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Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2023

Supporting Child Abuse Victims

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Kidnapping and sexual assault survivor Kara Robinson Chamberlain will be guest speaker.

Gingerbread House fundraiser to celebrate 25 years of service

Before we started in 1998, less than five percent of cases were being successfully prosecuted. Fast forward 25 years, over 96 to 97 percent of the cases accepted for prosecution are successfully prosecuted.”

That’s Jessica Milan Miller, CEO of the Gingerbread House in Shreveport. The organization works with law enforcement, child protective services, the district attorney’s offices, and medical and mental health professionals to investigate child abuse in all its ugly forms.

“That’s huge,” Miller said.

“To know that we’re removing these individuals from being able to hurt another child.”

But their efforts take money, and the 501(c)(3) is holding its biggest fundraising event of the year on Wednesday, Nov 1, from noon to 1:30 p.m. to help keep their efforts alive. It’s called the Partners in Prevention Luncheon.

“We’ve done the luncheon for 12 years now,” Miller said. “All of the funds raised go toward our programs for child abuse victims and prevention education in the schools. We’re so excited that we have an amazing speaker this year. We are hosting the event at Sam’s Town. We have already sold over 600 tickets [as of mid-September].

“We have Kara Robinson Chamberlain as our speaker. She is a kidnapping and sexual assault survivor. Just the way that she has been able to overcome is so inspiring. I think people are very interested in hearing her. There are two movies about what happened to her that have come out. One of them was even produced by Elizabeth Smart, whom everyone remembers from her kidnapping years ago, and she was, in fact, our very first speaker for the luncheon.”

Chamberlain is helping The Gingerbread House celebrate their 25 years in the community. The child advocacy center is accredited by the National Children’s Alliance and is one of 15 such centers in Louisiana. They serve all of northwest Louisiana, which includes nine parishes. In a nutshell, their mission is to ensure any child who is a victim of abuse can receive the comprehensive services they need.

Anytime a child makes an allegation or reveals an incident of abuse, or if another person suspects a child is being abused, they can report it to law enforcement and Child Protective Services. The Gingerbread House is then tasked to schedule a forensic interview for that alleged victim or witness.

“We have skilled, professional forensic interviewers who know how to talk to kids in a way that’s very child friendly and not intimidating,” Miller explained, “but at the same time respects the requirements for court so that our cases can be prosecuted. [The interview] is audio and video recorded. Law enforcement and Child Protective Service are watching live as it’s taking place from an adjacent room here at The Gingerbread House. All of these we record to DVDs that links to law enforcement and that is later used to prosecute the case in criminal court.”

Does it work? Miller said yes. “Our prosecution rates have gone through the roof.”

The Gingerbread House also works with child trafficking victims as a component of the sexual abuse cases with which they assist. “In this last year, we had 106 trafficking victims,” she said. “Out of that number, 12 were confirmed and 94 were at risk. The only difference between those two categories is whether the child verbally confirms that they identify as the trafficking victim. Most of them do not because of the dynamics of that abuse. So, for the 94 that we consider at-risk, what it means is all the evidence is there and the child just didn’t self-identify as that type of a victim. But law enforcement, the Gingerbread House, all of our team working together felt that, indeed, this child had been trafficked based on the evidence. That’s a really huge number for our community.”

Miller said the numbers are fed by several factors. The Internet has made soliciting children easy, allowing abusers to gain access through social media and the different apps and games kids are interested in. Another is our location at the intersection of I-20 and I-49.

“We’re so strategically placed for many good things, but also for many not-so-good things. Houston and Atlanta are two of the hubs for trafficking in the U.S. Houston is four hours away; Atlanta is 10 hours away. So, it’s very easy to traffic a child from our community and those communities and vice versa. So, we see quite a few cases where a child meets someone online that they thought was just an older teenager and turns out not to be that, and by the time that they realize that, they’re already wrapped up in the relationship and they agree to meet; you can see where it goes from there.”

That wasn’t the case for this year’s luncheon speaker. Kara Robinson was abducted from her best friend’s front yard. A man approached and put a gun to her neck, telling her to come with him. He forced her into a plastic storage container in his car and took her to his apartment. There, she was held captive and assaulted for 18 hours before she was able to make a daring escape. She said she realized her survival’s purpose was to be a source of hope and encouragement for others. That sentiment fits very well with the mission of The Gingerbread House.

“We like to look at it from the positive angle,” Miller said. “Every one of us would love for The Gingerbread House to be obsolete. For children not to be victimized and not need our services. Unfortunately, we know that’s not true, and probably won’t ever be true in our lifetime. What we look at is what can we do from this moment in time, when the child comes to us, to walk alongside them and provide that path through which healing can take place. That’s what we focus on.”

For more information and to purchase tickets to the luncheon, call (318) 674-2900 or online at www.gingerbreadhousecac.org

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