Tom Arnold Visits St. Luke's Child Protection Center - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Tom Arnold Visits St. Luke's Child Protection Center


For years now, Tom Arnold has been one of Iowa's best known and most popular Hollywood celebrities. The television and big-screen actor and comedian is a huge supporter of Iowa, and returns to his home state often.

Tom Arnold has helped draw attention to key issues in Iowa, like the need for drug abuse prevention and treatment programs.  His most recent visit focuses on the serious subject of child sexual abuse.    

Tom Arnold, actor, comedian and television host carried a secret for more than four decades. In 2008, the Ottumwa, Iowa native revealed he had been the victim of childhood sexual abuse. He shared details of his painful past during media interviews for the movie "Gardens of the Night." In the movie, his role was that of a pedophile. Arnold drew on his personal experience for the role and modeled the character after his abuser -- even dressing like him.

From age four to seven Arnold was sexually abused by a 19-year-old male babysitter. The sexual abuse occurred several times a week. In an effort to keep him quiet the babysitter gave Arnold a candy bar and told him he would hurt his father if he told anyone. Years later as an adult Arnold confronted his abuser.

Today, at the invitation of St. Luke's Health Care Foundation, Arnold and his wife Ashley Groussman toured St. Luke's Child Protection Center (CPC). Arnold hopes his visit to St. Luke's Child Protection Center and personal story will increase awareness of the high number of children who are abused in Iowa and across the country.

According to the Adverse Childhood Experiences study by the Centers for Disease Control one in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before the age of 18. However, it's believed most cases of abuse are never reported.

St. Luke's Child Protection Center works with law enforcement and the Department of Human Services (DHS) to determine if child abuse has occurred, to develop a plan of action to protect the child from future abuse and get the child and family members counseling. They also work with law enforcement to hold the abuser accountable.

Before St. Luke's CPC existed, families, teachers and other child care providers didn't know where to get help for an abused child. Often, the child would be interviewed by multiple people in multiple places over the course of an investigation. It was very difficult to find a physician who felt comfortable doing an abuse examination. Today, the children are brought to St. Luke's Child Protection Center where they tell their story to one person while the interview is recorded.

They also receive a medical examination by sensitive physicians and nurses who can assure them about the health of their bodies. In 2008, the CPC saw 1,162 children. Last year the CPC served 1,319 children. The CPC believes part of this increase is due to the consequences of the 2008 flooding and the downturn in the economy.

According to CPC Director Sue Tesdahl, more individuals are sharing housing, which elevates family stress. There has also been a rise in juvenile abusers. Tesdahl says this could be attributed to more unsupervised children while parents work extra hours.

Tesdahl says the CPC saw an increase in drug exposure testing last year. She attributes that to the fact that DHS orders a hair stat test on almost every foster care removal exam. Tesdahl says DHS rarely orders this test for sexual abuse investigations.

In 2008, St. Luke's Health Care Foundation successfully raised $4.5 million for St. Luke's Child Protection Center. The two-year fundraising effort was initiated to raise $2.2 million for the purchase and renovation of the current facility and $2 million to establish a permanent endowment. The new facility opened August 2008. 

"We are extremely grateful to all the donors who have made the Child Protection Center the model program that it is," said Shannon Duval, president of St. Luke's Health Care Foundation. "Because no child or family is ever charged for the services they receive, the center is consistently short of funds.  It would take an endowment in excess of $10 million to completely fund operations and, as a result, we are constantly seeking additional funding to support the worthwhile work taking place at the CPC."

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