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Summit Area YMCA Partners In Community Initiative To End Child Sexual Abuse

Bobbie Peer

Friday, December 6, 2013 • 3:02pm

BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - The Berkeley Heights YMCA hosted a luncheon on Tuesday, Dec. 3, for community leaders from the schools, faith centers, youth serving organizations, sports organizations and parents to introduce the Stewards of Children training program.  This community initiative is an educational program through Darkness to Light to end child sexual abuse.

YMCAs have partnered with Darkness to Light [D2L] to train the community to recognize and respond to child sexual abuse wherever it occurred in the community.  "One of the most proactive and pragmatic approaches to diminishing child sexual abuse is the education of responsible adults," the D2L website stated.  Darkness to Light efforts are providing tools and resources to help YMCAs teach the curriculum through wide spread community awareness and education. 

Child sexual abuse has an impact on the community both on the emotional and economic level.   It is the second most expensive victim crime behind murder costing the U.S. billions annually as stated on the D2L website.

"The emotional impact on the victims is lifelong on people if they are a victim of child sexual abuse," said Emily Aprea, Summit Area YMCA CFO and Certified Facilitator of the Stewards of Children program.  "It really costs a lot of money to care for them and the added [cost] burden of maintaining a safe community. We are working on ending child sexual abuse in our community, that is our goal."

Tiffany Escott, Berkeley Heights YMCA Branch Executive, is a trained facilitator to train individuals to become instructors in the Stewards of Children program. The five year initiative is to train 83,000 adults to become instructors of the program in the state of NJ.  "It is a community initiative that we hope people will take back with them," Escott stated. One in ten children are sexually abused before their 18th Birthday according to statistics provided by the YMCA and D2L."Educating 5% of the population of New Jersey is the tipping point to making a positive change. We can make a difference. If we train them, it will create that cultural shift."

The Union County Prosecutor's Office Child Advocacy Center (CAC) was opened in October 2012 to serve residents of the county who are victims of and are affected by child abuse and sex crimes.  The center is located at 240-242 West Jersey Street in Elizabeth. 

Former Union County Prosecutor Theodore Romankow and Assistant Prosecutor John Esmerado have worked over a decade to bring this facility to fruition.  The "wrap around" service model of this newly renovated Child Advocacy Center includes investigative, prosecutorial, psychological, medical and mental health services at one location for all families experiencing child maltreatment in Union County.

"Our guarded hope and daily effort is to move all the children that we meet from the darkness of child rape to light of healing and recovery." said Esmerado, Director of CAC.

Esmerado provided statistics, facts on trends of sexual abuse in Union County. "A public issue with adolescents in Summit, New Providence and the Berkeley Heights area is the sexual abuse followed by alcohol," said Esmerado. A preventative measure includes the encouragement of teens not to be present where there is a lot of alcohol.

Esmerado also reported of the rising trend of parking lot rapes, with several cases reported on 'Black Friday' at gun point. These rapes tend to happen in parking lots early in the morning and late at night.  He advises women and teens to not travel alone, use common sense and carry a charged cell phone.

Sexual abuse is on a national decline due to community education and the actions people are taking.  The Penn State case has also raised national awareness and response.  "Best thing we can do is educate you that children should not be alone with adults. That single fact will lead to a decline [in sexual abuse]," said Esmerado.

Through the Partners in Prevention, Preventing Child Sexual Abuse, the YMCA has a FREE Stewards of Children online training program available now through April 23, 2014.  Learn more about prevention and training by visiting njymca.org/preventnow or visit D2L.org. Organizations and businesses can host a Stewards of Children workshop or Facilitators Training by contacting Tiffany Escott at the Berkeley Heights YMCA at tiffany.escott@thesay.org or (908)464-8373.

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