Therapy Dog Comforts Young Sexual Assault Victims
ANCHORAGE - Seven in ten sex crimes reported in the U.S involve children, and Alaska has the unsettling distinction of leading the nation in child sex crimes.
But getting justice for the young victims and locking up the perpetrators means the kids need to talk about what happened. It’s a daunting task, and authorities have enlisted the services of a different kind of therapist known simply as Jackson the therapy dog.
You don't have to be in a room very long to meet him, and the team at Alaska Cares fully appreciates the skills that come naturally to Jackson. Alaska Cares provides evaluations for children who are victims of sexual and physical abuse, and pediatric nurse practitioner Margaret Volz knows Jackson is one of the team's most important tools.
“He may walk them back for their interview, he may be part of the interview,” Volz said.
She rescued Jackson after his original family wanted to put him down. They thought no one would want him because he's missing his tail.
But it doesn't matter to Alaska's kids.
They benefit because the part lab, part golden retriever is now on a mission to show compassion to those that were hurt.
“He's just calm, he's just very mellow,” Volz said. “He's curled up on the couch, and their child is next to him petting him, you can see it their face the sort of relief, that maybe this isn't going to be so bad.”
The idea is to help children feel comfortable so they can get past the pain to reveal what was done. Advocates from Standing Together Against Rape (STAR) say the process could take years. More than 90 percent of children who are sexually abused know the person who did it, which makes it harder for them to tell someone about the crime.
STAR says oftentimes, it’s a secret the young victims have held for years, and their testimony is sometimes the only proof that remains of the assaults. That’s where Jackson comes in, helping in ways humans cannot.
“It’s someone that's not an adult, it’s not a police officer, it’s not a nurse, it’s someone that's at equal level to them,” said Victoria, a STAR advocate. “Jackson is amazing because immediately upon seeing him, they want to pet him and talk, it just opens up kind of like a safety net.”
Jackson's presence allows investigators to get information that leads to arrests, and he's proven a useful ally to both kids and adults. Volz says one time, a tired child didn't want to leave her mother, even though the interviewer needed to talk alone.
“The interviewer offered to her, well what about if we have Jackson in the room? And she said okay and it was that simple,” Volz said. “Not that that made her talk about it more, but it helped lower her anxiety, her anxiousness and allowed to participate in the process.”
It's a process you can bet the canine is proud to be a part of. As reassuring and as compassionate as we can be as humans to children, Volz said the dog just offers things on a different level for kids. At the end of the day, Jackson is using his natural abilities to help break down the barriers of truth, finally get justice and putting the bad people in jail where they belong.