Lansing Organization Works To Help Survivors of Child Abuse Heal

Feb 20, 2021

A warning to readers that the following conversation deals with the topic of sexual violence.

Nationwide many organizations work towards helping survivors of sexual assault heal from the trauma they have experienced. With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, this task has taken on added barriers.

In Lansing, the Firecracker Foundation provides advocacy and resources to children who have experienced sexual violence.

WKAR's Michelle Jokisch Polo spoke with organization founder Tashmica Torok about her work in the Mid-Michigan region.

Interview Highlights

On How The Pandemic Has Played A Factor In Instances of Sexual Violence

While COVID has definitely exacerbated children's access to safe people. It hasn't really changed the way that child sexual abuse happens in community. So some of the things we're looking at is actually less access or restricted access to people who are considered to be safe and healthy. Even if they're not extracting you from dangerous situations, they're providing them with care and love and resilience factors that helps them cope with whatever might be happening at home until such time that they're able to be safe.

On Bringing The Voices of Black Women Survivors To The Forefront

We work with Black youth with young Black girls, and really just carving out and holding space that is sacred for them to share their experiences. We live in a community where racialized violence and discrimination happens all the time, but there aren't a lot of spaces for Black girls. We remind them they're not alone, and that these things are real.

On Healing For Survivors Of Child Abuse

To be able to validate their pain and trauma is so critical for them to be able to move forward and to heal. You can't heal something if you can't actually talk about it.

Interview Transcript

Michelle Jokisch Polo: You're listening to WKAR, I am Michelle Jokisch Polo. A warning to listeners that the following conversation deals with the topic of sexual violence.

Nationwide many organizations work towards helping survivors of sexual assault heal from the trauma they have experienced. With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, this task has taken on added barriers. In Lansing, the Firecracker Foundation provides advocacy and resources to children who have experienced sexual violence.

Tashmica Torok is the founder of the organization. She joins me today to discuss her work.

Tashmica Torok: Hi, thank you so much for having me.

Jokisch Polo: First, can you give us a little bit of background on what led you to start the Firecracker Foundation?

Torok: Well, I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and incest, and so when I was in my 30s, I started to go back to, I started therapy, and discovered that a lot of the issues that I was dealing with, in my personal life, were related to untreated trauma from my childhood. And when I started doing research about my trauma, it led me to think about other people and how it took so long for me to have access to the information I needed to just heal and, and live a life that was happy and good, you know. And so when I started doing research, I discovered that there are a lot of people who don't have this information, and that there are a lot of children who could benefit from having early intervention in the childhood trauma that they experience. And so that led me to the idea of creating this organization.

Jokisch Polo: How has the pandemic played a factor in the increase of instances of sexual violence?

Torok: One of the things that I want people to understand about child sexual abuse is that it often does happen in the home. And so most children, whether it is the pandemic, or other humanitarian crisis are often trapped in the home with their abuser. And that is actually what child sexual abuse manifests as for young children, they don't have any power. And usually, the person who's causing harm to them is someone they know, love and trust, which is usually either a parent or a family member, or someone responsible for their care. And so in some ways, while COVID has definitely exacerbated children's access to safe people, it hasn't really changed the way that child sexual abuse happens in communities.

So, some of the things we're looking at is actually less access or restricted access to people who are considered to be safe and healthy. So, even if they're not extracting youth from dangerous situations, they're providing them with care and love and resilience factors that helps them cope with whatever might be happening at home until such time that they're able to be safe.

Jokisch Polo: For much of this country's history, the rape of Black women was not seen as a crime, leading to modern day repercussions. What are some of the ways your organization is working to bring the voices and experiences of Black women survivors to the forefront?

Torok: Well, for one, we work with Black youth, with young Black girls, and really just carving out and holding space that is sacred for them to share their experiences.

We live in a community where racialized violence and discrimination happens all of the time, but there aren't a lot of spaces for Black girls to talk candidly about the ways that that has impacted their family. To even be able to name it without having to argue with people in their classrooms or being penalized unfairly in their schools just for showing up the way that they are as fully human, you know. And so that's number one is we're creating space for them to be able to share their truth, but also to recognize that they deserve healing, they deserve that space, and that there is a history here and that they're not alone.

You know, and I think that that's really important, because the way that we culturally, you know, in America talk about race, is we try and I shouldn't even say why, right? Because it's white, white supremacy and those systems that uphold it that really want to make our history about this American exceptionalism. And you know, everybody is equal, which we know is not the truth. And yet, we still perpetuate those lies and that has an impact on our youth.

And so for them to know that they're not alone, and that these things are real and to be able to validate that is so critical for them to be able to move forward to heal. You can't heal something if you can't actually talk about it.

Jokisch Polo: Tashmica Torok is the founder and Executive Director of The Firecracker Foundation. Thank you for being here today.

Torok: Thank you so much for having me again.