By AMANDA KIMBLE
ERATH COUNTY (April 1, 2016) – Almost 200 Texas children are abused in one day. In a year, more than 65,000 cases of child abuse were confirmed in the state. One in four girls is sexually abused prior to her 18th birthday, as are one in six boys.
Those numbers do nothing to address the true scope of the crimes. Child abuse, sexual assault and child sexual abuse are crimes of secrecy. They are difficult to talk about. The cases oftentimes go unreported. Victims often feel guilty or embarrassed about their experiences and never make an outcry.
“If we have that many confirmed cases, we have thousands more that go unreported,” Erath County District Attorney (266th Judicial District) Alan Nash said. “Abusers target the most vulnerable, particularly children, who are fearful. They target those victims because they know they can escape justice if the crime is never reported.”
While many area organizations, officials and individuals work toward prevention and awareness throughout the year, April is designated as National Child Abuse Prevention Month and Sexual Assault Awareness Month in an effort to spread messages of hope and healing across the country and set an example of discussing issues openly.
In Erath County, during National Crime Victims’ Rights Week – observed April 10-16 – a rally will be held. “Stop the Silence” is a collaborative effort of area nonprofit organizations working to bring the community together to create an environment that openly recognizes child abuse and sexual assault and the victims while promoting victims’ rights.
The rally will be held at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, April 14 at the Cowboy Capital Downtown Plaza in Stephenville.
“By speaking openly about it, displaying the resources we have within the community to help survivors and families cope with these issues, we can help end the silence, connect people with resources they need to heal and bring an end to the secrecy that helps perpetuate many of these crimes,” one rally organizer said.
“To protect child victims – and prevent abuse – community members must work together to educate and understand the signs of abuse,” he said. “In many (abuse) cases, victims are raised in environments where abuse, neglect, sexual assault and drug abuse are ‘normal.’ Those victims often don’t understand abuse is wrong, especially when the abusers are the individuals they look up to the most. Parents, family members and caregivers are supposed to be the model of what is good, what is right and what is normal. We as teachers, law enforcement officials and neighbors must be vigilant. We must know the signs and stand to support victims when others betray them.”
Nash said also when child sees daddy abusing mommy or feels the abuse of family member, the needs be reassured with a specific outcome.
“That child needs to see the people with the badges come and take the abuser away,” he said. “We create an environment that encourages the reporting of such crimes in an effort to break the cycle of abuse.”
The fourth annual Stop the Silence rally will include a welcome from Erath County Court at Law Judge Blake Thompson, flag presentation by area Boy Scouts, National Anthem by Henderson Junior High choir, a slam poetry reading and closing song by Destinee King.
The district attorney will serve as guest speaker, District Judge Jason Cashon will read a proclamation and a balloon release will honor survivors and victims.
Event organizers include CASA for the Cross Timbers Area, Cross Timbers Family Services, STARRY Counseling, Erath County Bikers Against Child Abuse, Stephenville Police Department, Paluxy River Children’s Advocacy Center, Stephenville Medical and Surgical Clinic, 266th District Attorney’s Office, Headstart and Erath County Juvenile Probation.
For more information, follow Stop the Silence on Twitter @ErathCountySTS and facebook.com/ErathStoptheSilence.