Shining a light on the last ‘taboo’

Published 2:11 pm Sunday, February 11, 2024

“Child sexual abuse isn’t a new problem. The problem has always been people just don’t want to talk about it. They don’t want to think about it or hear about it. Not talking about it doesn’t make it go away. In fact, it allows it to continue and often through generations. In some instances, it creates an environment more hospitable to the perpetrator than the child,” said Carla Brewer, Assistant Attorney General for the 8th Judicial District during the presentation Darkness to Light.

Statistically one in ten children will be sexually abused by the time they reach 18 years of age. While many grew up with warnings of ‘stranger danger,’ Brewer says the truth is most children who experience sexual abuse are victimized by someone they and their family know and trust.

Sexual abuse, she says, is the biggest public health crisis facing children today. But the good news is child sexual abuse can be stopped. Through education and training, adults can be empowered to recognize the signs of child sexual abuse, respond responsibly and create environments that are safe for kids within their community or organization.

Members of the Office of the 8th Judicial District recently collaborated with the Campbell County Children’s Center to present ‘Darkness to Light’ to the movers and shakers within the local faith communities. The program is a two-hour, evidence-informed training that provides adults with information and resources to prevent child abuse and the wherewithal to respond responsibly when and where it occurs.

The presentation was held on Feb. 2 at the Sunrise Missionary Baptist Church in New Tazewell to approximately 57 local pastors, deacons, Sunday school teachers, youth directors and others. Spearheading the event was Brewer and Hannah Nelson, Campbell County Children’s Center education specialist.

Brewer provided local statistics and information on how to report suspected abuse. She explained just how each case proceeds through the judicial system from the moment of disclosure to its final judgment and beyond. Brewer spoke of how those involved address instances of sexual abuse.

“I believe great strides have been made in teaching children about inappropriate behaviors and how to report it, so the number of reported cases has increased. But we have failed to educate adults on the prevalence of it and how they can and should react to it. People need to hear the facts… to look at local statistics and know it isn’t just a problem they have somewhere else; to realize the abuse is exceedingly more prevalent at the hands of people we know and trust.

“For nearly every case we prosecute, you will find people who simply cannot believe the person has done such a thing. That’s often intentional on the part of the abuser to gain and continue to have access to children. Also, because of the very nature of the abuse, it is usually done discreetly, in isolated settings, leaving generally no witnesses other than the child and often times no physical evidence.”

Brewer said she wouldn’t expect individuals to know details of what happens between consenting adults in a relationship, even those you are closest to – family, friends, members of your congregation.

“You probably couldn’t know what happens in a situation of child sexual abuse where the person is actively trying to conceal it. And, oftentimes even well-meaning adults don’t have the information or resources they need to respond appropriately. We must do better, particularly those of us who are in positions of trust and leadership must be vigilant to protect the children entrusted to our care and to respond appropriately when it occurs so that the perpetrators are held accountable.

“It may be at the expense of our comfort, but the risk is too great not to be proactive in preventing and actively seeking accountability. We must be better stewards of our children and having this discussion as often as I have the opportunity is my way to help facilitate change…to see good come from all the bad I have seen in prosecuting these cases. It’s not easy to talk about, but it’s the right thing to do.”

This particular event focused on faith and church leaders but can be tailored to address the particular needs of any group or organization.

For more information or for details of booking the training for a group or organization, contact Brewer at 423-626-8002 or Nelson at 423-562-4190.

The Darkness to Light portion of the presentation may be completed online at: www.D2L.org/training.