Child and teen sexual abuse in the area is difficult to talk about for many people. Preventing it can be just as challenging, but it is important.
Local examples of individuals once in a position of authority now facing criminal charges in connection to some type of inappropriate sexual contact with a minor include former Marshall County football coach Ron Barnard, former Reidland Middle School teacher Chelsea Rose, and former Milburn Chapel Cumberland Presbyterian Church leaders Frederick Daack and Michael Parsons.
Investigators have said those four individuals are responsible for crossing the line. WPSD Local 6 is committed to helping parents understand why a dialogue involving this topic with their child or teen is so important.
Lauren Barks with the Purchase Area Sexual Assault and Child Advocacy Center works to prevent abuse.
"We're really trying to change the culture of not talking about it, to talking about it and talking about what we can do to improve things," Barks said. "And it really just leaves those adults empowered that they can make a difference and protect children in their lives."
Barks helps churches and youth organizations understand and implement the Darkness to Light program, prevention training for adults. According to the program, 90 percent of children who are victims of sexual abuse know their abuser. Thirty percent are abused by family members.
"Encouraging that open communication and talking to their children —that if anybody ever makes you feel uncomfortable or you kind of have that gut feeling of something isn't right, that they come to the parent and tell them what happened," Barks added.
Ensuring organizations, like churches, have procedures and guidelines in place to address this issue is another step toward bringing this dark subject to light. Local 6 reached out to nearly two dozen local churches to talk about the policies they have in place. Even if they did have them, all were reluctant to go on camera.
Jared Morgan is not surprised church leaders don't want to talk about it. Morgan writes insurance policies specifically for churches —ones that cover sexual acts, sexual abuse, and molestation. He knows it's an uncomfortable topic.
"When you have children in your care, custody, and control you have additional liability that you have to deal with that most insurance policies won't cover," Morgan said. "If an abuse event happens it can just destroy people's lives, including the minor and anybody else that's involved with it."
Parents need to ensure the church where they attend has an insurance policy requiring the following: a national background check, a six month waiting period for a volunteer to work with youth, and following the two-adult rule. That's when at least two adults who are not related are in a room with children.
Morgan cautioned that creating an atmosphere of accountability is also key, saying "Prevention is far more important than paying a claim on this particular line of exposure."
Lauren Barks agrees that it is necessary to work together to shine light on a dark subject.
"The most important things for organizations and churches are, I think, it's having that policy in place of, you know, eliminating those one-on-one situations," Barks said. "And if somebody sees something like that happening, that they can go tell somebody what they see."
The Darkness to Light program has five steps to protect children: learn the facts, minimize opportunity, talk about it, recognize the signs, and react responsibly.
To learn more about the Darkness to Light program call PASAC at 270-534-4422 or by visit the organization's website.
To get additional material about Darkness To Light, click here.
You can contact Jared Morgan, vice president of operations for Bradshaw & Weil, via email at jhmorgan@bradshawweil, by calling 270-444-7291 or by clicking here. Morgan can help facilitate information regarding the insurance policies offered through Brotherhood Mutual.
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