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April is Child Abuse Awareness Month

By: Melinda Ingram, Lakes Area Child Advocacy Center
Posted: Saturday, April 06, 2013

Before today is over, three children will die from being abused. At least one will be a baby. The other two probably haven’t yet celebrated their 5th birthday.

More than 500 other children will be physically abused today, and another 250 will be sexually abused: before today is over, hundreds of children will suffer painful cruelty or sexual violation.  Tomorrow, it starts all over again.

Don’t think this only happens “in other places”; these things are happening around us, to children in our area.

April is Child Abuse Awareness Month and BEING AWARE is the key to protecting our children.  Here are some facts and tips to increase your awareness:

When it comes to child sexual abuse, the "stranger danger" rule no longer applies: 90% of all child sexual abusers are people the child knows, trusts and usually lives with.

More than 80% of sexual abuse cases happen in one-adult/one-child situations. Be very aware of who your child spends one on one time with.           

Sexual offenders find excuses to be alone with children so they can touch them inappropriately. They “befriend” the child with gifts and candy, and often seek out lonely, insecure children. They gradually break down the child’s resistance to touch, so the child often is confused when the touching turns sexual.

They often try to make the child feel responsible so they won't tell about inappropriate touches that are happening. They may tell the child "You know you like the way I touch you", "If you tell your mom, she won't love you anymore.", “No one will believe you.”

Sexual predators take advantage of a child's natural sense of trust to find opportunities to molest them. However there are many people who love children and enjoy being with them who are not offenders. Remember, sexual abuse should not be confused with healthy, affectionate physical contact between an adult and child. Children need healthy, loving physical contact to be emotionally healthy kids.

Here are some good ways to help reduce the risk of something happening to your child:

When your child is involved in youth-related activities, make sure parents can drop in or observe activities at any time, and that background checks are done on people working with children.       

Drop in unexpectedly when your child is alone with any adult or older child.

Be very careful who you leave your child with. Ask yourself, “would I leave my ATM card or credit card with this person?” Any doubts? Think about who you leave your child with.         

Monitor your child’s internet use.

Teach your child at an early age the correct names for private body parts. Teach your child that their body is special and private, and begin talking to them about what touches are OK and what to do if someone touches them in a way that is not OK.

The average age for the onset of sexual abuse is 4 years old. Many children don’t understand that the touching is wrong until it has been happening over time. Several years may pass before the child feels they can tell someone. It’s usually hard for a child to tell, so when a child does report abuse, it’s important that from that point on they feel protected and safe.

As the child’s caregiver, know how to respond if your child tells you something has happened to them. Stay outwardly calm and assure them they were right to tell you. Don’t ask a lot of questions, let them tell you. Then it’s your responsibility to report the concern. The Missouri Child Abuse Hotline is 1-800-392-3738.

When a concern of child abuse is hotlined in our area, the Lakes Area Child Advocacy Center is contacted by a Children’s Division worker to set up a time for the child to come to the center.

The Lakes Area Child Advocacy Center is located in Claybough Plaza Mall in Branson West. It is a non-profit agency that provides a child friendly environment for children who are victims of sexual or physical abuse to tell about the abuse to a trained interviewer.

The interviews are video recorded and used to help investigate these child abuse cases. The Center also provides medical exams for these children by a trained nurse examiner.

Our Advocacy Center serves children from Stone and Taney counties, and sees about 200 children each year. The Center also provides each family with referrals for counseling, medical follow-up if needed, and other community resources.

The goal of the Center is to make sure the child feels respected and safe, and to help the family start healing from the crisis.

Even though you’re doing all you can to protect your children, the reality is that all children are at risk, and even the most “protected” children can become victims. Be informed and prepared now so you can respond the best way if something does happen to your child. The way a child heals and emotionally recovers from a situation of abuse, depends on the way the adults in their life react and respond.

If you would like more information about the Lakes Area Child Advocacy Center, contact us at 417-272-8410.

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