Almost 200 balloons lift off from Towanda

Almost 200 balloons lift off from Towanda

BY JAMES LOEWENSTEIN (STAFF WRITER)
Published: April 2, 2014

TOWANDA – Tuesday morning, county employees, law enforcement officers and others released 198 biodegradable, blue balloons in front of the Bradford County Courthouse, representing the 198 investigations of child abuse conducted by the county in 2013, a county official said.

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Children’s House director Edith Jordan, at left, child protective services supervisor Misty Ackley, and Owego, N.Y., police officer Michael Monteiro on Tuesday set up a display of 198 pinwheels on the lawn of the Bradford County Courthouse. Each pinwheel represents a child abuse investigation that was conducted in 2013 by Bradford County Children & Youth Services.

“There is no tolerance (among us) for child abuse,” said Doug McLinko of the Bradford County commissioners, who have proclaimed April Child Abuse Prevention Month in Bradford County.

In 2013, 59 of the county’s child abuse investigations involved reported sexual abuse, while another 108 were of physical abuse, said Misty Ackley, the child abuse supervisor for Bradford County Children & Youth Services.

In an interview on Tuesday, Ackley discussed some of the signs of sexual abuse of children, and ways that parents can help prevent it.

To help stop sexual abuse of children, which can occur at any age, “we should know who our children are around and we should educate our children, starting at a very young age, about touches that are OK and touches that are not OK,” Ackley said. Educating a child about inappropriate touching should start when the child is around three years old, she said.

Parents should encourage their children to tell someone if an individual makes them uncomfortable through inappropriate touching, she said.

Children should be encouraged to tell, even if the individual who made them feel uncomfortable is someone the child loves, she said.

“Most commonly, it is someone the child knows, loves and trusts” who sexually abuses the child, she added.

There are some signs that a child may have been sexually abused, but the signs in and of themselves are not indicative of sexual abuse, Ackley said.

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Possible signs of sexual abuse of a child include changes in sleep patterns, bed-wetting, or the child being afraid of an individual whom the child had previously not been fearful of, she said.

For example, a child might start to wake up with nightmares, and no longer want to go to bed or stay in their own bed, she said.

Another possible sign of sexual abuse is a sudden change in the child’s hygiene, such as a girl changing from someone who keeps herself clean and well-dressed to someone who wears frumpy clothes, tries to hide her figure, or allows herself to start to start to smell, Ackley said. The girl “is trying to make herself unattractive,” Ackley added.

There are websites that parents can go to to find out if someone their child may be in contact with has a criminal history, including convictions for sex crimes, she said.

For example, parents can check to see if someone they are concerned about is listed on the Pennsylvania State Police’s Megan’s Law website, she said.

The website lists people who have been convicted of certain sex crimes, such as involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, and corruption of minors of a sexual nature.

However, an individual could have been convicted of a sex crime and not be listed on the Megan’s Law website, because not all sex crimes meet the criteria to be listed on the website, Ackley said.

In addition, in Pennsylvania, an individual’s criminal history is public information, and that history will be listed on the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts’ website, she said. However, the AOPC website only lists convictions of crimes that occurred in Pennsylvania, she said.

To help prevent child abuse, parents should keep an open line of communication with their children, she said.

Specifically, It is not enough for parents to have a single conversation with a child “about being safe” and about what the child should do if someone touches him or her in a way the child doesn’t like, and who the child can tell about it, Ackley said. Parents should be having such a conversation with children regularly, she added.

Parents need to inform their child who they can tell if he or she feels uncomfortable due to inappropriate touching, Ackley said. The person the child chooses to tell is up to the child, but it should be someone the child trusts, Ackley has said. It could be, for example, a parent or a teacher, she said.

“Most of the people (who sexually abuse children) are familiar to the child,” Ackley has said. “It could be a relative or a baby sitter, maybe the mother’s boyfriend or the father’s girlfriend. It’s people they are familiar with and trust.”

Children’s Advocacy Center

Personnel from the Children’s Advocacy Center and others also placed 198 one-foot-tall pinwheels on the lawn of the Bradford County Courthouse Tuesday, which also symbolized the 198 child abuse investigations that the county conducted last year.

In addition, 356 pinwheels were recently placed outside the Children’s House in Towanda, which is where the Children’s Advocacy Center is located, according to Edith Jordan, director of the Children’s House.

Each of the 356 pinwheels represents a reported case of child abuse in which the victim was interviewed at some point between 2010 and 2013 at the Children’s Advocacy Center in Towanda, according to the advocacy center.

The Children’s Advocacy Center works in conjunction with Bradford County Children & Youth Services and local law enforcement agencies on child abuse cases.

At the Children’s Advocacy Center, trained interviewers conduct interviews of children who are reported to be victims of sexual abuse or severe physical abuse, said Jen Watson, a child abuse investigator for the county.

“These interviews are videotaped to prevent the child from being questioned over and over and over again and re-traumatized from having to tell their story (repeatedly),” Watson said.

Copies of the DVD of the interview are then made and distributed to agencies that need access to it, such as the Bradford County District Attorney’s Office and the state police, and those agencies use the interview as a tool in their investigation of the case.

In addition, the videotaped interview can be used in court proceedings to prevent younger victims – generally children age 12 and under – from having to take the stand and testify and tell their story again in open court, she said.

For more information on child abuse, go to preventchildabuse.org or childrenshousepa.org, Ackley said.

James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633; or email: jloewenstein@thedailyreview.com.

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