Area Residents Learn How To Prevent, Respond To Child Abuse

One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused by the time they are 18 years old.

That statistic is the reason six people gathered at the Child Advocacy Program’s sexual abuse training Wednesday. For two-and-a-half hours, the adults joined CAP Instructor Jana McDermott in learning how to prevent child abuse.

“Given the statistics, it’s very likely that you know someone or have been connected to someone who has experienced child sexual abuse,” McDermott said.

Participants watched a three-part Darkness to Light video entitled “Stewards of Children: A Prevention and Response Program for Adults.” At the end of each portion, they consulted an interactive workbook, which followed the video and presented questions encouraging the adults to think about their current situation. Many of the adults present had children or worked closely with children.

The video had testimonies from several former child sexual abuse survivors, as well as specialists in the field. The survivors had been molested by a priest, stepfather, father, teacher and other family members.

As child sexual abuse is a difficult topic, McDermott had provided Play-Doh to participants as a way to keep their stress levels low.

“I want you to be aware of yourself and your stress level,” McDermott said. “I know from watching people that their eyes get squinty when they get stressed, so I want to give everyone permission to breathe and sigh. Take a deep breath, and let it out. That’s why we provide the Play-Doh, for something for your hands to do as well.”

The film discussed, and the group emphasized, four tools to protecting children, including consciousness, choice, personal power and relentless compassion. Additionally, the film and group discussed the seven steps to protecting children, including learning the facts and understanding risks; minimizing opportunities; talking about it; staying alert; making a plan; acting on suspicions; and getting involved.

The program was hosted by Chautauqua County Legislator Lori Cornell, D-Jamestown. Cornell said during the training she was surprised to realize she is not only responsible for her own children, but for looking out for every child.

“To hear that it is my responsibility that the boy down the street is safe – even though I don’t know him, I don’t know his parents – it is important that all children are everyone’s children,” Cornell said.

According to McDermott, Chautauqua County alone spends $1 million a year for the direct cost of child sexual abuse.

“When you look at CPS, when you look at family court, mental health cost, suicide, all of those things, we end up paying for that as a community,” McDermott said. “The consequences are huge.”

Additionally, she said Chautauqua County ranks in the top 25 percent of rural counties for reported cases of child sexual abuse, with the highest number of reported cases coming from Jamestown.

“If we look at our county, and we look at the population under (age) 18, there is somewhere around 29,000,” McDermott said. “Even a conservative estimate – not one in four or one in six – just take one in 10. That’s 2,900 kids. That would fill 41 school buses. Imagine that on Main Street, lined up. That’s how many kids who will be sexually abused in Chautauqua County before their 18th birthday.”

The next Stewards of Children sexual abuse training will be held Thursday from 6-8:30 p.m. A training will also be held June 18 from 8:30-11 a.m. Both trainings will be held at the CAP Office, 405 W. Third St. in Jamestown. The cost is $10, with scholarships available. Additional information about the trainings can be obtained by calling 338-9844 or by emailing capadvocate@capjustice.org.

CAP is a United Way Agency.