A sexual predator may be close by. “People who abuse look and act just like anyone else,” said Paula Sellars, narrator of Stewards of Children, a video component for the Darkness to Light Workshop, presented June 28 by Georgia Center for Child Advocacy at the DeKalb County Crime Prevention Tour at Charles Drew Charter School in East Lake.
Sexual predators are friendly, funny, charismatic, compassionate, have relaxed and soft man nerisms; work as nurses, doctors, pilots, business owners, and coaches, Sellers said. A sexual predator could be a priest, scout leader, father, sibling, or more powerful peer, she added.
One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before their 18th birthdays, according to GCCA.
Not only should parents warn children about speaking to strangers, but caution children to report when someone familiar does or says something that makes them feel uncomfortable, the organization indicates.
“Over 85 percent of sexual abuse victims are abused by someone they know, see every day, not strangers, but someone familiar,” said workshop facilitator and GCCA Marketing Associate Jinaki Flint.
The emotional and physical effects of having been abused include sleeplessness, obesity, inappropriate sexual experimentation, alcoholism and drug addictions, and many perpetrators of violent crimes are sexual abuse victims, reported GCCA.
Signs of sexual abuse vary. Parents and other adults have to be observant and willing to speak up for child victims, Sellars said. “If you find physical signs you suspect are sexual abuse,” she added, “have your child examined by a professional.”
Darkness to Light curriculum suggests parents and adults take steps to protect children from abuse. They include minimizing opportunities for one-adult/one-child situations, talking to children about sexual abuse, staying alert to changes in a child’s behavior and acting on suspicions of abuse.
“Children may not say what’s going on, but they are probably giving signals,” said workshop attendee Rev. Liz Copeland of Re-Generation Now Inc. “You don’t have to suspect everyone, but you should be aware that there are possibilities for abuse to happen.”
“Parents need to stop being so free with their children,” added Luevinnia Strain, a DeKalb County resident attending the workshop. “Don’t allow just any adult to have access to your children. When I was growing up, my mother said she would not have or choose a man over her children.”
“We need to take child abuse education into our schools, churches and neighborhood associations,” insisted Rhonda Wright, president of Woodmere Alliance Neighborhood Association. “Children and adults need more education about sexual abuse.”
“When a child first mentions sex abuse to you, you may feel panic or upset,” explained Sellars. “Take a breath and relax. There is a child before you looking for support and feeling of safety.
“Find a way to deal with it,” she continued. “Call the police, a child advocacy center. Choose something to increase safety for you and your child.”
Also, GCCA recommends getting involved by volunteering, teaching others and financially supporting organizations that fight child abuse. Talk to parents, learn about children’s advocacy centers and child abuse help lines, the organization’s literature suggests.
To find a center, contact The National Children’s Alliance (www.nca-online.org) or 1-800-239-9950. Or, call the Childhelp USA National Child Abuse Hotline, 1-800-4-A-CHILD.
For more information, visit www.GeorgiaCenterForChildAdvocacy.org