April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Throughout the year, the Child Advocacy Center 04-04-12-child-advocacy-center.jpgencourages the community to play a role in making Cumberland County a place that prioritizes children’s healthy development and safety.

There has been much media attention on child sexual abuse for the past several months, particularly surrounding events at Penn State University. Sadly, as we learned again from that incident and others like it, silence among those in authority empowered an alleged child abuser. How can this sort of thing happen to children when so many well-meaning adults are around? 04-04-12-it-takes-a-community.jpg

The fact is: Child abuse occurs when adults don’t take the necessary action steps to end the abuse and stop the offenders’ access to children. As awful as such news is, this sort of incident can serve as a teachable moment to empower adults to recognize the signs, have the courage to react responsibly and, ultimately, prevent child sexual abuse before it happens in the first place.

Children cannot be expected to protect themselves from sexual abuse. Research shows that child victims of sexual abuse fear that revealing the abuse will bring harm to them or those they love. Child sexual abuse is a crime that thrives in a climate of silence, secrecy, shame and fear.

Research also shows that most child sexual abusers don’t wear trench coats and lure children into dark alleys. Hundreds of thousands of children are sexually violated by adults they know and trust each year. That is why it is crucial for every adult in our community to become educated on how to prevent and recognize child abuse and how to make a report if abuse is suspected.

Here are some positive actions you can start doing today:

• Ask if the youth-serving organizations in your community have policies in place that govern how adults interact with youth.

• Do these organizations offer regular trainings for staff and volunteers so that no one is left wondering what their legal or moral obligation is when abuse is suspected?

• Do they know how to make a report and whom to call?

• Do they perform background checks on staff and volunteers? How do they monitor adult/youth interactions?

• Pledge to not keep silent if you see, hear, suspect or in any way become aware that a child is being abused. Contact your local department of Social Services. In Cumberland County, call 910-677-2450 or 911.

The Child Advocacy Center offers child abuse-prevention programs free of charge to the community. These programs include: Darkness to Light – Stewards of Children Child Sexual Abuse Prevention, Internet Safety 101 and Recognizing and Reporting Child Abuse. The center will provide trainers for your group or organization. For further information, please visit our website at www.childadvocacycenter.com or call us at 910-486-9700.

Sadly we cannot change what has already occurred but we can learn from the mistakes made, and we can all pledge to become better educated and more aware of what goes on in our own community.

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