Education key to ending childhood sexual abuse

First Byline: 
Will Whaley - Staff Writer

The Stewards of Children teamed with Axis 1 and Blackville Parks and Recreation to host a training session to help end sexual abuse of children.
The Stewards of Children is a part of the Darkness to Light program teaching adults how to react to child sexual abuse.
"We are going to have one in Barnwell and in Williston as well," said Cheryl Long, the director of Axis 1.
Martha Tumblin, a former addiction and family therapist, led the training session.
"Not everyone has been sexually abused," said Tumblin. "Sooner or later, most have to deal with trauma."
Tumblin explained the training session, naming the three main points of the curriculum as facts, prevalence and reaction.
"There's a method to the madness of how we train," said Tumblin, going on to say the training is required in some school districts or anywhere that adults would be interacting with children.
"It's not a kid's job to protect themselves from adults," said Tumblin.
The training was DVD driven and narrated by author Paula Sellars. The training featured eight different stories to help illustrate the steps of handling child abuse.
"Across generations, children have carried the weight of sexual abuse, often by themselves," said Sellars. "One in 10 children is exposed to sexual abuse before turning 18."
"At Darkness to Light, we know that ending child sexual abuse takes a cooperative, community effort," said Sellars. "When we prevent child sexual abuse, we address a root cause of social problems like violent crime, homelessness, teen pregnancy, health problems and substance abuse."
Sellars also explained the five steps to dealing with and recognizing child sexual abuse.
The first step is learning the facts.
"Child sexual abuse thrives in an environment of denial and fear," said Sellars. "If we could overcome denial and fear, much of the damage could be eliminated."
"Learning the facts enables us to break through denial and fear," said Sellars. "Learning the facts will allow us to know what sexual abuse is, recognize its prevalence and understand how it occurs."
Sellars then gave a definition of what child sexual abuse is.
"It is any sexual act between an adult and a minor, or between two minors, when one exerts power over the other," said Sellars. "This includes forcing, coercing or persuading a child to engage in any type of sexual act including non-contact acts such as exhibitionism, exposure to pornography, voyeurism and communicating in a sexual manner by phone or internet."
Sellars says the abuse can have long lasting after effects.
"Child sexual abuse makes children more vulnerable to sexual exploitation," said Sellars. "More than 90 percent of children who are commercially sexually exploited have been sexually abused in the past."
Commercial sexual exploitation of children is any sexual activity involving a child for which something of value is given or promised.
Step two is minimizing opportunity.
"Eighty percent or more of child sexual abuse incidents happen in isolated incidents," said Sellars. "When you eliminate or reduce, isolated, one-on-one situations with children, you dramatically lower the risk of sexual abuse."
Sellars talked about the method of grooming, which is a process an offender uses to gradually draw a victim into a sexual relationship and maintains that relationship in secrecy.
"Minimizing opportunity also means screening out people who may abuse children," said Sellars.
Three components Sellars spoke of were background checks, in-person interviews that focus on proper boundaries with children and personal and professional references.
"Background checks are seriously inadequate when used as the only screening tool," said Sellars. "Most offenders have not been caught or convicted, for this reason; all of the other screening methods must be used."
Step three is to talk about it.
Talking about it openly, according to Tumblin and Sellars, is an effective way to create a relationship with an abused child.
Using the proper terminology is also important, according to Tumblin.
"Even though you may flinch at using the words penis, vagina and breasts, still use it," said Tumblin. "It is all the proper name of anatomical body parts."
"Talking openly about safety and sex creates a protective bond between parent and child," said Sellars.
Step four is to recognize the signs.
"If we spend time in settings that serve children, it is likely there are children in our circle who are sexually abused," said Sellars. "We must recognize these kids, and the signs they show, so that we can help."
"Hyerparousal and difficulty concentrating can be signs of both attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and post-traumatic stress," said Sellars. "When children show these signs, we should consider the possibility of trauma."
"Signs don't always mean sexual abuse, but it's important to correctly address the cause of these symptoms."
Other signs include: anxiety, chronic stomach pain, headaches, "too perfect" behavior, withdrawal, fear, depression, unexplained anger, rebellion, nightmares, bedwetting, falling grades, animal cruelty, bullying, being bullied, runaway, and self-harm.
"Be aware that in some children, there are no signs whatsoever," said Sellars.
The fifth and final step is reacting responsibly.
"There are three reasons we need to react to sexual abuse," said Sellars. "A child discloses sexual abuse to us, we discover sexual abuse ourselves or we have reason to suspect it."
All three of these scenarios must have immediate response and reporting, according to Tumblin.
For more information about the Darkness to Light program, go to www.D2L.org.