo’s case finally went to trial. When it was time for the children to describe the abuse they endured for the court, they told the district attorney they wanted to come back to Safe Horizon – because it was the only place they felt safe and comfortable enough to talk about the abuse. The attorneys interviewed them at our center and taped the interviews. With Mr. Theo’s confession and the children’s statements, along with the strong evidence that the detectives and doctors collected at our center, the district attorney’s office won its case against Mr. Theo.
Mr. Theo is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence for his crimes, thanks to the team of caring, committed staff at our Child Advocacy Centers … but especially thanks to children like Sandra and Dave, who found the courage to help end the silence of abuse.