Detective Sean Reavie discovers ways to help abused children
By Ron Sanzone
Sometimes, putting on a superhero costume can make you a real-life superhero.
At least that is the case with Phoenix resident Sean Reavie and other members of Put on the Cape: A Foundation for Hope.
Officially dubbed Put on the Cape in January, the organization hosts fundraisers, collects donations and stages superhero-themed events to assist child victims of physical and sexual abuse in their most vulnerable moments. And the entire charity “came about by accident, a happy one,” according to founder Reavie.
In late summer, Put on the Cape hosts the Superhero September Spectacular. Once held at Norterra, this year it moves indoors to Paradise Valley Mall on September 7.
Reavie has been a police officer for 12 years, the last six of which he has spent investigating crimes against children. He spends his days interviewing children who have recently been abused to gather information and evidence leading to the victimizer. One day, he was tasked with speaking to a young boy who suffered serious physical abuse, but Reavie was unable to get him to open up.
“He was huddled up in a fetal position and giving one- or two-word answers,” Reavie says.
He knew he had to try a different approach if there was any hope of identifying the criminal and setting the victim on the road to emotional recovery. Thinking of his own childhood love of superheroes, Reavie asked the boy about them.
“It was instant, the change in that little boy,” Reavie recalls.
The boy sat up straight, widened his eyes, and told Reavie it was Ironman. The two bonded over superheroes and the boy opened up.
“He felt empowered to be strong and tell me what had happened to him,” Reavie says.
The young boy’s newfound courage and openness led to his abuser’s arrest. That moment forever changed him and the lives of numerous victims.
“It dawned on me that maybe I could introduce superhero mythology to help these children overcome” their reluctance to talk, Reavie says.
He began by plastering superhero posters and placing comic books in the lobby of an advocacy center to offer an immediate sense of security for victimized children.
And when they left the center, he gave them action figures and T-shirts of their favorite superheroes. This transformed children who had arrived terrified into happy and playful kids just an hour later.
“It’s the worst day of their lives when they are there,” Reavie says. “They’re being interviewed, getting medical exams, their clothing is taken as evidence, and what I wanted to do from that day is have people donate T-shirts and action figures. That’s how this all started.”
In just five short years, the untested idea of a police investigator desperate to get a young victim of abuse to speak about a crime has exploded into a foundation annually raising tens of thousands of dollars to help victims overcome their horrors.
Put on the Cape has since been hosting Superhero September Spectacular, which gets bigger each year.
During the September 7 event, Heroes United Arizona volunteers dress in superhero costumes and shop for action figures and T-shirts that are then given to nonprofits like Southwest Advocacy Family and Glendale Family Advocacy centers. Heroes United is an Arizona-based charitable cosplay group and a subsidiary of Put on the Cape.
The mall will announce the shopping event in advance and the public can show up to see their favorite characters and, in some cases, help with the shopping. Children can get their pictures taken with the volunteers as well.
“It’s like a rock ‘n’ roll show,” Reavie says.
More than just a grand spectacle, it raises awareness of child abuse and the signs of it. Many patrons curious to know why dozens of adults are shopping dressed in costume are given informational fliers and told about the foundation’s work. Reavie pointedly recalls the reaction of one man who happened to be shopping when he saw the group and inquired further.
“He took out his wallet and gave every bill he had and said, ‘I was one of those kids,’” Reavie shares. “And then he said, ‘I wish there was something like this when I was little.’”
After his experience with the first child, Reavie became determined to convert that revelation into an organization that would raise money and in-kind donations to help advocacy centers across the nation. But for the first two years, raising funds and attracting and maintaining corporate sponsors was unsuccessful. At one particularly disappointing event, he harvested nothing more than a can of lentils and a rubber chicken squeak toy.
While it is difficult for adults to broach a subject as discomforting as child abuse, the foundation’s message and impact were ultimately too unique and compelling for it to fail. After raising just $4,000 in its first year, Put on the Cape raised $40,000 last year. Corporate sponsors now include Paychex, Valley Spinal Care, the Sakala Group, Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, Phoenix Police Sergeant and Lieutenant Association, and Agave Pediatrics. Fundraisers have been held in places as disparate as Red Robin restaurant, the Mayo Clinic and Norterra Canyon Elementary School.
Reavie says the focus of Put on the Cape is as unique as the annual shopping event. He defines the charity as “using superhero mythology empowers acute victims of child abuse.”
“To be in a position to work with children who have just been criminally victimized, nobody else does that,” he says.
To ensure donations go toward those children, Put on the Cape has a board of directors, which includes an attorney, a forensic accountant, and two treasurers.
“Nobody takes a salary, nor will anyone on my board of directors ever take a salary,” Reavie says.
“I will guarantee you as the president and founder of this foundation that every dollar you give us will go where it’s intended,” he says. “If you just give us one action figure, you can be guaranteed that one action figure will go into the hands of a critically abused child, and it will make a difference. Not a lot of charities can say that. I can.”
As rapidly as Put on the Cape has grown, Reavie says it is nowhere near the size he envisions.
“We will be the largest charity of our kind in the country, by far,” he says. “And we will be in multiple states and we will raise tens of millions of dollars. I have no doubt.”
An early indication of such an expansion is its September event in Reavie’s native Michigan.
Reavie, who credits Heroes United, his board of directors, donors and volunteers with making his vision a reality, says everyone has and will continue to have a role to play.
“I want to impact people. My board of directors wants to impact people, but we can’t do that without people helping us,” he says.
For more information, visit putonthecape.com.