Where others flinch, she helps

Thirteen years as the director of United Way of Jackson County did not prepare Dee Anne Everson for what she would hear during eight weeks of grand jury duty.

Everson describes herself as someone who "lives to serve." So she was thrilled to be selected as one of the seven men and women who help determine which of the county's felony cases will go to trial. But her excitement quickly turned to horror when the male and female jury members assembled in the Children's Advocacy Center, she said.

"Little kids plopped into big padded chairs and took an oath," said Everson.

The oath the children took obligated them to tell the truth about their sexual abuse, Everson said. None of the children were violated by strangers. Each of the six cases involved abuse by someone the child trusted, she said.

"All of the cases were so horrible," said Everson.

Learning that the children's half-dozen stories represented just a handful of the 760 confirmed victims of child abuse in the past year shocked and enraged Everson — and spurred her to action.

"We have to create a community where we take care of our kids," she said.

Last year's tally of known victims means there were more than two children a day who suffered abuse. And those are just the reported and confirmed cases, said Everson.

"That is just the tip of the iceberg," she said. "I'd seen the numbers, but it wasn't the same as hearing those personal stories. What was missing for me was understanding the level of destruction this creates in people's lives."

Everson is lending her voice to support local agencies such as the Children's Advocacy Center and Jackson County Court Appointed Special Advocates. These are the people who have been battling to get the word out about a topic that makes people want to turn away, she said. "I guess we try to contain our sorrow," said Everson. "But we need our children to be able to share, heal and be safe forever."

The first step in healing this soul-shattering problem is awareness, she said. And so Everson is asking the community to come out in force at noon Thursday in Medford's Vogel Plaza. Jackson County Commissioner Dave Gilmour will give opening remarks, adults will read statements of child sex abuse victims (see correction below) and there will be information provided to help participants combat this problem that affects one in four children, Everson said.

Everson is determined to get the community involved in an open and honest dialogue. By keeping quiet, we teach our children that they should feel shame for something that happened to them through no fault of their own, she said.

"We make it this secret thing that a child has to carry all through their life," Everson said. "I don't think that leads to healing for the child, for the families or for the community."

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly said the statements would be from adult victims. This version has been corrected.

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