We've all seen the stories: A prominent leader or trusted adult is accused of sexually abusing a child in their care (former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, for example).
Child sexual abuse is a serious health problem that happens in every kind of community, even Clackamas County. Luckily, it can be stopped, and more than 2,500 local citizens have already pledged to protect kids by taking a nationally acclaimed prevention training.
Clackamas County's Children's Center, together with the Ford Family Foundation's Protect Our Children program, provides a training which is designed to educate adults on how to prevent, recognize and react responsibly to child sexual abuse.
Darkness to Light's Stewards of Children teaches practical prevention tips. Participants learn how to minimize opportunities for abuse to occur, which is one of the most effective ways to keep children safe. For example, coaches can make sure there is always more than one adult in every sporting situation. This strategy reduces opportunities for an abuser, and helps protect coaches, too.
According to Darkness to Light, youth are the victims in nearly 70 percent of all reported sexual offenses. One in 10 children will experience sexual abuse before their 18th birthday - children from both urban centers and rural towns. And the people who abuse them can be found in families, schools, churches, recreation centers or youth sports leagues.
Research shows that the impact of sexual abuse can be long lasting. Children who are abused are three times more likely to have substance abuse issues, two times more likely to drop out of school, and are at greater risk for post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, cancer, diabetes and suicide.
Fortunately, there are steps we can take to protect children in every community — from Canby to Government Camp, and West Linn to Welches.
Teri Mariani, a retired 29-year college coach and athletic administrator, has supported abuse training, saying, "Youth athletic coaches regularly interact with kids and teens. Coaches can become excellent mentors who help guide students on productive paths forward. Sometimes, they become one of the most trusted adults in a child's life. Youth coaches have an enormous responsibility to keep kids safe. That's why all coaches should be trained to detect and prevent child sexual abuse."
In Oregon, coaches, assistant coaches and athletic trainers are required to report suspicions of child sexual abuse to law enforcement or the Child Abuse Hotline.
Adults who have taken a Stewards of Children training report feeling empowered and eager to take the steps necessary to protect children. Many are motivated to begin conversations in their schools, churches, sports organizations and families. Talking about the issue is an important first step. If you suspect that a child is being abused, you should report it.
Children's Center provides trainings throughout Clackamas County. You can attend for free in English or Spanish at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, May 18, at the Canby Library, 222 N.E. Second Ave. Reserve a seat at childrenscenter.cc/events or contact our prevention team at 503-655-7725. For those outside of Clackamas County, find a training near you at championforkids.us.
In honor of National Child Abuse Prevention Month, I'm asking you to help put an end to child sexual abuse.
We owe it to the children of Clackamas County. Let's be champions for them.
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