SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ - April is child-abuse prevention month as well as sexual-assault awareness month. As part of the effort, both Middlesex County and South Plainfield Mayor Matt Anesh are working to spread awareness about child abuse and sexual assault, as well as the lasting effects they have on children, families and the community.
According to many who have looked at these problems, there are clear-cut ways to end the harms they cause. Constant vigilance, as well as education, is a start. But that is just the beginning. Advocates say strict laws and support for survivors are also needed to bring these problems to an end.
Child abuse, sexual exploitation, and sexual assault are global issues. Still, the United States remains the largest producer and consumer of child-abuse content in the world, according to the Thorn Organization (Digital Defenders of Children), a group that works to develop technology to help fight the sexual exploitation of children.
According to the proclamations Anesh authorized at Monday night’s council meeting, statistics show that one in four girls and one in six boys are sexually assaulted before age 18. The goals of both child-abuse prevention month and sexual-assault awareness month are to educate people about the signs of abuse, to help prevent sexual abuse and assault, and to support the survivors.
It is reported, that all too often sexual abuse occurs within communities by people who are perceived as “upstanding citizens." Their positions of trust, at times, are used to lure victims or take advantage and prey upon the very children who trusted them.
The examples hit close to home. At the end of 2013, a teacher and coach was sentenced to six years in prison for videotaping young boys in the showers at Immaculata High School in Somerville. By all accounts, he was a trusted member of the community. According to a Somerset County Assistant Prosecutor, the “real” person was manipulative, narcissistic, and a predator.
More recently, a 45-year-old Edison man was sentenced to 18 years in prison after pleading guilty to producing and distributing child pornography. He was charged with taking pictures of naked children and distributing the pictures over the internet, along with hundreds of images of sexually abused children involved in sadistic and masochistic acts. He was a school crossing guard in Metuchen.
A case from South Plainfield involves another purportedly trusted member of the community, a retired police officer. The defendant is awaiting sentencing for persuading a minor to engage in sexually explicit acts that were disseminated over the Internet. The charges, which were outlined in a criminal complaint by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, say he paid the minor to videotape her and photograph her performing sexually explicit acts for him and with him.
Not only did this predator admit to abusing and violating an underage child, but there is a pending criminal complaint against the mother of one of the minors, who worked as a local photographer and reporter. The woman attended school and community events throughout South Plainfield, and she is charged by the U.S. Attorney with sexual exploiting children. According to court records, these two alleged predators purportedly began the abuse when some of the children were as young as twelve.
“Too often child abuse and sexual assault hit to close to home,” said Anesh when introducing the proclamations about child-abuse month and sexual-assault month. “My own boss was sexually abused as a minor and went on to write about the experience as a means of healing himself from his childhood ordeal.”
“Safety and security of our children just doesn’t happen,” the mayor added. “As a community we need to create safe havens for our most vulnerable citizens. It is our obligation to protect someone’s child, son, daughter, sister or brother. Children are the future.”