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Going "A Step Further" to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse in WV

January 9, 2012

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - There were more than 200 confirmed cases of child sexual abuse in West Virginia last year, and advocates for children say many more such cases probably went unreported. They say more should be done, not only to teach children to speak up and defend themselves, but to prevent their need to do so.

Jetta Bernier, executive director of Massachusetts Citizens For Children, the lead agency in that state's "Enough Abuse" campaign, visits West Virginia this week, to talk with lawmakers and child advocates about the next step beyond getting people to report suspected problems.

"That's important, obviously, as we know in the Penn State case. However, we think we need to go a step further; we need to help develop polices that will prevent sexual abuse from happening in the first place."

She says one uncomfortable fact is that most abuse comes from someone the children and their families trust. And she notes that abusive behavior often starts when the abuser is young, though if caught early it can be corrected.

She says abuse depends both on silence and ignorance. According to Bernier, adults have to assume the responsibility for protecting children; kids can't be expected to do it on their own.

"We have to begin educating adults and communities about how to be vigilant, without being paranoid, obviously, but how to be vigilant."

Bernier says abusers will gravitate toward youth service organizations, such as sports leagues. However, she says those organizations can do a lot by dealing publicly with the issue, even if it's uncomfortable. She says there often are patterns to an abuser's behavior.

"Do you see an adult who spends a lot of their private time with children? Do you see adults who take children for extended trips, in places where they won't be interrupted?"

Bernier will be the keynote speaker at Prevent Child Abuse West Virginia's annual legislative breakfast in Charleston Tuesday morning, starting at 7:30 a.m. at the Charleston Marriott.

A PCA-WV stakeholders' meeting follows at noon at the State Capitol, Governor's Press Conference Room.

More on the Enough Abuse campaign is at

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV