Voices of Resilience: MOCSA’s Education and Counseling Services Foster Journeys of Healing

The Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault (MOCSA) is the Greater Kansas City metro’s sole rape crisis center and sexual abuse and assault agency. Annually, MOCSA reaches around 60,000 individuals through its main departments, which cover counseling, education, prevention, advocacy, and legal services. They are the only organization in Greater Kansas City whose sole focus is on supporting people, children and adults alike, who have been impacted by sexual violence. President and CEO of MOCSA Julie Donelon shared that in 2025, they will have served the five-county metro area for 50 years! Over the past few years, a partnership between the Children’s Services Fund of Jackson County and MOCSA has helped extend and stabilize two of the programs within MOCSA that focus on the well-being and recovery of children and teens: counseling and education.

Creating Access To Therapies That Foster Healing And Resilience

Hanni Woelk, Director of Counseling, highlighted the critical role of the counseling department in providing individual and group therapy services to survivors of sexual assault. “Individual therapy is integral to those kids who have endured sexual assault. Because of the partnership with the CSF, we’re able to provide that for children ages five to 18. We also provide group therapy services for siblings and family members who may have been affected.”  She went on to explain how in the realm of counseling and therapy, addressing the sensitive issue of child sexual abuse demands specialized techniques and a comprehensive approach. Therapeutic modalities include play therapy, sand tray therapy, and trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT). 

These modalities are carefully selected to create a supportive environment where children can process their experiences, express themselves, and, ultimately, begin the journey towards healing.

Play therapy and sand tray therapy allow children to communicate and make sense of their experiences through metaphor and symbolism. By engaging in these activities, children can explore their emotions, address trauma, and develop coping mechanisms in a safe and nurturing space. TF-CBT further enhances the therapeutic approach by empowering children to understand and manage their emotions while also equipping them with practical skills to navigate challenges and promote resilience. 

Group therapy sessions for siblings and family members affected by child sexual abuse provide a platform for mutual support, education, and skill-building, fostering a sense of unity and understanding within the family unit. Ms. Woelk shared a recent success story where a child sought MOCSA’s services following the disclosure of abuse within the family. Having access to individual counseling and the right therapies helped them heal and build resilience. The child was eventually able to testify against the perpetrator with confidence. At the end of it all, they thanked the staff at MOCSA and told them that they wouldn’t have been able to do it without them.

Striving for Prevention Through Education and Empowerment

MOCSA’s Education program has one overarching focus: preventing violence and sexual abuse by providing age-appropriate presentations and programs for students from kindergarten through 12th grade. Brandy Williams, the Director of Education, sheds light on the various initiatives to equip youth with the knowledge and skills to navigate challenging situations. For younger students, the focus is on body autonomy, identifying safe and unsafe touches, and recognizing trusted adults to confide in. As students progress to middle and high school, the discussions expand to include topics like sexual harassment, assault, and consent. Through these conversations, students are provided with definitions, examples, and opportunities for dialogue to reinforce understanding.

One of MOCSA’s flagship programs is Green Dot, which originated as a violence prevention program for high school and college students but has been adapted for middle schoolers. Green Dot is heavily student-led and encourages student leaders to formulate communication and creative plans by which to share crucial messages about healthy relationships. By fostering a collaborative environment, MOCSA aims to create lasting change in how students perceive and respond to violence in all aspects of behavior. To this end, MOCSA programs underscore the significance of teaching students about boundaries, communication, and recognizing signs of unhealthy relationships. Green Dot behaviors encompass more than just preventing sexual violence; they promote overall healthy relationships. “The information that kids learn about healthy relationships forms some of the most important lessons. They’re able to navigate other relationships that come their way because healthy relationships help them talk about boundaries. It helps them identify what healthy relationships should look like,” explained Ms. Williams. By identifying and addressing unsafe behaviors early, students are equipped to create safer environments within their schools. 

Prioritizing Prevention: CSF’s Visionary Support and MOCSA’s Future Endeavors 

Both Green Dot and MOCSA’s high school program Youth-Led Prevention (YLP) aim to empower peer leaders to shape how the messages around violence prevention are shared with the school community! Students devise all kinds of unique and creative ways to share messages about consent and boundaries, from making bracelets to running a Jeopardy-style show at school. Ultimately, MOCSA’s education programs serve as a crucial avenue that empowers youth to recognize, prevent, and respond to violence and sexual abuse in their communities. 

Ms. Donelon was quick to point out the connection between the prevention focus of MOCSA’s education program and CSF’s role as a partner and funder. “I think that goes to show the visionary nature of the Children’s Services Fund and what they’re investing in. It is often difficult to find funding for prevention strategies and that is where the CSF really shines: they look at the issues children face and ways to support them from so many angles. We know that prevention, while not as easy to quantify, takes a long time and a lot of work. CSF gets this; they see the importance of funding prevention—because we don’t want children to ever have to experience trauma in the first place.” 

Ms. Donelon also revealed some exciting plans in MOCSA’s near future! MOCSA is embarking on a capital campaign to establish a permanent home specifically designed for survivors of sexual violence. The new space will provide indoor and outdoor areas for healing, including counseling and yoga therapy. The grand opening of MOCSA’s new home will coincide with its 50th anniversary celebrations in the spring of 2025 and represents a significant milestone for MOCSA as it continues its mission to support survivors and prevent sexual violence.

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