Patti Marlowe used to think all child sexual predators looked like monsters.
“I didn’t think I knew one,” she said, “much less that I was married to one for 10 years.”
After Marlowe remarried, her 16-year-old daughter revealed a terrible secret: Marlowe’s ex-husband — the girl’s stepfather — had sexually abused her for years.
The man used fear to keep the girl quiet. If she told her mother, he told her, her mother would kill him and go to jail, and the girl would be alone.
“My little girl thought she was protecting me,” Marlowe told a group Tuesday during a luncheon at the Randolph-Asheboro YMCA.
Today, Marlowe’s ex-husband is serving a 13-year prison sentence.
And Marlowe is prevention specialist for the Darkness to Light (D2L) partnership with the YMCA of Greater High Point, which brought its award-winning prevention program “Stewards of Children” to Guilford County two years ago.
Since then, more than 2,000 adults have completed the two-hour training on how to recognize, prevent and react responsibly to the reality of child sexual abuse.
David Ozmore, president and CEO of the High Point YMCA, also spoke at the luncheon.
Child sexual predators, he said, are often trusted adults — among them, coaches, teachers, pastors, family friends and family members: “This is not an issue of the creepy old man in a trench coat at the mall.”
Child sexual abuse is the most prevalent health issue children face in the United States today, he said. One in 10 will be abused before they turn 18. More than 90 percent will know their abuser.
“It is our job in Randolph County, and in Guilford County, to protect children,” Ozmore said.
Now, the “Stewards of Children” training, which is free, will be offered in Randolph.
Patrick O’Hara, executive director of the Randolph-Asheboro YMCA, and about a dozen of his staff took the training last week.
“It’s probably one of the best things I’ve done for my staff because we’re still talking about it,” O’Hara said. “We want to get the word out. We cannot do it without you.”
The goal is to grow D2L’s Partner in Prevention network, which is made up of organizations that have trained at least 90 percent of staff and volunteers in the evidence-based Steward of Children curriculum — and commit to train new employees and volunteers. The course counts as CEU credits for those who qualify.
Tuesday’s meeting brought together representatives from many Randolph agencies and organizations that touch children — from schools and social services to law enforcement and the courts.
Several agreed that the need to educate the public is great.
Major Aundrea Azelton of the Randolph County Sheriff’s Office talked about the department’s CARE (Child Abuse Reduction Effort) program, a local curriculum developed under former sheriff Litchard Hurley in 1992. Among the lessons taught to second-graders in the county (and their teachers and parents) is how to identify abuse. Children learn that they have the right to feel safe and to tell a trusted adult if someone is making them feel unsafe.
“What we see as a drawback to that,” Azelton said, “is we have children disclose (abuse) who are not taken seriously. … I think this program can give the community an idea of how prevalent (abuse) is. People do need to know.”
“We deal with these cases every day,” said Det. Debra McKinzie of the Asheboro Police Department. “Stacks and stacks and stacks of ’em.”
Lisa Dodge agreed. Dodge is district administrator of the Guardian ad Litem program. A Guardian ad Litem is a trained volunteer appointed by the court to advocate for the best interests of an abused or neglected child.
“I’m here to tell you,” Dodge said, “it’s happening in Randolph County.”
Marlowe said she is willing to share her story to help uncover other stories.
“I know one thing,” she said, “everybody in this room knows someone (who is a child predator). You may not know you know someone.”
A video shared at the luncheon highlighted that notion. It featured male and female survivors of child sexual abuse talking about what had happened to them.
They represented a cross-section of races, cultures and socio-economic circumstances — and demonstrated that, as in the case of Marlowe’s ex-husband, a school photographer and respected members of the community, outward appearances can be deceiving: One of the survivors was Marilyn Van Derbur, Miss America 1958, whose father had sexually abused her.
Shawn Columbia, the Y’s aquatics director, shared a devotion before the luncheon. He said he had worked with Margaret Hoelzer, an Olympic swimming medalist who was another survivor featured in the video. After the Olympics, Hoelzer revealed that she had been abused by the father of a friend when she was young.
“This is a blessing that we can bring throughout the community,” Columbia said. “It’s not just the kids. You don’t know who out in the community that this may touch.”