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The recent child abuse allegations and scandal at Penn State University have brought the issue of child sexual abuse to the forefront of our nation’s media coverage. New audiences less familiar with this topic are now being educated on the issue of abuse, including sports fans, college students and the higher education community. It is more important than ever for adults to understand why they must take a stand for children. While the details of this case are startling, the facts are not unique. Child sexual abuse is an epidemic in this country. Recent studies show that only six percent of adults indicated that they made a report when confronted with suspected abuse.

Far too frequently, adults report suspected abuse to an employment supervisor or another adult rather than to the appropriate authorities. This has occurred within schools and school districts, day cares, places of worship, and other youth-serving organizations across Texas. Texas law mandates that adults suspecting child abuse or neglect should report directly to Child Protective Services through our state’s Abuse Hotline at (800) 252-5400, or to your local law enforcement agency, or 9-1-1. The law in Texas is written in such a way that no ‘internal’ reporting is necessary or desired. The act of reporting cannot be passed on to a superior or delegated to another individual. Reports of suspected abuse must be immediately made to the agencies tasked with keeping our children safe.  Adults who ‘handle’ an allegation internally and fail to report suspected abuse to one of these entities are actually in violation of state law.

Each year, almost 40,000 Texas children walk into a children’s advocacy center to lay down the heaviest of burdens — violence and abuse at the hands of a trusted adult. Seventy-five percent of these children come to a center to recount, in the sort of exacting detail necessary for investigators, their sobering experience surrounding their own sexual abuse. It takes exceptional courage for a child to speak about sexual abuse. Often, after the abuse, these children are further victimized through threats, intimidation, or fear of social reproach.

We expect tremendous courage on the part of victims to make disclosures about their abuse. In turn, adults have a duty to believe child victims and report suspected abuse. Timely reporting cannot only alleviate a child’s suffering, but also prevent future incidences of abuse. Children inherently rely on trusted adults to listen, help, and report this crime as they may lack the capacity and resources to advocate for themselves. Responsible adults must be the voice for these children.

We believe that an informed community must have the tools necessary to face this issue, acknowledge that it does happen, and report suspected abuse. Consider the following tips:

• If a child discloses that he or she has been abused, remain calm and assure the child that they did the right thing by telling someone.

• Help the child to understand that they are not to blame for the abuse.

• Believe the child. If a child makes an outcry, be sure to react in such a way that indicates to the child that he or she is believed.

Adults must make a report of the child’s outcry by contacting the Texas Abuse Hotline at (800) 252-5400 or by contacting law enforcement.  

Child sexual abuse is an issue that breeds in secrecy. This is why Children’s Advocacy Centers of Texas, Inc. (CACTX) is working to better educate our communities and bring this issue into the light. CACTX developed a statewide community awareness campaign in 2010 (One With Courage) with an empowering message centered around the courage it takes for children to tell of their abuse, and the courage it takes for adults to learn, listen and report such abuse. In 2011 and 2012, CACTX is working with the Texas Office of the Attorney General to further educate our communities on the mandated reporting requirements in Texas surrounding child abuse. If informed communities, leaders, and individuals working with children can hold a meaningful dialogue on this issue, we can better protect our children. We need adults to find the courage to face this ugly issue if we hope to end this silent epidemic.

In Texas, we have a network of support, provided through local children’s advocacy centers, which is ready to step in and provide a path to healing for these small victims. The Texas network of children’s advocacy centers now officially serves over 160 counties where 94 percent of the Texas population now resides. For more information on signs or symptoms of abuse, or to learn about our local Children’s Advocacy Center — Child Advocates of Navarro County, please visit www.onewithcourage.org  or www.kidadvocates.org .

Jenny Bratton, Executive Director of Child Advocates of Navarro County, noted that here in Navarro County some schools and day cares are excellent about reporting incidents and seeking help; while others have failed to act. She is asking that all Navarro County residents come together to make reporting a priority so that our children will feel that they have a voice, that we care about what is happening to them, and that someone will help them.

Child Advocates of Navarro County’s services include: a safe and child friendly forensic interview, victim advocacy, and counseling services to victims and their non-offending caregivers. Additionally, we will come to speak to your agency, school, or daycare about the signs and symptoms of abuse and the reporting requirements in Texas. Please feel free to contact our office at (903) 872-3772.

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Submitted by Jenny Bratton of the Child Advocates of Navarro County.

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