Written by: Elena Cawley Outreach Coordinator Coffee County Children’s Advocacy Center
Assistant District Attorney Jason Ponder says adults are responsible for protecting children and it’s essential for community members to be aware, recognize signs of child physical and sexual abuse and to know what to do if they suspect child abuse. Child abuse has “terrible repercussions” for children, schools, families, churches, according to Ponders.
“I’ve been a child abuse prosecutor in Coffee County for 21 years, and in that time I’ve seen a lot of negative impacts child abuse – physical abuse and sexual abuse – produces for our county, district, schools, families, churches, neighborhoods. There are terrible repercussions for the children living with that sort of trauma.”
Child abuse impacts the community and becomes a cyclical problem, affecting multiple generation. The community can interrupt the vicious cycle through awareness and acting vigilantly to protect children.
“We often see victims who later become perpetrators,” Ponder said. “Unfortunately we see kids who were abused as children and turn out to be defendants later, and that’s one huge negative impact that we see.”
The impact on children is traumatizing and can be long-lasting, especially if there is not intervention.
“Children who are abused or molested don’t perform so well in school,” Ponder said. “They often turn to drugs or other crimes. They may have long-standing mental health and physical issues. That is hopefully changing. We are addressing some of these problems now. Twenty-one years ago we weren’t addressing (these issues) as well because we didn’t understand them as well. With the current slate of people we have working with child victims through the Children’s Advocacy Center and through mental health agencies throughout the area, we’ve been able to hopefully interrupt that pattern of abuse that cycles from generation to generation.”
Adults must protect children.
“One thing I’ve learned through the years is that kids who are abused do not call for help themselves. When it comes to calling the police or DCS (Department of Children’s Services), we don’t have children that do that,” Ponder said. “If a child reaches out for help, it’s through an adult that’s already in their life, whom the child trusts enough to reach out to. And often, children don’t reach out at all. That’s why it is so important to boost awareness in our area, so that we are all vigilant, when it comes to watching for signs and symptoms of child abuse and child sexual abuse.”
If community members become involved and learn about child abuse, the problem can be tackled.
“We want to boost community awareness,” Ponder said. “We want people to be mindful of their neighbors and the children who are in their area of life through their employment, if they are teachers, or through their role, if they are working with or around children. Whether it’s in their church, civic group, sports, music, whatever it may be, (people need to be aware). We want people, who are responsible, good, tax paying citizens to look out for each other’s kids. And that’s just one of the reasons we come together and we live in a community, to protect each other’s young.”
Statistics show that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 7 boys will be sexually abused by age 18; and 95 percent of victims are abused by someone they know and trust.
Adults have legal and moral obligation to protect children, and adult education is essential to preventing child abuse.
To learn more about child abuse prevention, visit coffeecountycac.org and follow Coffee County Children’s Advocacy Center on social media. The center offers free child abuse prevention training to community members. To learn more about the training, go to www.coffeecountycac.org/education-for-adults.