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Located at the Marilyn Kapner Levin Center for Children’s Advocacy and Child Abuse Prevention and the Allen R. Levin Family Advocacy and Education Wing


Reporting child abuse is an obligation, not an option

Published: 11/19/2011

From the Pensacola News Journal

The sad case at Penn State University has raised awareness of child sexual abuse on a national level. The nation has reacted with anger, frustration and confusion.


With the media spotlight focused on another community, we should reflect on our own community and the fact that the plague of child physical and sexual abuse exists in our own backyard.


Last year, Gulf Coast Kid's House provided services for more than 1,200 children. In the first six months of 2011, we saw nearly 900 children.

The question is now, how to address suspected child abuse? What systems are in place to protect the children in our community?


In talking with community members, many ask, "What else could Joe Paterno have done? He reported it to a supervisor." And the answer is: He could have and should have done a lot more.


In Florida, child abuse and child sexual abuse is a crime that every witness or person suspecting abuse is legally mandated to report.


So why do adult witnesses, like Paterno and Penn State assistant football coach Mike McQueary, stay silent? Many speculate it is due to a lack of information about how to report such abuse and what will happen as a result.


This tragic case can serve as a learning experience for all responsible community members. We are all legally required to report if we suspect a child is being harmed.

In Escambia County, we are fortunate to have a Children's Advocacy Center that promotes a multidisciplinary and collaborative approach to child abuse cases.


When a report of child sexual abuse is made to the Department of Children of Families or to local law enforcement, the report is not closed until a professional has investigated the case. This guarantees that a set of professional eyes and ears are on that child in order to ensure their safety.


Agencies that work with child abuse cases form a partnership to ensure the case is investigated, the abuse ends and the child has an opportunity to safely tell what has happened to him or her. These agencies continue to work together throughout the investigation to implement services into the home for quick and effective intervention, allowing the family to begin the healing process.


If we can learn anything from this tragedy, it is that reporting child abuse is mandatory. It is

not up to you to determine whether or not abuse is occurring — let the professionals investigate.


Parents, consider this a lesson as well. Predators spend years grooming children and their families so that they are able to integrate themselves into the family as a trusted person. At Gulf Coast Kid's House, we see that the alleged perpetrator is a known family member or trusted friend in nearly 90 percent of child abuse cases.


It is unacceptable for adult witnesses to remain silent when child abuse is known or suspected. Child victims can remain silent for many reasons — fear of retribution or a false sense of "love" with the offender.


It is up to us to ensure that their voices are heard and that these children have a chance at recovery.

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