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Silence on Sex Abuse Must End

Published: 6/17/2012

From the Pensacola News Journal

Would you tell?

 

It’s easy to watch the trial of former Penn State University football coach Jerry Sandusky on child sex abuse charges unfold from a distance and tell ourselves that we would have spoken up.

 

That we wouldn’t have let the coach’s standing in the community or influence in one of the community’s most powerful institutions stop us from speaking out, from making a phone call if we had suspected.

 

Stacey Kostevicki knows better than most of us that this is not always the truth.

 

The executive director of Gulf Coast Kid’s House has learned in her two years on the job that the silence around child sex abuse is deafening.

 

Because 90 percent of the time, Kostevicki says, the perpetrator is not a stranger lurking in a dark alley — 90 percent of the time, it is a close friend or family member.

 

Someone we know. Someone we trusted enough to leave a child alone in his or her care.

 

“Predators spend a lifetime building trust with families,” she says. “Their expertise is in building that trust.”

 

In the South particularly, there is a tradition of keeping out of other people’s business that is tough to overcome, she says. But cracks are being made in that wall of silence. And it is important to keeping hammering away at it.

 

Kostevicki says Kid’s House handled 1,200 cases in 2010; so far in 2012, it has handled more than 2,000.

 

The increase, she says, is due to a combination of better reporting and tougher laws, but she also says more abuse is happening.

 

Some attribute it to the fact that more families are living together because of the slow economy. Say, for example, a mom moving in with a new boyfriend sooner than she would have when she could afford her own place.

 

The Kid’s House facilities in Pensacola and Milton are two of only 25 such centers in the state of Florida. They will host training sessions for nearly anyone who wants to attend on how to recognize and react if you suspect abuse is going on.

 

Summer camps, youth groups and places like the YMCA have routinely gone through the training.

 

But the training is available on request for smaller groups, as Shehee & Callahan Family Orthodontics in Pensacola recently found out. Pam Madril, a clinical supervisor at the office, arranged for a training session for the staff.

 

“We work with a lot of kids. Over the years, a couple of us have worked on kids where we thought something was just not right,” she says.

 

Call (800) 96ABUSE to report suspected child abuse. Callers may remain anonymous.

Gulf Coast Kid’s House offers Darkness to Light’s Stewards of Children program that identifies “7 Steps to Protecting Our Children.”

1) Most child sexual abuse occurs in one-adult/one-child situations. Keep your child out of such situations.

2) Ask any groups that your child takes part in what their policy is on one-adult/one-child interactions. Make sure that any of these situations can be witnessed or interrupted at any time.

3) Talk with your children and talk with other parents about child sexual abuse. Ask the tough questions, and really listen to your child’s answers. Children will often not immediately admit to being abused, so listen for not only the words, but also pay attention to their demeanor and to what is not being said.

4) Stay alert. Sometimes there are no visible signs that sexual abuse is occurring, but often there are changes in a child that may signal that there is a problem.

5) Create a plan so that you are prepared if a child discloses physical or sexual abuse to you. Know the number to call (800) 96ABUSE to report the abuse.

6) Act on your suspicions. As we have learned during the Penn State incident, not reporting knowledge of abuse is a crime, and in Florida, a suspicion of abuse is all that is necessary to make a report.

7) Get involved. Volunteer your time or find other ways to support organizations that work to prevent child physical and sexual abuse.

 

To arrange for the training at your business or group, call 595-5800.

Read the full article at pnj.com


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