Posted: Wednesday, October 17th 2012 at 3:13pm
Hall churches asked to join battle against child sexual abuse
By Marc Eggers Staff
GAINESVILLE – Ministerial representatives from nearly a dozen Hall County churches watched and listened intently to sobering video testimony about the life-long, life-changing effects that victims of childhood sexual abuse must endure.
The video got everyone's attention; the urgency was clear and Steve Collins of Adults Protecting Children, speaking on behalf of the Georgia Center for Child Advocacy, implored the church leaders assembled in the conference room at the Edmondson-Telford Center for Children to join in the battle.
The group's target number of adults trained to recognize and deal with child sexual abuse is a modest 5-percent of the population, roughly 7,000 people in Hall County. It is at that percentage a "tipping point" is encountered, according to Collins, creating the critical mass where experts say cultural change becomes possible.
"We currently have trained about 6-percent of that 7,000," Collins said, "but we really just got started in earnest back in May."
"I’ve been in Christian ministry for 45 years so I feel like I've earned a little bit of the ability to be able to say this…but churches, in my experience, are the last in communities to step into this issue and try to address it (child sexual abuse)."
Heather Hayes, Executive Director of the Edmondson-Telford Center for Children, said, "We do the exams of the children that have been sexually abused," Hayes pointed out that she is called upon to perform those exams 450 times per year in Hall County alone.
"I exam children after the abuse…but I would like to be out of business and not have a job. If all adults really accepted that it's our responsibility to prevent child abuse and not children’s responsibility…then we can make a difference."
Connie Stephens is Executive Director of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA). Her agency shares the building with Hayes' group.
"We get the really tough cases," Stephens said. "Last year (2011) our agency served over 437 children that were removed from their homes because of abuse and neglect. A large percentage of those children were sexually abused."
Collins reminded everyone of recently enacted Georgia law was that makes pastors and church volunteers mandated reporters when they suspect child abuse, saying that many churches still have not responded to their new status under the law.
Tom May is Associate Pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church on Thompson Bridge Road. "It (the 2 ˝ hour training program) has really helped us fashion a child-protection policy…so this is not a place for someone who wants to abuse children because child-abusers like to be around children."
Andy Brent, Director of Counseling at Free Chapel Worship Center, said, "When we first heard about Adults Protecting Children…we began putting into place policies and procedures for protecting the children. We give no sanctuary to anyone who might want to come and hurt children."
"Stewards of Children" training seminars are available to anyone interested. They last 2-and-a-half hours and cost $15.
Westminster will be hosting a seminar Thursday evening, October 18, beginning at 6:30. Those interested are asked to call the church at (770) 534-1078 to let them know you plan to attend.
"God understands," Collins said assuringly. "He came through the system, as a helpless child who was dependent upon parents, the adults in His life, to do for Him what all of our children need for us to do for them…to create for them a safe environment."
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