“Darkness to Light” is a nationwide initiative designed to teach adults how to protect children from child sexual abuse that the Child Advocacy Centers in Rutherford and Cannon Counties began implementing last year.
The three-hour training was developed in Charleston, S.C. “Darkness to Light” Step 2 shows how to limit opportunities for sexual child abuse to occur.
Eighty percent or more of child sexual abuse incidents happen in isolated, one-on-one situations, according to the Crimes Against Children Research Center in research conducted by David Finkelhor in 2012.
“When we reduce or eliminate isolated one-on-one situations we can lower the risk of child sexual abuse,” stated Ryan Wallace, Child Advocacy Center community education coordinator.
“Offenders groom victims,” said Wallace. “They become friendly with the child and the child’s family and earn their trust by participating in family activities and gaining access to time alone with the child. Grooming is a process where gradually the offender draws the child into a sexual relationship and tells the child to keep it a secret.”
According to the “Darkness to Light” Interactive Workbook used in the trainings, grooming activities include:
· Special attention, outings, and gifts.
· Isolating the child from others.
· Filling the child’s unmet needs.
· Filling needs and roles within the family.
· Treating the child as if he or she is older.
· Gradually crossing physical boundaries, and becoming increasingly intimate and sexual.
· Using secrecy, blame, and threats to maintain control.
The “Darkness to Light” Interactive Workbook states ways to minimize opportunity:
· Eliminate or reduce isolated, one-on-one situations with children. Choose group situations and have multiple adults supervise whenever possible.
· Scan the physical environment for hidden and secluded areas, and correct dangers.
· Make sure interactions can be observed and interrupted.
· Anticipate situational risks that occur during youth activities. A “situational risk” occurs when youth activities create unusual circumstances, decreased structure and supervision, or increased potential for boundary violations.
· Remember that older youth should not be in isolated, one-on-one situations in youth serving settings.
· Be creative and think on your feet to find solutions. Work together.
“Children need to be monitored when they are on the Internet,” said Murfreesboro Police Chief Glenn Chrisman. “The Internet can be an unsafe one-on-one environment where offenders can groom children and lure them into meeting them. Keep your computer in a public area of your home, like your den or your kitchen, where you can see who your children are talking to on the Internet. Talk to your children about the safe use of the Internet.”
“Minimizing opportunity also means conducting background checks to screen out potential offenders,” Chrisman said. “Organizations that serve children need to do fingerprint background checks, criminal records check, in-person interviews that ask questions about proper boundaries with children, reference checks with former employers, and after they are hired conducting prevention training, like the ‘Darkness to Light’ training.”
According to “Darkness to Light,” a well-trained staff acts as a screen between children and those who may offend. Conducting the training creates a culture of awareness. Awareness of sexual abuse is an unfavorable environment for someone who may offend. A person looking for opportunities to offend may leave the environment or be deterred by the protection efforts of others.
“It is also important for organizations to have a code of conduct,” said Wallace. “A code of conduct describes how staff and volunteers will conduct themselves with children. A good code of conduct is tailored to the activities and the environment.”
For more information on developing a code of conduct for your organization visit the “Darkness to Light” website at http://www.D2L.org/codeofconduct.
Contact Ryan Wallace at the Child Advocacy Center of Rutherford County (615) 867-9000 or Amanda Pruitt at the Cannon County Child Advocacy Center (615) 563-9915 to schedule the “Darkness to Light” training for your organization and learn more about minimizing opportunities for offenders to have access to your child.