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Who's Looking Out for Signs of Child Abuse?

NORTHWEST ARKANSAS-- As many as 98 percent of sexual abusers are not caught, according to the Arkansas Coalition Against Sexual Assault. So the Children's Advocacy Center is calling all adults to make children's safety a top priority.
NORTHWEST ARKANSAS-- As many as 98 percent of sexual abusers are not caught, according to the Arkansas Coalition Against Sexual Assault. While thousands of kids head to local schools and churches regularly, not all places have training to recognize abuse or policies to report it.

So the Children's Advocacy Center is calling all adults to make children's safety a top priority.

"We had a child here one time, he was an eight year old boy," remembers Andrew Lentz, Children's Advocacy Center(CAC) director of education. "He was asked to describe what physical abuse was and he said, 'That's when they scream at you and they hit you, they tell you that they don't deserve to live, and you bleed and you cry.' Those are the words of a child who grew up in our community."

The CAC in Benton County opened 772 cases of child abuse in 2012 and, they say, thousands more go unreported each year.

"People don't understand that while child abuse is complicated and reporting child abuse can be difficult, as a teacher, as an adult, it's your responsibility to protect kids, explains Lentz.

Legally, teachers, counselors and administrators at public schools nationwide must report child abuse but that's not the case for all private schools, churches or even summer camps.

"We would like to believe that all those people, if put in that situation where they suspected child abuse, that they would go ahead and report. But as far as a legal responsibility, it's kind of hit or miss."

Lentz reached out to all private schools in Benton County. He offered training on recognizing and reporting abuse.  The replies, he says, varied.

"Some schools in the area were really great and were very responsive and said absolutely we'd love to do that. I had some schools that, or at least one school say, you know what, that's really probably not going to be necessary for the population of kids that we have at our school."

KNWA reached out to those same private schools and found, though few have worked directly with the CAC,  many do have programs and safety measures in place.

However, some do not.  And according to the advocacy center, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before they're 18.

"One thing that we know about abuse is that it happens in all socioeconomic, ethnic, racial, cultural groups. There's not one group that is exempt from it," Lentz says.

Many private schools are religion-based and are associated with churches, places parents often trust. And Pastor Al Fowler at Pea Ridge First Baptist takes the child abuse stats seriously.

"Because we learned many years ago that sadly enough churches can be a place where predators know that." Fowler says. "We're so glad, churches are so glad to have volunteers that we just automatically want to give grace and trust people. But the reality is, if we're honest with ourselves, we are all just people"

His church has several safety measures in place, including background checks and required training for reporting abuse.

"If somebody wants to get into a church so that they can be around kids so they can harm them and they go in and they see this whole process that they're going to have to go through, they're not going to bother with it."

Fowler explains,"We should set the bar and go above and beyond what's required or expected of us by culture :06 because we want to be a safe place."

Both Fowler and Lentz agree the first step you can take to make sure your kids are safe: simply talk to them.

"If protecting our kids, physically, emotionally, mentally, isn't the most important thing to us, you have to ask, what is?"

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