Dr. Jayme Coffman, a pediatrician and medical director of the Child Abuse Resources and Evaluation team at Cook Children’s Medical Center was the keynote speaker for the Gingerbread House annual protocol meeting Thursday morning.
President of the the board of directors for Gingerbread House Brad Shotts said this meeting is vital as it plays an important role in relaying information that ensures the success of what they do at the organization.
“This is a time that we bring in law enforcement officers, attorneys and child protective services representatives to educate them concerning procedures and protocols,” Shotts said. “It gives us all a chance to get on the same page, and increases our chances of prosecuting child abuse cases.”
Coffman's presentation consisted of tearing down the myths surrounding child sexual abuse situations. She said even people who deal with sexual abuse cases have a lot of preconceived notions that are hard to battle.
“Some of it just doesn't fit with what we've been told our whole lives,” Coffman said. “I just want to make sure that we break some of those myths.”
The first myth Coffman decided to tackle concerned the facts surrounding the commonality of sexual abuse. She said most people think that child sex abuse is uncommon, but the reality is that one out of every 10 children will be sexually abused by the age of 18.
Y'all work in this area so you know how common this truly is,” Coffman said addressing the audience. “You also so that few cases actually get reported.”
Another common myth among this topic is that there is some kind of magic covering over the vagina that's broken when a child has intercourse, and will be visible during an examination.
“We battle this with juries and lay people all the time,” she said. “there are people who think that every day activities will rupture the hymen and cause you to lose your virginity.”
Coffman said this simply isn't true. She said if people understood the anatomy of the body, they would know that the hymen does not cover up the vagina, and that daily activities couldn't rupture it.
“Riding bareback on a horse, straddling a boy's bicycle or performing gymnastics cannot cause the hymen to rupture,” she said.
Coffman said although this topic may seem uncomfortable for some, it is necessary to ensure the perpetrators of child sex abuse are brought to justice.
“In general, people are uncomfortable with talking about private parts,” she said. “But what everyone must realize is that it's just another part of the body that we have to take responsibility for.”
She said they are very dependent on law enforcement to send them cases, therefore no matter how uncomfortable the topic may be, it has to be discussed.
As a child abuse pediatrician, Coffman spends 100 percent of her time treating all forms of maltreatment of children, and her department sees about 1,500 children a year.
Being in this profession was not her first choice, but she said everybody has their calling and this is hers.
“I couldn't be a cancer doctor,” Coffman said. “But for me I love feeling like I make a difference. The job itself can be difficult, but it can be gratifying knowing that you helped get somebody bad off the streets.”
She said she sees herself as someone who is for the underdog and an advocate for children.
In addition to the presentation by Coffman, Shotts informed the audience that the Gingerbread House just wrapped up its second highest fiscal year with the number of cases totaling 239, since the doors of the organization opened in 1999.
“This is all due to the hard work put in by our counselor Angela Marquart,” Shotts said. “This past year she saw more than 1,000 children and non-offending family members. Based on this number, you can see how important our organization is to this community.”
Other members of the children's advocacy team are John Wyckoff, executive director, Teresa Evans, forensic interviewer, Marlena Pendley, investigator (Ellis County District Attorney's Office) and a caseworker from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.
Ellis County District Attorney Patrick Wilson addressed the crowd by saying that as the community grows, crime grows but seeing everyone present at the meeting is a testament to the strength of the community.
Everyone in attendance was served lunch, which was provided by Chicken Express and sponsored by Vintage Bank.
About Gingerbread House
The Gingerbread House saw its inception in 1998, when its board was formed. The center opened for services in December 1999 in office space at the Texas Baptist Home. John Wyckoff was named executive director in May 2001 and, in 2004, with the need for additional room, the Gingerbread House relocated to an office suite at the Comerica Bank building.
A capital campaign was launched, with the center moving into its own building at the corner of Ross and Farley streets in December 2007. A counseling program for the children it serves was implemented in October 2010, with a play therapy room completed in May 2013.