Horses Helping Sexual Abuse Victims
Horses Helping Sexual Abuse Victims, In the shadow of the Penn State scandal, one form of therapy is helping heal children. Hours from Penn State, children’s charity shows new way to heal, Penn State is trying desperately to move on from its past, with a new season, a new coach and new leaders in a new administration. But while the school had a nationally televised opportunity to start a “new chapter” on Saturday in Happy Valley, there was true healing being done only a half-day’s drive away. On a farm in the small town of Lake Ariel, not far from Scranton, Saturday morning meant another chance for victims of child abuse to feel better.
There are no victims of former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky there, as they are all adults now, but the novel approach taken at a place called Marley’s Mission is a rare insight into how abuse victims begin to recover from the most horrible of suffering. And although it’s correct to say nothing good came out of the scandal involving Sandusky, the subsequent attention drawn to places like Marley’s Mission may turn out to save kids who might otherwise have nowhere to turn.
The story begins with tragedy. In July 2009, a 5-year-old girl was brutally attacked in her home by a complete stranger. The man had attended a family picnic, introducing himself as the friend of a family friend, and he entered the girl’s room after she had gone to sleep. Then he savagely raped the little girl, leaving her with her severe injuries. Her parents, completely distraught, took their daughter, left their home and never came back. The rapist, named Felix Montoya, was eventually sent to prison. But the girl’s fate was potentially much worse.
Her parents tried intensive therapy of all kinds – talk therapy, art therapy, everything. Nothing worked. Even the best psychologists have trouble getting children to describe their feelings, especially when those feelings are so unbearable. So the therapist of this little girl, a woman named Ann Cook, began to think of other ways to get her to share her feelings. The girl loved a guinea pig, named Marley. And that led to another idea that changed not only the girl’s life, but the lives of more than 160 other victims.
Press coverage of the assault and conviction drew an outpouring of sympathy and money. The family moved into a new house and bought their daughter a present: a horse named Strawberry. And soon something changed in the girl. She spent hours around the horse, petting him, feeding him and just walking around with him. The horse became a companion. And then a minor miracle took place.