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No “Innocent Bystanders” in a Month of Sex Abuse Awareness

ILLUSTRATION: April is both Child Abuse Prevention Month and Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Prevention advocates in New York and nationwide report progress and problems. Photo credit:  FreeDigitalPhotos.net
ILLUSTRATION: April is both Child Abuse Prevention Month and Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Prevention advocates in New York and nationwide report progress and problems. Photo credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net
April 9, 2014

BETHPAGE, N.Y. - If there's a message, it's: "If you see something, say something."

April is both Child Abuse Prevention Month and Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and advocates fighting to protect minors say progress is made when people learn to step up and report abuse.

Anthony Zenkus, director of education at the Safe Center in Bethpage, Long Island, said incidents continue to rise and, while better reporting may be a factor, handling of cases is growing more effective.

"There is no such thing as an innocent bystander," he said. "There was always somebody who knew something. That was one of the tragedies of the Penn State case, is that adults knew and did not report it to the police."

Teresa Huizar, executive director of the National Children's Alliance, said witnesses shouldn't fear reporting sexual abuse.

"The process is not setting off a witch hunt," she said. "That in fact, professionals who've been carefully trained are going to approach it in an objective and neutral way can be very helpful in dispelling that sense of you're unleashing Pandora's Box if you make a report of suspected abuse."

Huizar cited progress at the local level.

"We want to say that the prevention efforts, which have been very intense on the part of many communities over the last several decades, have had an effect."

Zenkus said funding for sexual abuse prevention needs to be boosted.

"We can't just pay lip service to stopping the abuse of children," he said. "We need to put our money where our mouths are. And state governments, federal government, needs to really step up."

Nationwide, there's been a decline in child sexual abuse during the past 40 years, according to the National Children's Alliance. The group has launched an initiative called "Stand Up, Step Forward," urging people to make a public pledge to speak out when they see what they suspect is abuse. More information is online at HelpVictimsBecomeSurvivors.org.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - NY