Journey out of the Darkness: Training program is designed to help adults recognize the signs of sexual abuse in children

February 24, 2012|By MARIE GILBERT |
  • Mary Jo Ashburn of the Washington County Friends of Education Exchange Club organized a local training of the Darkness to Light program, designed to help adults recognize the signs of child sexaul abuse.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

Child sexual abuse can happen anywhere, experts say.

A basement, a bedroom, a vehicle, a shower in a locker room.

There are invitations for sleep overs, road trips or expensive gifts.

And there are threats that lead to a fear of sharing the situation with parents or other adults.

But the red flags are there, said Mary Jo Ashburn. It's up to adults to see them.

According to Ashburn, one in every four girls and one in every eight boys will be sexually abused before the age of 18.

The median age of victims is 9 years old.

"If we can help change those statistics, if we can protect just one child, we should make every effort to do so," she said.

That's why, as a member of the Washington County Friends of Education Exchange Club, Ashburn is helping to bring a training program to Washington County that will assist adults in recognizing the signs of child sexual abuse.

The program, Darkness to Light, will be from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, March 3, at the Merle S. Elliott Continuing Education and Conference Center at Hagerstown Community College.

Ashburn said the course is particularly geared to adults who are in frequent contact with children, including teachers, day care providers, church leaders and staffers and volunteers with youth agencies and organizations.

Three continuing education credits are available.

Darkness to Light was created in 2000 as a national nonprofit with the mission of reducing the incidence of child sexual abuse through public awareness and education.

There are more than 2,500 facilitators who teach the program in 48 states and 10 additional countries.

Ashburn said she became aware of the program while attending an Exchange Club District meeting.

"One of the main focuses of the Exchange Club is the prevention of child abuse," she said. "With the increasing number of child sexual abuse cases, I thought this was a program we needed to bring to Washington County."

Ashburn said she returned home, discussed it with other club members and "it was decided that this was something we wanted to undertake."

"It seems like almost every day there is a story about a child who has been sexually abused," she said. "As horrific as these stories are, I think they can become teachable moments."

Ashburn said Darkness to Light has a very strong foundation — "the fact that the community, that adults are responsible in preventing abuse."

As a retired educator, a mother and grandparent, Ashburn said children hold a special place in her heart.

"But as adults, we should all be concerned about the welfare of our children," she noted.  "Sometimes the signs of abuse are right there in front of us. We need to learn how to recognize them and react and respond. And that's where Darkness to Light can help."

Topics in the upcoming course include:

  •  Identify facts about the problem of child sexual abuse
  •  A description of the types of situations in which child sexual abuse might occur
  •  An explanation of simple, effective strategies for protecting children from sexual abuse
  •  The importance of talking about the prevention of sexual abuse with children and other adults
  •  The signs of sexual abuse so you might intervene and be able to react responsibly

The course is a partnership among The Washington County Friends of Education Exchange Club, The Safe Place and Hagerstown Community College.

If you go ...

WHAT:  Darkness to Light

WHEN: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, March 3

WHERE: Merle S. Elliott Continuing Education and Conference Center at Hagerstown Community College.

COST: The fee is $41.

CONTACT: To register, call 240-500-2236 or visit the Hagerstown Community College website. Deadline is 5 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 29.

MORE: Continental breakfast beginning at 8:30 a.m. and lunch will be served at noon.

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