The Child Advocacy Center of Aiken County would like to deliver an important message to the Aiken community in light of Child Abuse Prevention Month last month. In 2013, there were 334 children who entered the doors of the Child Advocacy Center for forensic interviews. Many of the children related situations involving abuse. Of these children, 69 percent were sexually abused, 20 percent were physically abused, and the remaining 11 percent were either neglected, witness to violence or involved in drug-related situations. Of the abused children the Center has served, 91 percent were abused by family members, or people that they knew, not strangers. Several children have died as a result of their injuries. Aiken County ranks 7th for sexual violence against children in South Carolina. In Aiken County, 70 percent of the sexual assaults occur to children under the age of 17. Considering the fact that only 1 in 10 children tell about their abuse, there were potentially 3,000 children abused in our community last year. Nationally, the statistics are that 1 in 10 children will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday.

The fact that a child is able to go to the Center for a forensic interview is advantageous in that the child does not have to have repeat interviews because the information is shared with other agencies, which reduces the child’s trauma. Also, the Center is a much more child-friendly environment and staff are trained in how to best intervene with children.

There were 83 medical examinations and 468 therapy sessions provided at the Center last year.

A multidisciplinary staffing occurs every two weeks in which the cases of the children seen for forensic interviews are discussed with team members from other child-serving agencies.

This staffing allows for collaboration on investigative, prosecutorial and treatment issues. This coordination promotes better communication and therefore better service delivery to the child and family.

In addition, the Center offers child sexual abuse prevention training, “Stewards of Children,” free of charge to any interested group in the community.

The system of response to abused children is the concern of the Center and of other child-serving agencies. Unfortunately, children will continue to be abused. We all strive to improve the system and to promote prevention of child abuse. We need your help.

We need your help in protecting children. Speak to children about what kind of touching is and is not okay. Let them know if anyone makes them feel uncomfortable in any way that they should let you know, even if that person is someone that they know and may care for. Let them know that you still love them and will not be angry or upset with them. Then, listen and be open to continued conversations with them on the topic. Many children want to tell, but are afraid, or may have been threatened harm if they tell.

Also, be willing to call and report suspected abuse of any child to either law enforcement or the Department of Social Services so the situation can be investigated.

We also need your help financially.

Of about a $400,000 budget, the Child Advocacy Center has to raise around $200,000 through donations and fundraising.

It is an honor to be able to make a positive difference in the life of a child. Please do what you can to help us.

For more information, call 803-644-5100.

Gayle Lofgren is the executive director of the Child Advocacy Center of Aiken County.