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Learn to spot the signs of child sexual abuse

Published: 12/4/2011

From the Pensacola News Journal

The news that a former assistant coach at Penn State University stood accused of molesting boys shocked many.


Unfortunately, though, coaches or other adults in a position of authority taking sexual advantage of children in their care is something that child advocates at the Gulf Coast Kid's House in Pensacola deal with on a regular basis.


In fact, the Gulf Coast Kid's House offers training to parents and others with frequent contact with children.


The program, called "Stewards of Children," is designed by the Darkness to Light child welfare organization. The training is offered to professional groups, such as nurses and mental health workers, in their work and educational settings. However, the Gulf Coast Kid's House also offers it to the general public six times a year.


The next "Stewards of Children" training session for the general public is set for Jan. 10. Cost is $15. For details, call 595-5800.


Gulf Coast Kid's House Executive Director Stacey Kostevicki and "Stewards of Children" training facilitator Debra Bond recently talked with the News Journal about child sexual abuse and the "Stewards of Children" training.


Q: How common is it for a coach to sexually abuse a child?


Kostevicki: It's not that typical. It's something that a parent needs to be concerned with, but in the cases that we see, about 89 percent of the perpetrators are a family member or a close family friend.


You need to be vigilant with knowing where your children are. It is not acceptable to send your child with an uncle, even, for a day without having some other adult checking in or another adult present.


Q: Absent a child saying, "I have been abused," what signs should a parent look for?


Kostevicki: The best indicator is any change in behavior of the child, whether they used to always like going to practice and now they don't want to go to practice anymore, whether they used to be really outgoing and now they are sort of withdrawn — any change in your child's personality. It is rare that you will see any physical signs of sexual abuse ... Sometimes, you will see STDs, but it's rare.


Q: Is there a profile that perpetrators fall into?


Bond: The horrible part is you can't look at somebody and say, "Oh, they fit the profile," because that's not what they are going to reveal to you. ... The "It can't happen to me. It can't happen to my child. It can't happen in my community" just won't work. Statistically, we see that it is everywhere.


Q: There seems to be some debate in Pennsylvania about people who had witnessed the abuse but hadn't done anything or hadn't done enough. What is the law in Florida?


Kostevicki: (People who witness abuse) are legally mandated to report it, either to law enforcement or to the abuse hotline, 1-800-96-ABUSE. The requirements vary by state, but Florida has very strict requirements around these crimes. If a person even suspects a child is being harmed — not even seeing something visually but has a suspicion — they are legally required to call that in. They are (subject to legal prosecution) for not doing that.


Q: What can be done to combat the stigma of being a victim of sexual abuse — especially for that experienced by teenage boys, like in Pennsylvania — so that they feel more comfortable reporting a crime?


Bond: Boys do report less because of the stigma attached to it. It's important to get them to understand that the adult is the one who is at fault, not the child. If the child doesn't disclose who the adult is, lifelong child pedophiles can have as many as 400 victims. When a child decides to disclose, they are keeping that from happening to somebody else. If someone is reluctant, or doesn't know how it will do any good, getting that pedophile off the street is going to save a whole lot of more heartache.


Q: A lot of sports clubs and youth organizations do background checks on their employees and volunteers. How safe should that make a parent feel?


Bond: When you look at records, allegations ... could have taken place and nothing come of it. You're not going to know. It's very important for employers or the group to look into background checks with more of a personal eye. Look at someone's history. Do those personal reference calls. Those are the keys to whether this person is what they appear to be.


Q: Who, in the general community, needs the "Stewards of Children" training?


Kostevicki: I say anybody who has children. I know that is really general. But as a parent, there are situations that you don't think of — like the Penn State case. You think you're sending your child to a reputable coach. This class really helps give parents the skills and the ammunition they need to protect their children.


It really educates people for an issue we don't want to talk about. It's like preparing for a fire drill. You have got to prepare yourself mentally for the day where you might find out that your child has been abused.



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