Mentors and participants of The Community Partnership’s Young Parents Program recently attended a Stewards of Children three-hour training class developed by Darkness to Light. Darkness to Light is an evidenced-based adult prevention program addressing the issue of child sexual abuse.
Founded in 2000, D2L has trained hundreds of thousands of adults how to prevent, recognize, and react responsibly to child sexual abuse in their communities. The class was facilitated by Marissa Gunther of Missouri KidsFirst.
Held at Greentree Christian Church, the class focused on learning the facts and understanding the risks of child sexual abuse, minimizing opportunity for abuse to take place, talking openly and candidly about the issue, staying alert to what’s going on with your child and others in the community, making a plan of action for prevention, acting on suspicions and getting involved.
“There is no one profile of an abuser,” said Gunther. “They come in all shapes and sizes, ages, races, educational and socio-economic backgrounds.”
Gunther said that the impact on children abused sexually can run the gamut from the child moving into drug abuse later on, eating disorders, depression, and even suicide.
“Child sexual abuse can cause victims to blame themselves for the abuse,” continued Gunther, “The victim can have trouble trusting themselves and others, a feeling of hopelessness, or ongoing sense of dread or doom, they can fear healthy affection, feel powerless, anger, hostility, feel tremendous shame. Child sexual abuse not only takes a toll on the victim, but it takes a human toll on our communities.”
Stewards of Children is a curriculum designed to help parents, child care providers, teachers, volunteers, medical staff, and entire communities understand that our choices really do determine what happens to children.
“It’s really a way for people to come to realize that prevention, recognizing and reacting responsibly is something we owe to children and to ourselves,” said Gunther. “Once we see how we can be mindful and take steps to protect and report, we understand that what we transform in ourselves, we transform in others around us, and we can transform our communities.”
Gunther said that studies show that more than 80 percent of sexual abuse cases occur in one-adult/one-child situations. “These are situations that should be avoided. We know that we can reduce the risk and protect children by being intentional in keeping children and adults out of a scenario like that. We can set an example by personally avoiding one-adult/one-child situations with children other than your own.”
More than 90 percent of sexual abuse cases involve an abuser the child’s family knows and trusts. It’s estimated that one in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before their 18th birthday. One in five children are sexually solicited while on the internet.
Being aware of what’s going on in your child’s life and who the child is spending time with (in person and online) is one of the most important things you can do to prevent child sexual abuse. Talking to your children about keeping their bodies safe and letting them know that you are there to protect them is vitally important.
“Darkness to Light has published a guide on the seven steps that can be taken to protect children,” said Gunther. “Missouri KidsFirst was invited to present this program to The Community Partnership’s Young Parents Program in hopes that their interest and determination will have a positive influence in the Phelps County community. We also believe that every business, church or organization should have a child sexual abuse prevention policy in place.”
Young Parents Program mentor coordinator Marilyn Newkirk approached Missouri KidsFirst about offering the class to mentors and young parents late last year.
“Missouri KidsFirst is a statewide network of individuals, programs, and organizations committed to protecting Missouri’s children by improving the response to child victims and ending the cycle of abuse in our communities,” said Newkirk. “We felt it was important that our program participants and mentors be educated about the issue of child sexual abuse. It’s something that has an impact on children and entire communities. We also want them to know that there is hope for abuse victims, and that working together we can keep it from happening to others.”
Above all, Gunther wants community members to trust their instincts if they suspect child sexual abuse.
“If you believe a child has been or may be harmed, don’t be afraid to call and report it,” she said. “We encourage our class participants to add the Missouri Child Abuse Hotline number in their phone contacts. That way you have no excuse for not calling if you suspect something.”
The Missouri Child Abuse Hotline number is 1-800-392-3738. You can also call 911 to for law enforcement to report.
Each participant of the three-hour class received a certificate of participation, as well as printed materials for future reference. Gunther will be continuing the conversation about child sexual abuse and the impact on communities on Jan. 21 on the Pulse of the Partnership radio program, airing at 9:25 a.m. on Results Radio, KTTR, 99.7 FM.
The Young Parents program serves pregnant and parenting youth, ages 14-11, offering life skills and parenting classes, mentoring, home visits, educational support, regular monthly meetings and other opportunities to help participants be better, stronger parents and positive members of the community. For more information about the Young Parents Program, you may contact Newkirk at 573-368-2849. For more information about Darkness to Light training and Missouri KidsFirst, you may contact Marissa Gunther by calling 573-632-4600.
By Martha Edwards | Special to the Rolla Daily News