The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

March 17, 2013

Students learn about child abuse

By Sarah Plummer
Register-Herald Reporter

— Beckley-Stratton Middle School’s after-school program invited Just For Kids executive director Scott Miller to teach them more about child abuse, a topic they have already been learning and creating a video about.

While there, the students donated fleece blankets they made to Miller for Just For Kids to help comfort kids interviewed at the Child Advocacy Center.

Miller, who is also on the advisory council for the after-school program, told the students only one in 10 children feels safe enough to tell his or her story and last year in Raleigh, Fayette and Wyoming counties, Just For Kids interviewed 300 kids.

“My message for you is that if you hear about it or it is an experience that happened to you, tell someone about it. The only way you can get help is if an adult who cares about you knows about it,” he said.

A family member or teacher is the person children who have been abused most often confide in. But as of July 2012, any adult in West Virginia who is told about child sexual abuse is, by law, considered a mandated reporter, he said.

The students asked how to tell if someone is being abused.

Miller said that it is adults’ responsibility to make the call if someone truly is abused and report it to the police, but students can also be aware of the signs, for example, if someone has an unexplained injury or has a sudden change in personality or appetite.

The students asked how Just For Kids helps child victims.

Miller explained that before Just For Kids came to the area a little more than a decade ago, victims had to tell their story and be interviewed 10 or 12 times by different people. Having to share those details only once makes it a lot easier for kids, he said.

He also said Just For Kids works to raise awareness and get people thinking about child abuse.

“Many adults don’t realize what a big issue it is and how many children are abused,” he said.

The students asked who is most likely an abuser and how the abuse starts.

Miller told them 80 percent to 90 percent of abusers are “people the children know, love and respect.”

He talked about the grooming process perpetrators go through to build trust in the victim and make it harder for the victim to come forward.

Ultimately, he tried to empower the students to speak up for themselves and others.

“People should not be touching your body in ways you know is not right. It is a challenge when it is someone you love and trust, but you need to be able to say no. You should not be asked to keep secrets about your body,” he said.

The Beckley-Stratton Middle School after-school program is a 21st Century Community Learning Center and is funded by the West Virginia Department of Education through RESA 1.

The program site coordinator is Beckley-Stratton teacher Vickie Webb.

— E-mail: splummer@register-herald.com