Abuse center helps victims, outlet for volunteers

Roxanne Estrada

Meagan Flaharty, 22, public relations major, has been interning with the Center for Assault Treatment Services (CATS) since July 2009. Photo Credit: Hannah Pedraza / Photo Editor

The Center for Assault Treatment Services (CATS) works to combat sexual abuse by helping victims and educating about prevention in the San Fernando and Santa Clarita Valleys.

Community outreach is one of the most critical issues of sexual abuse because victims often think they’re all alone in the situation, said Anne Lague, a forensic nurse examiner for CATS.

“It lets people know there is a program and there is a place to go,” said Lague. “Our numbers keep on increasing and I don’t think we’re seeing an increase in sexual assault.  I think we’re just seeing an increase of people being aware, knowing what to do and where to go.  You didn’t talk about it.  It was a secret.  I like to say we’re more out in the open, out in the light.”

One out of every four girls are sexually abused by the age of 18, according to the National Children’s Alliance.  Started in 1997 as part of the Northridge Hospital Medical Center, CATS is a sexual abuse center for males and females of all ages.  It’s open seven days a week and 24 hours every day to patients.

CATS treated 1,028 victims in 2009 and trained 1,500 professionals in the region, according to the annual CATS report. Lague said she hopes to reach out to more people in 2010 through students like public relations major Meagan Flaharty.

Flaharty, 22, has been interning with CATS since July 2009 and raising awareness about the program using social media like Facebook and Twitter to promote and organize fundraising events.

Flaharty started Flavorsome Fundraising Events at the California Pizza Kitchen in Northridge, where she is also a server.  Every second Monday of the month, anyone can print a flyer off the CATS Facebook group or the CATS Web site and bring it to the restaurant where a 20 percent donation of the total bill goes to CATS.

“I think it has raised awareness with the community as a whole and creates a future path for this facility to stay open to the public,” Flaharty said.  “I’ve been affected by abuse and sexual assault personally and through friends.  It feels like you’re giving back and actually helping other victims.  It feels good to be part of a program that is willing to reach out and not put everything in the closet, and be there with opening arms for anybody who needs help and who is afraid to ask for help.”

Urging other CSUN students to get involved, Flaharty said volunteers are needed to participate in the upcoming walk/run Victory for Victims that will raise resources and awareness for CATS.

The eighth annual event will take place on Sunday, April 11 at Lake Balboa Park in Encino.  The event attracted 1,700 runners last year and Lague said she hopes to break 2,000 participants this year.  The run takes place in the morning with a full day of festivities afterwards.

Gail Hynick, the CATS special events manager, said this event has enough exposure to send a positive message to the San Fernando Valley.

“The program needs voices,” Hynick said.  “This event is our biggest voice of all, that’s our time to speak to the community.  It makes a very profound statement to the community that victims of sexual abuse and assault can find help.”

It costs $25 to sign up on the CATS Web site as a runner for either the 5K or 10K courses, Hynick said.  There is also a Kids Fun Run and Fun Zone to keep the little ones entertained, he added.

Students, like the CSUN Accounting Association who participated in the run last year, can form teams in order to raise more funds and be eligible for awards.

If students want to volunteer at the CATS facility, training through the Valley Trauma Center is first needed, Hynick said.  The Valley Trauma Center is affiliated with CSUN and works with centers like CATS to combat sexual abuse and assault.

Lague also advises potential volunteers to always participate through an established program.

“This can be a difficult place to even listen to the stories these little kids are telling you and listening to all the graphic details,” Lague said.  “If you’re going to be a volunteer you have to have a good support system like Valley Trauma can give you.”