(Listen to interview with Darkness to Light CEO Ann Lee at the end of this story)
One out of four girls and one out of six boys are sexually abused by the time they’re 18.
More teachers in South Carolina’s public school system than ever before will be trained to detect and respond properly to students who have experienced sexual abuse. The Darkness to Light Program based in Charleston had originally planned to deliver the “Stewards of Children” training to 10,000 teachers but program President and CEO Anne Lee told State Superintendent of Education Jim Rex Wednesday that 20,000 of the state’s 54,000 teachers will be trained before the year is out. Lee says each school district was asked to train at least 20 percent of its teachers. By the end of 2010, more than 75 percent of the state’s teachers will be trained, putting the Palmetto State ahead of all other states.
Lee says preventing child abuse and finding abusers is not just the responsibility of teachers but of all adults.
Lee says only one in ten children will reveal that they have been abused while they’re still children. “But of those children who do disclose, we know that 49 percent will tell a teacher,” she said. “We want teachers to learn how to recognize it and react responsibly.”
Lee says that she, herself, was abused as a four-year-old child, by a member of her extended family.
Lee says most people who abuse children threaten them in some way to keep them quiet, even if it’s to say that their parents will disapprove. “So when a child does disclose, it’s taking a huge leap of faith,” she said. “How that adult responds in that split second is hugely important and will shape that child’s life.”
Funding for the training programs has been boosted trough donations by Select Health of South Carolina and Blue Cross Blue Shield, two of the state’s largest health insurance carriers.
Lee says when the residents of communities start talking about the issue of child abuse, it drives abusers away. She says many child abusers are drawn to positions where they have access. “The vast majority of teachers are going to be teachers, Sunday school teachers, volunteer coaches. That’s not to disparage in any way the hundreds of thousands of right-minded, well-meaning adults who volunteer and create vocations. But we need to be educated.”
And Lee says bringing anti-abuse training into an organization like a children’s athletic team scares abusers away and puts a bubble around the children.
Lee says reducing the amount of child abuse in South Carolina by half would do a lot to reduce crime. “Imagine this state in 10 or 12 years,” she said, “when substance abuse dramatically dropped off, when depression and suicide dramatically dropped off, when domestic violence dramatically dropped off. We know that the core issue that drives those problems, even eating disorders, is sexual abuse.”
There are 17 child advocacy centers located across South Carolina where professional counselors are ready to help with abuse cases.
Go to www.darkness2light.org to find out more, or even take the training yourself.