Protecting children from sexual abuse is a community responsibility

Written by: Deanna Norris and Robin L. O’Grady

A recent column published in the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus, “How to help abused children,” reflected upon the Penn State scandal and focused on the lack of adequate federal funding for programs that protect and rescue children from sexual abuse.

The authors, R.A. Dickey and Grier Weeks, called on readers to take action, make noise and remind the “powers that be” of their need to act on behalf of victimized and traumatized children who are unable to protect themselves.

We are fortunate in Livingston County to have numerous agencies that work in partnership to safeguard our children from sexual abuse-including LACASA and LACASA’s Child Abuse Prevention Council.

Supporting federal legislation and urging the government to fund critical programs are both ways concerned citizens can use their collective voices to help children.

There are other ways we can protect our children, however, on a smaller scale right here at home. Choices can be made by individuals, steps can be taken by parents, and knowledge can be shared by adults in our community, all of which will help keep our children safe.

LACASA and the CAP Council recommend that schools, churches, sports leagues and child-serving organizations implement policies that minimize opportunities for abuse, such as restricting situations in which one adult is alone with one child.

“We have a duty to act,” said Dickey and Weeks. Taking action on a local level can be as simple as learning the facts about child sexual abuse.

Understanding the nature of abuse, why and how it occurs, and who it is that most often perpetrates sexual crimes against children is critical.

Stranger danger has proven to be a misnomer. In more than 90 percent of the cases, sexual abuse of a child is committed by someone the victim knows and trusts. This information gives us immense power in the fight to keep sexual abuse from happening in the first place.

“(Children) need us to be strong … and to step in as protectors,” the article said. As parents and concerned community members, we must learn how. The CAP Council advises that we:

  • Talk openly with our children and listen to what they have to say.
  • Educate ourselves.
  • Find out why our children feel uncomfortable around certain people.
  • Allow children to choose whether or not they want to share hugs and affection with relatives and friends.
  • Speak to other adults about child sexual abuse.
  • Avoid putting children in situations that place them at risk.
  • Several times each year, LACASA’s CAP Council hosts Stewards of Children, a free training program that teaches adults how to react responsibly to suspected child sexual abuse.
  • Together, armed with knowledge and simple strategies, we can prevent child sexual abuse. In fact, Darkness to Light, the national organization that created the Stewards of Children program, estimates that for each adult trained, 10 children are less likely to become victims.
    It is imperative that we provide programs that support victims of child abuse, encourage them to share their stories and enable them to begin healing.

    LACASA’s CARE (Child Abuse Response Effort) oversees forensic interviews of children who are suspected of being abused. Individual counseling and support groups offered through LACASA’s counseling program help child victims in Livingston County process the abuse they have endured so they can move past the pain toward a future of wellness.

    Prevention programs, like Stewards of Children, help to ensure that the children in our lives never suffer the trauma of sexual abuse.

    In reference to drastic federal cutbacks made to the Protect Our Children Act, authors Dickey and Weeks said, “the rest of us should be stepping up to a bigger plate because our failure to follow through on past lessons of child abuse is leaving more children vulnerable.”

    It is true that funding for programs that help victimized children — and for programs designed to prevent child abuse before it occurs — continues to dwindle. Both LACASA and the CAP Council have experienced deep funding cuts this year — not only at the federal level — but at the state and local levels as well.

    This is an unfortunate reality that makes our work difficult. However, community members should be encouraged by the news that each of us has the power to make a difference.

    We can become educated. We can become vigilant. We can volunteer as child advocates. We can make charitable contributions to nonprofit organizations like LACASA and the CAP Council that support and protect our children right here in Livingston County.

    Dickey and Weeks stated, “With more than 400,000 American children in foster care and millions more urgently needing protection, we could fill stadiums with children who are counting on us. They need us to be strong, to look evil in the face, and to step in as protectors.”

    The authors concluded: “There’s no greater feeling, on or off the field, than protecting a child.” On behalf of the CAP Council and the entire staff of LACASA, we concur.

    Deanna Norris, is director of LACASA’s Child Abuse Prevention Council, and Robin L. O’Grady is LACASA’s communications director. E-mail your comments to letters@livingstondaily.com.

    UPCOMING WORKSHOPS
    The Child Abuse Prevention Council is hosting a free Stewards of Children workshop for the public from 6:30-9:30 p.m. Tuesday at LACASA, 2895 W. Grand River Ave. in Howell Township. Participants will learn the seven critical steps for preventing, recognizing and reacting responsibly to child sexual abuse.

    A seminar on Mandated Reporter Training and Stewards of Children will be held for professionals and interested community members from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday at the Livingston Educational Service Agency, 1425 W. Grand River Ave. Howell.

    Registration is required for either workshop and space is limited. For more information, or to register, visit www.lacasacenter.org or call the CAP Council at (517) 548-1350, ext. 287.

    Article Featured in LivingstonDaily.com

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