Social worker's new book offers ways to prevent child sexual abuse

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FARMINGTON — When Alisha Hawthorne-Martinez went looking for child- and family-friendly literature to help her clients find solutions to sexual abuse, the 32-year-old clinical social worker said she became frustrated with the lack of quality titles available.

So Hawthorne-Martinez began writing one herself. The result is "This Is My Body and It Belongs To Me," a 32-page book she self-published last month. It is available in paperback from Lulu.com ($15.99) and as an e-book at Amazon.com ($3.99). In three weeks, it will be available in paperback from Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble retailers, she said.

Although the subtitle is "An introduction to sexual abuse prevention and response for children ages 3 and up," the book is also for other age groups and for parents, guardians, teachers, doctors and other therapists like herself, she said.

Hawthorne-Martinez said the book is part of her effort to turn the tide on the rate of sexual abuse in San Juan Count and to orient the community's focus on prevention, rather than merely treating the problem.

She currently juggles a caseload of more than 60 children she treats each month, she said.

In 2015, Hawthorne-Martinez established her private practice, Second Chance Counseling, which is now located on Apache Street.

Many of the families she sees lack the basics — the money or the confidence, most often — to address sexual abuse, she said.

"I was searching, trying to find literature on sexual abuse on kids, age-appropriate stuff. There were only a couple of things out there, and it's not like they were bad, but they skirted around the idea," she said. "Nobody went right for the throat. And we have to. Our caseload is incredibly high."

Hawthorne-Martinez is one of the only therapists in San Juan County who treats people 18 and younger who commit sexual harm to others as well as victims of abuse. She said the book is a needed resource to help her clients and their families tackle an uncomfortable issue that is loaded with stigma and misinformation.

One is "stranger danger," the popular concept that harm to children comes from people the minor doesn't know personally. Hawthorne-Martinez said the majority of sexual abuse cases she sees involve victims whose abusers are the opposite — often trusted relatives, many who live in the same home as the victim.

On Friday, she pitched the book over lunch to a group of pediatricians at San Juan Health Partners Pediatrics on Schwartz Avenue.

"I think this fills a void we might have not known we had," Dr. Brad Scoggins said after her pitch.

Dr. N. Vivian Nnebe said she would like to purchase copies of the book but suggested it be available in gender-specific covers. Though the story features both a boy and girl, the current cover only features an illustration of a girl, which Hawthorne-Martinez said she would change.

Erin Hourihan, CEO for Childhaven, said she would like to secure enough money to purchase at least 300 copies of the book to provide one for each of the nonprofit's clients. Because of the economic downturn, Hourihan said she would only be able to earmark enough money in the organization's waning budget to purchase 10 copies.

For 20 years, Hourihan has worked at the organization, which cares for children caught in difficult situations, often abuse or neglect.

Between July 2014 and June 2015, Childhaven handled 254 cases of child abuse, including 104 cases of sexual abuse, in San Juan County.

Within the last year, the rate of cases the nonprofit have taken were stubbornly similar. Between July 2015 and this July, Childhaven treated 104 sexual abuse cases out of a total of 263 child abuse cases that received forensic interviews.

The cases begin with forensic interviews at Childhaven's Child Advocacy Center on Airport Drive. They are led by advocates and involve multiple specialists and law enforcement listening in remotely from a separate room.

Those interviews sometimes occur at a rate of four or five a day, Hourihan said.

Hawthorne-Martinez said the book is another way to raise awareness of the problem of child sexual abuse, which she said can often be "extremely traumatizing for really for every member of the family."

"Sex abuse can really harm, destroy, families. ... Some cases, the kids have held onto it for so many years," she said.

James Fenton is the business editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621.

More info

What: "This Is My Body and It Belongs To Me"

Information: Call 505-427-1621 or email 2ndchancecounselingservices@gmail.com.

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