Darkness to Light: Breaking the Cycle of Child Sexual Abuse
By Geoff Belcher
Apr 11, 2014, 22:01
Hope Haven now offers training to adults to help prevent child sexual abuse in Hancock County. Pictured above are members of the training team, including Alison Blanchard, volunteer, left; Loraine Wemer, Hope Haven administrative assistant; Rhonda Sherwin, Hope Haven board president; Don Sherwin, volunteer; Robert Stanton, volunteer; and Cindy Hornosky, volunteer.
The number of abused and/or neglected children in Hancock County has grown exponentially since Hurricane Katrina. As of Thursday, according to the Mississippi Department of Human Services, there were more than 330 Hancock County children in foster care.
"The increase in child abuse and neglect cases all along the Coast since Katrina – it's a curse," Terry Latham, executive director for Hope Haven Children's Services, said Thursday. "For 20 years, Hope Haven has been taking care of these kids after they've been abused or neglected. Most of our activity has been caring for parents in crisis and kids in crisis after-the-fact."
Tired, saddened and angered by the vast increase in abuse cases – particularly sexual abuse, Latham said – Hope Haven volunteers are going proactive.
Hope Haven is reaching out to the community to offer the "Darkness to Light: End Child Sexual Abuse" program.
"We reached the point where we said 'enough is enough,'" Latham said. "Someone has to do something."
Hope Haven's Lorraine Wermer and Lorray Maurigi worked tirelessly until the found the non-profit Darkness to Light organization.
"With absolutely no funding," Latham said, Hope Haven sent Wermer and Maurigi for training. Once certified to train others, the two women returned home and have begun training others.
The first five volunteers graduated from their training program this week and are now seeking new volunteers to train.
The first five are Cindy Hornosky, Robert Stanton, Lyn Wilson, Alison Blanchard and Rhonda Gamble.
"This program can work," Wermer said Thursday. "It takes dedicated individuals to take it and it takes widespread acceptance in the county, but once those two things come together, we can save some children."
"Our goal is to reduce child sexual abuse in our communities," Wermer said. We need the cooperation of every out-oriented agency, child care advocate, parent, grandparent, aunt and uncle. Everyone has a stake in stopping this abuse."
Wermer said her training revealed some shocking statistics.
"The immediate economic impact for Hancock County per incident of child sexual abuse is $313,379," she said.
"Think about it," Latham said. "We have 28 social workers working with these kids, there's a cost for their salaries, for the building, for the overhead there. Then there's law enforcement, the district attorney's office, youth court, CASA, and on and on.
"And then when the kids go to counseling, the state has to pay for them to go somewhere.
"In our county alone, the federal dollars spent alone, is $4.5 million a year."
The long-term impact is even worse, he said.
"It's a proven fact that children who are victims of sexual abuse have long-term emotional problems," Latham said.
"Often, they contribute to the continued pater and abuse their own children or other children. Child sexual abuse is the gift that keeps on giving."
The Darkness to Light program is beneficial, Wermer said, because it involves adults in the community to work together to end the problem, taking the onus and responsibility off the shoulders of the victims, the children.
There are some simple facts everyone should know, she said.
• First, one in 10 children are sexually abused; roughly 90 percent of them know their abuser – it's either a family member of family friend.
• We can reduce child sexual abuse by 80 percent immediately by not allowing children to be left alone with adults or older children: "A child and adult should never, ever, in this day and age, be one-on-one with someone where they can't be seen by other people," Wermer said.
• We have to open the lines of communication, talking openly with our children about their bodies and boundaries.
• We must learn to recognize the signs of abuse.
• We must learn to react responsibly once abuse is suspected: "A lot of times, when they're questioned by the teacher, by the principal, by the counselor," Wermer said, "by the time the social worker gets there, the child no longer wants to talk about it. ... Ask the bare necessities – who, what, when and where – and then you call in the professionals."
"Our objective is to empower the community," Wermer said. "This program can stop child sexual abuse."
The Darkness to Light training involves a two-hour program.
For more information or to register for the program, call Hope Haven at 228-466-6395 or 601-916-7030.