How a Local Nonprofit Brought Hope, Healing and Life Purpose to a Victim/Activist
Beginning at the age of 12, Jenna Quinn was groomed by an adult family friend, gaining her trust so he could sexually abuse her. When it happened, she was changed forever.
“No amount of showering could get that dirty, clammy feeling off me and I was threatened not to tell like most children are,” she shares. “I told myself that it would never happen again, but I was wrong. It continued for years.”
Usually outgoing, she became withdrawn and depressed. She began cutting, a perverted way to try to control the pain. But she couldn’t reveal the real, sordid truth—that her best friend’s dad was sexually assaulting her. Her family knew something was wrong but didn’t know what to do. Worst of all, she lost hope.
“I started to believe the lies that shame whispered to my soul … that maybe I did something to bring this on,” Jenna says.
Finally, one day her sister asked her to lunch. “She looked at me and said, ‘Has anyone ever hurt you?’ Without a word, I answered her. I broke down into uncontrollable tears.”
The next day, after telling her family, the police were contacted. It was then they were put in touch with the Children’s Advocacy Center for Denton County. The road to recovery began.
Unfortunately, Jenna is not alone in her suffering. This is where the Children’s Advocacy Center steps in. The CAC for Denton County opened in 1997 and today has served more than 10,000 abused children. The CAC model originated with Alabama Congressman Robert E. “Bud” Cramer Jr. He realized that in a criminal justice system designed for adults, child victims were actually being revictimized by the system by having to retell their abuse stories to numerous investigators. Criminal cases were weakened by the lack of coordination between agencies.
Cramer’s vision led to creating a child-friendly environment in 1985, where everything is centralized under one agency. There are now more than 700 Children’s Advocacy Centers across the country; 69 are in Texas.
The CAC provides social and emotional support through free counseling for the victim, both one-on-one and group therapy. Parents of the victim also receive counseling.
“There is a true sense of isolation that survivors and their families experience with this crime, and with the CAC, we didn’t feel we were the only ones going through this,” Jenna says.
When Jenna and her family decided to press charges, the CAC prepared them for court. Justice prevailed; the jury gave her perpetrator 20 years.
An “ineffable desire” to learn more led Jenna back to the CAC to do an internship while a college student. She grew increasingly frustrated that the symptoms of child abuse weren’t more widely known. An idea formed from that frustration. Jenna worked with Texas Rep. Tan Parker to introduce “Jenna’s law,” which passed unanimously in 2009. Jenna’s law is a Texas statute that requires all public schools, charter schools and day care facilities to annually educate students, teachers and parents on the signs of child sexual abuse. Thirty states have duplicated portions of this legislation.
“I don’t think the people who helped me (at the CAC) realize what a huge difference they made in my life and in my parents’ lives, Jenna says. “I think they really shaped who I am today and I want to give back.”
Today, Jenna is a writer and speaker, dedicating her life to preventing child sexual abuse through education and legislation.