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Child Abuse Awareness: Prevention and Treatment

Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media

In the final “Suffer the Little Children” report for Child Abuse Awareness Month, WUWF’s Dave Dunwoody looks at how Gulf Coast Kid’s House is working to bring to reality the adage “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

The facility on 12th Avenue in the East Hill community provides basic facts and information about child abuse and how to guard against it.

“We go into the schools and educate K-through-6; we also have numerous adult programs that we take into the community,” says Paula Doty, the Prevention Coordinator at Kid’s House.

Their main message: Children are not responsible for keeping themselves safe; that’s the job of the grownups. To that end, Doty and other Kid’s House volunteers teach children their version of the “Three R’s” -- recognize, report and react.

“Red flags would be if someone shows you too much attention, or asks you to do something that you’re not comfortable doing,” Doty says. “Give the children the OK to ‘talk it up’ with their safe adult.”

Students are asked to choose two “safe adults” -- one in their school and one outside. And it’s not for just today or this week or next month – the commitment for the adult is for the next 12 years. Other areas addressed by Kid’s House include bullying and Internet safety, plus five safety rules or motions.

Credit Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media
Gulf Coast Kid's House Executive Director Stacy Kostevicki (L) and Prevention Coordinator Paula Doty (R)

When it comes to how children react to abuse and neglect, there’s no set checklist. They react in very different ways because the predators can use several different mechanisms.

One of the largest concerns – if not the largest -- is about the children depicted in pornographic materials. In many of those cases, says Dr. David Josephs, Clinical Director at the Lakeview Center in Pensacola, the child was exploited by people they trusted. He adds that a delicate form of treatment is necessary, to avoid victimizing them even further. 

“This is one of the things that ends up causing problems later in life, and some people will turn into perpetrators themselves,” says Josephs. “Because they figure, ‘well, nobody can be trusted, I might as well take care of myself,’ and end up victimizing themselves. But this is a pattern than can be managed, corrected, and lives saved.”

There is a non-disclosure policy attached to the school visits by Kid’s House to keep the information that needs to remain private, private. But that does not apply to parents, teachers, and other trusted adults.

Parents are urged to begin a conversation with their children as early as one or two years of age. Kid’s House’s Paula Doty says while a taboo subject for many, child abuse in general – and sexual abuse in particular -- must be discussed as part of keeping them safer.

“Talk with your children,” says Doty. “Tell them there’s nothing that would ever keep you from being their advocate. They want to talk about it, because it is a very heavy weight for a child to bear.”

But the good news, according to Doty, is that children are unbelievably resilient.

“Even when they are in the depths of this process, they still play; they still laugh, they still smile,” says Doty. “That itself gives you hope to know that it’s not a total blackout of them as a person. They can get through this.”

More information is available at www.gulfcoastkidshouse.org.