Child abuse does not necessarily involve violence or anger. Abuse often involves adults using their power over children as objects for their own gratification.
Parents take their children for regular pediatrician visits, make sure they receive all their immunizations and eat nutritious food — all in order to protect their child.
“But if parents are not educated on how to identify the signs of sexual abuse in children or what steps to take to be proactive and prevent it, they are unable to protect their child from abuse,” said Susan Scarborough, executive assistant at the Pocono Family YMCA in Stroudsburg.
“Experts estimate one in 10 children becomes a victim of sexual abuse before their 18th birthday and 35 percent of child victims are 11 years old or younger,” she said.
Whether you work with youth, are a parent or are simply a member of the community, chances are there might be someone you know and care for who has experienced or is currently experiencing child sexual abuse.
One of Scarborough’s responsibilities is to facilitate sessions for the nationwide non-profit organization Darkness to Light’s Stewards of Children training.
“We teach parents that knowledge is power. Once they have the knowledge, they have the power to protect their child as well as other children. Educating the public can help stop it from happening,” Scarborough said.
What the Pocono Family YMCA hopes to accomplish by offering the community the Stewards of Children training is to break down the barriers to open discussions on sexual abuse in children, she said.
“We want to make sure parents, and really everyone that has contact with children, learn the facts and how to be proactive in preventing the abuse in children,” Scarborough said.
The goal of the training is to teach skills on how to prevent the abuse before it happens, identify a possible victim and know how to handle the situation when you suspect abuse, said Brad Hildabrant of Saylorsburg, who raised his granddaughter and numerous foster children.
As an employee of the Stroudsburg School District, a karate teacher, Pocono Family YMCA summer camp director as well as an EMT, Hildabrant was required to take several training sessions on sexual abuse.
“Of all the programs and training I have received, Stewards of Children is absolutely the most comprehensive training, covering all aspects of sexual abuse in children,” he said.
Recognize red flags
If something seems to raise a red flag, address the subject with the child on his or her level, Hildabrant said.
It isn’t always a grownup as the perpetrator. Sometimes the abuse is a teen babysitter or young person who spends extended periods of time with the child or invites him or her to go places.
Of course, it doesn’t mean every babysitter or young person spending time with your child is an abuser, “but the Stewards of Children training teaches parents to be aware of situations that provide a child abuser easy access to a child,” Scarborough said.
“In order to prevent child sexual abuse, parents might find themselves in the position of taking actions they have never taken before,” Scarborough said.
Abusers are usually older, bigger or more powerful than their young victims, who become afraid of what will happen if they don’t cooperate with the abuser or if they tell someone about their abuser.
Sometimes abusers will threaten or hurt victims in other ways to make them do what they want.
What you can do
Once parents instill in their child that no one — including family members, friends, babysitters or strangers — has the right to inappropriately touch or force an activity the child knows or feels is wrong, the chances the child will be a sexual predator’s target lessens, according to the National Center for Victims of Crime in Washington, D.C.
The training also focuses on the action to take if sexual abuse is suspected. And, trainees learn to spot potential problems by an adult caregiver, relative or teacher who is crossing a child’s boundaries.
“Children cannot protect themselves from predators. They are the victims, and as adults, it is our responsibility to be the ones who protect them,” Hildabrant said.
When someone expresses hesitancy about following through and going to the proper authorities when child abuse is suspected, Scarborough said she asks the adult participating in the training: “Would you rather be uncomfortable for a short time to save a child from a lifetime of emotional hurt and pain?”