PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) – Hurricane Michael destroyed many buildings, including the Trauma Therapy House at the Gulf Coast Children’s Advocacy Center in Panama City. It’s a place that provides counseling, therapy, and support for more than 7,000 victims of child sexual abuse each year. Now, a new therapy house is finally open and providing a safe place for survivors.
For many young survivors of sexual abuse, finding a safe place to heal is key.
“I’ve been sexually abused ever since I was a child,” one survivor said.
“It’s everything we need,” another added.
“It feels really like a home to all the people who’ve been abused,” a third survivor said.
Lauren Book knows exactly what these victims need because she too, is a survivor, and it’s her mission to make sure these children have a place where they can cope. “To know there is this place for when kids have to go right up the street for their final court hearing against a person that has haunted them in their sleep. That there is this safe space,” Lauren’s Kids founder Lauren Book said.
The Trauma Therapy House at the Gulf Coast Children’s Advocacy Center has been a missing piece in Bay County for over two years.
“The locations were damaged during the hurricane and you know we had to make it work,” survivor Ricky Keaton explained.
But that’s no longer the case.
Before this new facility was built, many of the survivors were forced to have therapy sessions in cars or on top of tree trunks. But now, they can sit and speak comfortably in this safe space. “After the hurricane, I did therapy with Tasha in her car, in a Wicked Wheel parking lot for months,” Keaton continued.
Only some ever speak up about their abuse. “I felt embarrassed and I thought that people would say it was my fault because I either let it go on too far or I didn’t say anything after it happened,” survivor Kyle Knudson said.
Now, this safe place allows them to cope and heal with others who truly understand. “I’ve lost a lot of friends since everything happened and this place not only is comforting for survivors that have had sexual abuse happen to them, it also has really helped me make friends ever since all that happened,” Knudson continued. “I’ve made so many friends and honestly like family members here,” Keaton added.
A family bonded. Not by blood, but by sharing their stories in a home that helps them heal. “And know it’s okay to tell someone and that it’s not my fault,” survivor Kylie Knudson said.