“Let’s Educate and Protect our Children”
Recently, a colleague was asked to report for jury duty. While this is not a summons most of us look forward to receiving, it is imperative that each of us follow through on our civic duty which is why my colleague reported at the appropriate time. As it turns out, the case being tried that week involved “indecent liberties with a child,” a fancy legal term for child sexual abuse. During the grueling jury selection process, each potential juror was asked if they had children of their own. If the response was affirmative, each juror was then asked if they ever talked to their own child about sex abuse and if so, the details of the conversation. Think about that for a minute. You are seated in front of seventy odd people you’ve never seen before and you’re in essence asked what you did to help your own child avoid being abused. How would you answer that question?
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. The American Society for the Positive Care of Children encourages anyone visiting their website to join them in advocating for children and helping raise awareness of the epidemic of child abuse and neglect in America. (credit: americanspcc.org). Yes! Sign us all up for that! But what are we looking for?
Some causes in America are easily defined. For example, when we recognize October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, sadly we all know what that means. It’s a condition that can be given a name using medical diagnostics. Unfortunately, child abuse is not scientifically defined. In fact, precise legal definitions vary across the United States. Instead, child abuse is broadly defined as an act—or failure to act—that results in a child’s serious harm or risk of harm, including physical or emotional harm, exploitation or death. Neglect occurs when a caretaker fails to provide for a child’s basic needs. (credit: joyfulheartfoundation.org).
Notice how the definition refers to an act that has already happened or neglect that has already occurred? Therein lies the problem. By the time the crime is disclosed, or warning signs appear, the traumatic abuse may have already occurred. More focus should be placed on educating our children in order to deter abuse before it happens. It is incumbent on each of us to keep children out of harm’s way!
One of the ways we can help protect our children is by having difficult conversations about sexuality and sexual abuse. When you talk to your children about child sexual abuse, you empower them to say “no” to unwanted touching/photography and teach them to come to you with questions and concerns, thus taking vital, positive steps in preventing child sexual abuse. Talk to your children in age appropriate terms, teaching them the anatomically correct name of their body parts, and that some body parts are private and that it’s okay to say “no” to touches/photography that make them feel scared or uncomfortable, and that it is not okay for someone else to expose or take pictures of their private body parts. The more you talk openly about sexuality and abuse, the less likely your child will feel the need to keep secrets.
Be involved in your child’s life. Be keenly aware of the adults that your child may come in contact with, including family. And this doesn’t only mean the new neighbor down the street, the volleyball coach, or the ice cream man. This means ALL ADULTS. Only about ten percent of child sexual abuse acts are committed by strangers to the child. That means the vast majority of offenses are committed in the child’s home or by a family member.
Finally, be available for your child. Spend time with them and let them know by words, and actions, that they can come to you any time with questions or feelings that are making them scared or uncomfortable.
Thankfully, North Carolina is blessed to have 35 accredited and 5 provisional children’s advocacy centers providing services in 87 counties across the state. Utilizing a multidisciplinary team approach, these centers provide a variety of services for children who have been abused and their non-offending family members. In 2016, Children’s Advocacy Centers of North Carolina served 8,481 new child abuse victims with 35% of them being under the age of 6 and 38% being ages 7-12. These children were victims of sexual abuse (61.8%), physical abuse (19.6%), neglect (6.9%), witness to a crime (5.8%), drug endangered (1.9%), or other forms of violence (4%). They all received critical services to aid in their healing while also assisting other professional entities in the apprehension and prosecution of the offenders. Services offered through a children’s advocacy center are always free to the families and include forensic interviewing, evidence based mental health treatment, child medical evaluations and prevention education. 94.5% of caregivers report that the children’s advocacy center facilitated healing for their child and 97% of the multi-disciplinary team partners reported that working with a children’s advocacy center created more collaborative and efficient case investigations.
During the month of April we encourage you not to wait, please join us to do all you can to prevent child abuse before it occurs. That way, when you’re being questioned in that jury pool, you can confidently say the children you love are aware of what abuse is and how to respond; that you are and will continue to do all you can to prevent child abuse.
About Children’s Advocacy Centers of North Carolina:
Children’s Advocacy Centers of North Carolina is an accredited state chapter of the National Children’s Alliance in Washington, DC, the national umbrella organization for children’s advocacy centers dealing with child abuse. The children’s advocacy movement began in the 1980s. Each center is an independent agency, providing services for abused children, and relies on their local communities for support. By bringing together collaborative partners, such as local child protective services, law enforcement, prosecutors, medical and mental health providers, CAC’s can make a positive difference in the lives of abused children by bringing professionals to the child instead of asking children and their families to access services through many different portals.
For more information visit cacnc.org or contact Deana Joy at 336-886-4589 ext. 1