By Susan Gladin, guest columnist
At this stage in my life I am not around children very often, and when I am with Helena, age 9, her mom is usually around too. If you had asked me if I needed to participate in a workshop on child sexual abuse, I’d have said no. But I participated recently through my association with the Redwoods Group and the Johnson Intern Program. Now I realize someone like me can make a big difference in directly reducing the number of children that are sexually abused.
That number is staggering. One in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused by age 18. I had never realized the power that each of us has to reduce those numbers when we are willing to talk about the subject, ask questions and act on our instincts.
Helena’s mom, for example, works at a facility that houses a children’s program. She had not heard of the ‘Stewards of Children’ training, but is now eager to learn more. My friend Solita directs a program for middle and high school youth. She has already inquired about a staff workshop. When someone like me spreads the word to people who work with children, and they take the training and implement the tools, any number of children will be protected by those very actions and not be abused.
Being spared from abuse is no small thing. Around 80 percent of abuse survivors are addicted to substances. Victims report a high degree of mental and physical health issues. They are often sexually promiscuous following abuse, and more than 60 percent of teenage first pregnancies are preceded by such experiences. Survivors are more likely to commit crimes. The toll of child sexual abuse on our society is enormous.
The thing is, we don’t prepare our children to protect themselves from likely abusers, because molesters are most often someone a child knows and trusts – in approximately 60 percent of cases. We teach our children to be wary of strangers, but we fail to warn them that Uncle Bob or Reverend Joe (men, most often) might be a danger as well. We will better protect our children when we understand that more than 80 percent of sexual abuse cases occur in one-adult/one-child situations.
Are our schools, day care centers and churches doing enough to reduce the possibility of one-to-one encounters? We need to ask, and push for change if the answer is “no.” We also need to trust our instincts and intervene, even when we’re not sure what is going on. In North Carolina we are required by law to report child abuse of any kind.
Stewards of Children is the only nationally available program scientifically proven to increase knowledge, improve attitudes and change child-protective behaviors. Any responsible adult who cares about the welfare of children should take this workshop. Organizations that serve children and youth will definitely prevent abuse if they participate in this training.
The workshop offers facts about child sexual abuse, raises awareness of situations in which abuse might occur, and gives seven effective strategies for protecting children. It teaches the signs of sexual abuse and how to intervene and respond responsibly.
There are seven trainings scheduled locally through February 21 through the Darkness to Light Program at CHCYMCA. For most of us, the trainings are free. To schedule a training for your own group or organization, email Tricia Smar at firstname.lastname@example.org. For those wanting contact hours or CE credit, the workshop costs $10 per person for 3 hours. For those who cannot attend a training, there is an online class you can take here.
The workshop teaches that empowerment comes when we talk openly with adults and children about the subject of sexual abuse. When we are trained, aware, and willing to ask questions and intervene, abuse is stopped. I already feel sure that a program in Durham and a school in Orange County will be safer because of the skills I was given last week, and Helena will be safer, too, because her mom and I will always be asking questions.
Susan Gladin is a freelance writer, United Methodist minister, and curriculum coordinator at the Johnson Intern Program in Chapel Hill. She tends horses and a home business on the farm she shares with her husband. Their two grown daughters live nearby. You may e-mail her at email@example.com or write c/o The Chapel Hill Herald, 2828 Pickett Road, Durham, NC 27705.