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Program aims to stop child abuse
Hall County community groups join for Prevention Initiative
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Stewards of Children Training Seminar
When: 9 a.m. to noon Oct. 25
Where: The Little House, 603 Washington St., Gainesville
Cost: $15
Contact: 770-789-3879,

Several organizations are helping protect children in Hall County by empowering adults to recognize and prevent child sexual abuse.

The Hall County Prevention Initiative is a collaborative effort of more than 25 community organizations, including schools, clubs, churches and law enforcement, to end child sexual abuse through awareness and education.

Steve Collins, president of Adults Protecting Children, said the goal of the initiative is to train 5 percent of the adults in Hall County, which adds up to around 7,000 people, in the next five years.

“We want to train adults because adults are the ones that ought to be protecting children,” he said. “When we get to 7,000 adults trained we’ll begin to change our culture.” He said the 5 percent mark is the tipping point to bring about that change.

Other counties like Lumpkin, Habersham and Rabun are also working toward creating safer communities through similar initiatives.

The initiative uses a training curriculum called Stewards of Children, which was created by Darkness to Light, a nonprofit aimed at reducing child sexual abuse.

A Georgia law passed earlier this year requires doctors, nurses, teachers, volunteers, clergy and others who work with children to report suspected child abuse to authorities within 24 hours, or face criminal charges.

A group of 10 people who work with children in varying capacities attended a Stewards of Children training seminar Thursday night at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Gainesville.

During the 2«-hour program, the group learned to recognize the signs of abuse and how to speak with children about it. They also discussed how to report suspected abuse and how to implement policy changes that would diminish opportunities for predators to abuse children.

The pastor of Flat Creek Baptist Church, the Rev. Mike Taylor, said he is currently working on changes in his church.

The church has already implemented a two-adult policy because it will prevent any potential abuser from being alone with a child.

“What we want to do is not go on a witch hunt but create a safe campus and send a message to any parent that brings their children to our campus. We want them to be confident their children are safe,” Taylor said.

He said the reach should extend beyond individual churches and community agencies with everyone coming together to say they’ll make a difference.

“One congregation can help mobilize another congregation so we can be a part of a network of bringing light to dark places in our community,” Taylor said.

According to the program, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused in some way before their 18th birthday. There are nearly 300 men and women registered on the Hall County Sex Offender List, the majority charged with crimes against minors. The program also reported 90 percent of children know their abusers.

“That really freaks me out. If 90 percent of the families know and trust the abuser, who can I trust?” Michelle Loyd said.

Loyd chose to attend the training seminar so that she could volunteer with the children’ ministry on Sunday mornings, a requirement outlined in the church’s policy.

As a parent of two young children, she said she already knows to teach her children about appropriate behaviors and how to talk about their bodies, something that many parents feel uncomfortable doing. The program encourages parents to have an open dialogue about sex, their bodies, boundaries and behaviors early and often.

“I think the biggest taboo is not just talking to your kids about the sexual abuse part but just about sex,” Loyd said.

She said some parents may feel like they are taking away a child’s innocence or even putting their children at risk for inappropriate behavior by talking about sex.

“I definitely have talked to my kids about it before, maybe once or twice, but it’s maybe time to bring it up and talk to them again,” Loyd said.

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