Protecting our children

Coalition pushes awareness of problem of child sexual abuse

ajjohnson@ledger-enquirer.comOctober 17, 2013 

ROBIN TRIMARCHI/rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.comFloretta Thornton-Reid, right, of the Stewards of Children program, talks with Columbus State University President Tim Mescon following the Prevent Now breakfast at the Columbus Convention & Trade Center Thursday. The breaksfast brought together city officials, public safety personnel, pastors, mental health professionals and child advocates from several organizations to discuss child sexual abuse and the training needed in the community to help prevent such abuse.

ROBIN TRIMARCHI — rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.com Buy Photo

A local community coalition launched an effort Thursday to spread the word about child sexual abuse in the Columbus area.

The Building Toward Wellness Community Coalition unveiled its plans at a Prevent it Now! Community Awareness breakfast at the Columbus Convention & Trade Center.

The Rev. Johnnie Flakes III of the Fourth Street Missionary Baptist Church said it is time to address a problem that has plagued the community too long. The collation will hold a local planning meeting at 11:30 a.m. today at the church on Fifth Street. The public is invited to attend.

"We want to continue to increase the awareness as well as the sensitivity to the tragedies that are happening," Flakes said. "This is a call to action where we can make a difference and an impact in our community."

Floretta Thornton-Reid, a coalition board member, said the organization wants to reduce the number of children being abused through a program called Stewards of Our Children. The curriculum was developed by an organization called Darkness to Light.

Thorton-Reid said child sexual abuse has an emotional and economic effect on the community. About 1 in 10 children are sexually violated before age 18, she said.

"Based on the 2010 census, the immediate impact in Columbus is about $1.2 million a year and the long-term economic impact is about $22 million," she said. "Can you imagine what we could do in our community if we could prevent child sex abuse and divert these resources to other areas?"

The coalition showed a powerful video featuring men and women who recounted being sexually abused in their childhoods. They said their abusers were priests, relatives and close family friends.

One victim, Marilyn Van Derbur, was crowned Miss America in 1958. In the video, Van Derbur described being sexually abused by her father from age 5 to 18. She said her biggest disappointment was that her mother didn't protect her. Once, when she was about 11 years old, her mother came home while her father was abusing her. She started to come toward the room, then turned back, Derbur said.

"I heard her going up the steps, up the steps, and I knew then that she would never, ever help me," she said. "I believe she made a choice and she didn't choose me."

Mike Angstadt, executive director of Twin Cedars Youth and Family Services, said sex abuse is a national problem. Next week, his organization will help launch a similar sexual abuse prevention initiative for Troup County. The group will hold a Darkness to Light kickoff and breakfast at 7:30 a.m. Oct. 23 at the Del'avant Event Center in Historic Downtown LaGrange, Ga. Angstadt said the group plans to train 800 people to help prevent sexual abuse in the community.

Mayor Teresa Tomlinson helped promote the Columbus breakfast, sending out invitations on city stationery. She said sexual abuse dampens the future for many children, which can eventually lead to crime.

"In some instances it sets them on a course that's irreversible and (creates) a sense of despair that stays with them for the rest of their lives and manifests itself in one way or another," she said. "So, what a wonderful thing if we could stop the cycle from ever beginning. That's why we're here today."

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