Do you know someone who has been sexually abused?
Most people will say no, says Christine Larkin, child fatality review team coordinator at McMahon/Ryan Child Advocacy Center in Syracuse. “But if you’re in a
room of 11 people at any given time, chances are you know at least one. One in ten children will have been sexually abused before the age of 18 [in the U.S.]. You may not know you know, but chances are you’ve encountered someone who’s been victimized,” Larkin said.
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and for the second year the diocese is partnering with McMahon/Ryan and other local organizations and faith communities to offer a multi-faith prayer service to mark the observance. Community members are invited to join survivors, families, providers and advocates for a service of prayer and song April 28 at Bellevue Heights United Methodist Church, 2112 South Geddes St., Syracuse, beginning at 5:30 p.m.
The goal of the service is to “shine a light on the problem” of child abuse — physical, sexual and emotional — Larkin said. Years ago, there was a “philosophy that whatever happened to children in their own homes was a family matter, it was no one’s business,” she said. “It was still a very hidden problem for a long time, no one wanted to interfere, no one wanted to talk about it. We’ve started to recognize that we really need to take a look at this. It’s our problem. They’re all our children.”
The statistics are sobering — four to five children in the U.S. die each day as a result of abuse or neglect, Larkin said, and last year in Onondaga County alone, more than 6,200 reports came in to the Child Abuse Hotline. (Less than half of those reports would be founded, she noted, but individuals were still concerned enough about the care of a child to call.)
There is hope, however: The number of reports to the hotline has decreased over the past three years, Larkin noted. Jacqueline Bressette, diocesan director of safe environment and victim assistance, also noted progress. Her Office of Safe Environment is responsible for the screening, training and protocols mandated by the U.S. Bishops’ 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.
“The topic [of abuse] can be discussed,” she said. “Pastors, agency directors, Catholic school principals all have a great understanding of what needs to happen and are committed to keeping kids safe. It’s been a long haul, and we still have a ways to go, but we’ve gotten to the point of being proactive, working together, doing what we need to do.”
Still, there is always more to be done. Both Bressette and Larkin encouraged anyone interested in doing more to promote the safety of children to start with education. Both the diocese and McMahon/Ryan offer abuse awareness and prevention programs; in the diocese, all clergy, religious, employees and volunteers whose work brings them into contact with those under the age of 18 are required to complete safe environment training, which includes a criminal background check. Individuals can also contact the child advocacy centers in their county to find out more about specific programs and local needs. And, of course, all are welcome to participate in next week’s prayer service.
“I’m just overwhelmed with gratitude and awe that all of us can come together and plan this prayer service, putting any differences aside for the kids and for child abuse prevention,” Bressette said.
For more information about “A Call to Compassion and Service: A multi-faith prayer service in observance of Child Abuse Prevention Month,” visit www.syrdio.org.
To report known or suspected child neglect or abuse, call the New York State Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-342-3720. If you think a child is in immediate danger, call 911. To report suspected child abuse by a priest, deacon, member of a religious community, diocesan lay employee, volunteer, or member of your diocesan community, contact Jacqueline Bressette at (315) 470-1465. All calls are confidential.