Dana McKenzie

Dana McKenzie

Three years ago, my friend Lane Olives and I sat in the training room at the Georgia Center for Child Advocacy (GCCA) for the first time. Lane had been a supporter of the center for several years, and convinced me and a few other moms to go to a “Darkness To Light” training session at the center.

I was a bit anxious about the information I was about to learn – child sexual abuse is an uncomfortable topic, and one that I never felt I needed to learn about.

We have all heard stories in the news, but I never felt this was something that would touch me or my family. My kids were in pre-school, and were officially away from me for longer periods of time, interacting with other adults and kids. I wanted to feel more educated and empowered with regard to their safety when they were with others, and I felt this was a good place to start.

The “Darkness to Light” training is aimed at anyone who interacts with children – parents, family members, caregivers, coaches, educators or anyone who spends time with kids. It is now a two-hour, video-based facilitator-led course, and includes insight from experts in the field as well as personal testimony of survivors.

The statistics are probably the most shocking and scary part of the training. One in every 10 children will be sexually molested before the age of 18. There are approximately 39 million survivors of child sexual abuse in the U.S. Each year more than 30,000 cases of child abuse and neglect are reported in Georgia alone.

We learned it’s not a case of “stranger danger” that we have all taught our kids to be aware of, but instead, 90 percent of all child sexual abuse cases are committed by trusted friends or relatives. Yes, 90 percent.

As moms, Lane and I learned how to talk to our kids about this issue in an appropriate way: no keeping secrets; what is suitable contact; how to say “no” and tell an adult when something happens; and who is or isn’t allowed to see or touch your private parts. We also learned the importance of asking our school/church/camp/teams about their policies on protecting children while in their care, and interactions between children and adults and about other safeguards.

We both came away feeling more educated on the statistics, warning signs, and empowered on how to keep our children a little safer when they are away from our watchful (and now suspicious!) eyes.

The more Lane and I talked about the issue with others, the more personal experiences were revealed from those in our circle of friends. I was shocked when one sweet friend shared a story of her 4-year-old son who was caught in a situation with his sitter, a teenager who was their best friend’s son. The stories snowballed from there: the cousin, the step-brother, aunt, mom, etc. who were victims. Gone was the idea that it didn’t happen in our world.

GCCA lead prevention trainer and Brookhaven resident Nikki Berger says it well. “We should want every environment that our children step in to be a protected one.” Yes, more of that please.

And here’s more good news: every fourth Wednesday of the month, the training is held at GCCA and is open to the community. And, if there is a group that wants training, GCCA can travel and will bring the course to you. The training is free – the “leave behind” materials for each participant are only $15 per person.

By the end of our session, Lane and I were convinced that this is an epidemic. I wonder why more of us aren’t talking about it. It’s a sad and uncomfortable topic, but it’s happening everywhere and to our most vulnerable.

Usually, the “mom groups” are the first to discuss our children’s troubling topics, but the moms I know don’t really talk about this stuff. The statistics are shocking, and one case is one too many. It’s up to us to learn more and do better.

Dana McKenzie of Buckhead has been a volunteer with the Georgia Center for Child Advocacy for the last few years. She and Lane Olives of Brookhaven co-chair the 2014 Cheer for Children gala, the organization’s largest annual fundraiser, which is scheduled for
Oct. 17.

 

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