Greeley’s Life Stories Child & Family Advocacy works to help children who have experienced sexual abuse |

Greeley’s Life Stories Child & Family Advocacy works to help children who have experienced sexual abuse

Kelly Ragan

Gwen Schooley, executive director of Life Stories Child & Family Advocacy, formerly known as A Kid's Place, glances out of the window on at their office in Greeley. Life Stories works to help children who have been subject to sexual, physical, emotional abuse and more.

Chris Sarlo-Bergmann wants people to stop having sex with children.

It seems simple enough. Yet Life Stories Child & Family Advocacy, formerly known as A Kid's Place, works with about 300 children each year who have been sexually or physically abused or neglected in Weld County. More than 60 percent of those are sexual abuse.

"People often don't understand child sexual abuse is a problem in Weld County," said Sarlo-Bergmann, a forensic investigator for Life Stories.

But it is. Here are some examples:

Domingo Jacinto Raymundo, 35, of Greeley, was arrested earlier this month on suspicion of having sex with multiple underage girls living in foster care, one of who was developmentally disabled.

In November 2017, Joseph Covington, 34, was convicted of sexual assault on a child after a girl went to Covington's apartment looking to play with her friend who lived there in July 2016.

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There are many horrific cases nationwide, but perhaps one of the most recent and shocking was the sexual abuse committed by Lawrence Nassar, the former doctor of the American gymnastics team.

On Wednesday, a judge sentenced him to 40-175 years in prison. More than 160 women came forward to say Nassar, 54, assaulted them. Some of those he assaulted were as young as 6.

Gwen Schooley, executive director of Life Stores, said the number of child sexual assaults in Weld is considered normal when compared to the rest of the state.

A Kid's Count survey found similar results. In 2015, the survey found about 7.3 children per 1,000 in Weld suffered maltreatment, including physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse and/or neglect. The state as a whole reflected 7.8 children per 1,000 children.

What they do

The Child Advocacy Center helps to support child victims of sexual and physical abuse and their non-offending family members. It works to ensure the child victim has a chance to tell their story to an unbiased professional, helps cut down on the number of times a child has to be interviewed about traumatic events, offers crisis intervention, support, access to services and more.

At the center, children speak with Sarlo-Bergmann.

Life Stories Child & Family Advocacy also has Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteers who work for children as their case moves through the court system. The volunteers spent 10-15 hours per month with the child, which includes weekly visits. Sometimes that means offering support, and other times it may mean sharing a cheeseburger.

"We do 350 interviews per year with kids 3 years old and up," said Gwen Schooley, executive director of Life Stores Child & Family Advocacy.

When children speak up, Sarlo-Bergmann said, it's up to adults to step in and address the situation.

Life Stories Child & Family Advocacy can be a good place to start.

"We have to stop putting the responsibility of stopping sexual assault on the child," Sarlo-Bergmann said.

The challenge

It can be hard for children to speak up, even if they know something is wrong, Sarlo-Bergmann said.

"The perpetrator will manipulate the child so the child won't tell," Sarlo-Bergmann.

The child doesn't know what will happen when they tell, Sarlo-Bergmann said. Often children see that secret as what's keeping the family together.

Sarlo-Bergmann estimates only between 10-15 percent of children who have been sexually abused ever talk about it.

When children do open up about abuse, sometimes parents or people in positions of trust don't believe them.

Sarlo-Bergmann said between 2-5 percent might fabricate a claim.

The process

When Sarlo-Bergmann does a forensic interview, she asks children to recount details involving sight, sound and smell as well as what happened. Neither the children nor the adult who brings them in knows exactly what the questions will be. It's not something children can be prepped for, Sarlo-Bergmann said.

When she does interview children, Sarlo-Bergmann said, it puts some power back in their hands.

"Telling their story gives them control they've never had over that situation," Sarlo-Bergmann said.

When children do tell their story, Sarlo-Bergmann said, it's important for parents to believe them and then act on it. That can be especially difficult if the child says another family member committed the offense, and that's more common than people realize.

When families come to Life Stories Child & Family Advocacy, an investigative team, usually made up of law enforcement and a child protection worker, will work with the family. After the forensic interview, that team will tell the family what they learned. Families have the chance to ask questions and voice concerns.

Once law enforcement is finished with the investigation, they send a report to the District Attorney's office.

The District Attorney then determines how to legally proceed.

Sarlo-Bergmann said real change will come with a cultural shift.

"We need to put responsibility where it needs to be," Sarlo-Bergmann said. "We should never victim blame children for sexual assault."

And if it happens, Sarlo-Bergmann said, it's important they know they have the right to tell someone.

About Life Stories Child & Family Advocacy

Where: 1610 29th Ave. Place, Ste. 201

Contact: (970) 353-5970

South County Location

330 Park Ave. in Fort Lupton

Contact: (970) 353-5970

For more information, go to” target=”_blank”>class=”Hyperlink”> .

Signs to look for in children and adolescents

» Has nightmares or other sleep problems without an explanation

» Seems distracted or distant at odd times

» Has a sudden change in eating habits

» Refuses to eat

» Loses or drastically increases appetite

» Has trouble swallowing

» Sudden mood swings: rage, fear, insecurity or withdrawal

» Leaves “clues” that seem likely to provoke a discussion about sexual issues

» Develops new or unusual fear of certain people or places

» Refuses to talk about a secret shared with an adult or older child

» Writes, draws, plays, or dreams of sexual or frightening images

» Talks about a new older friend

» Suddenly has money, toys or other gifts without reason

» Thinks of self or body as repulsive, dirty or bad

» Exhibits adult-like sexual behaviors, language and knowledge

Signs to look for in teens

» Self-injury (cutting, burning)

» Inadequate personal hygiene

» Drug and alcohol abuse

» Sexual promiscuity

» Running away from home

» Depression, anxiety

» Suicide attempts

» Fear of intimacy or closeness

By the numbers

» 1 in 4 girls will be sexually abused before age 18

» 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before 18

» Every 10 seconds a report of child abuse is made in the U.S.

» 180 children were in Weld County out of home placements in 2016

» More than four children die of child abuse and neglect in the U.S. every day. More than 70 percent are below the age of 3.

» In 2015, the Weld County Department of Human Services assessed 2,692 children for abuse with 699 of those children substantiated for abuse or neglect. That’s 1 in 113 children in Weld.