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GUEST VIEW By Laura Kemelmen

As a professional who works in the field of addressing child abuse, I am very concerned and disturbed by the recent sexual abuse scandal at Penn State University. It has left me with a deep sense of sadness and grief for the children who were failed by the adults they trusted to keep them safe.

Unfortunately, this is not just a Penn State problem. Child sexual abuse exists in every community, in every corner of our society.

The statistics are overwhelming. One in four girls and one out of every six boys will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday. Walk into any 12th grade class and look around. Of the young people you see, five or six will already have had their innocence stolen, usually by someone well known to them. More than 80 percent are abused at the hands of a trusted relative, family friend, or community member.

Only 10 percent of the children who are victimized ever report this abuse. Most suffer in silence, feel tremendous shame and fear, and are unable to reach out. Even more reluctant to disclose are those children who believe that an adult is aware of the abuse but has not done anything about it.

What are consequences of living with the pain of having been abused? Adults who don't receive professional help to cope with the experience often suffer depression and anxiety, engage in substance abuse, have difficulty maintaining relationships and entertain thoughts of suicide.

However, there is hope. There are many services in Niagara County designed to support and assist children and adults who have been abused.

One such program, the Child Advocacy Center of Niagara, was founded in 1995 as a partnership between local law enforcement agencies, the Niagara County District Attorney's office and the Niagara County Department of Social Services. The Center's goal is to coordinate investigative and healing services in a child-friendly setting and to ensure children are not re-victimized by the very system designed to protect them.

In 1995, the center assisted 61 children and their families. This year we will assist more than 250 children reported to have been abused and their non-offending caregivers. We know there are untold hundreds of cases that still go unreported.

An important part of the Child Advocacy Center of Niagara's mission is to help abused children find safety and healing. But if abuse isn't reported, we cannot help. Child abuse thrives in secrecy and continues when adults are unaware of what to do or see it as someone else's job or responsibility to report.

There are many things you can do. Take the time to learn about child sexual abuse. Reduce opportunities for one adult/one child situations. Learn the policies of your schools, sports programs and youth-serving organizations. Act on suspicions.

Protect our children. If you suspect a child is being abused, report it by calling your local law enforcement agency or the New York State Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-342-3720.

Laura Kelemen is executive director of the Child Advocacy Center of Niagara, a service of Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center. The center offers a three-hour class titled “Stewards of Children” that teaches adults how to prevent, recognize and react responsibly to child sexual abuse. For information, call 278-4543 or visit www.cacofniagara.org.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Nov. 29, 2011