MONTVILLE, NJ - The Montville Township’s Women’s Club sponsored a presentation on child sexual abuse at the Senior House on Tuesday, April 25 in recognition of April as National Child Abuse Prevention month. The talk was part of “The Enough Abuse Campaign.”

The campaign offers educational information to professionals who work with children, parents, teens, and concerned adults in order to prevent the sexual abuse of children and prevent children from developing destructive and abusive behaviors in the future.

It is important to know that in New Jersey anyone who suspects child abuse or neglect is mandated by law to report concerns. The number to call is 1-877-NJABUSE. You can remain anonymous. One does not need evidence just reasonable cause. It was stated that in New Jersey the response time is usually less than 24 hours.

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Eva Szmutko and Christine Conklin, both affiliated with Prevent Child Abuse New Jersey, were the presenters. They stated that “child sexual abuse is a silent epidemic because it is not readily talked about.” The silence needs to stop.

The program was divided into three parts which were:

  • Understanding child sexual abuse as a public health problem: Presentation included definitions and statistics.
  • Conditions that support child sexual abuse: social and cultural messages, secrecy tactics, and consequences.
  • Preventing child sexual abuse: through education, advocacy and communication.

The statistics on child sexual abuse are staggering. Szmutko and Conklin stated that “in New Jersey, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will fall victim to child sexual abuse before the age of 18. State data also reports that 80 percent of child sexual abuse cases are never reported to authorities.

Prevent Child Abuse NJ is leading the statewide effort to educate adults about the nature and scope of the epidemic and equipping them with valuable skills to prevent child sexual abuse.”

The program helps parents learn the true facts about child sexual abuse. It teaches steps to protect children. This includes teaching parents that the real risk to their child is “someone they know and trust and who has access to their child in a one-on-one situation.” The program includes information about steps perpetrators take to find possible victims, which is called “grooming.” It teaches steps and techniques on how parents can intervene.

Parents can deter someone from targeting their child by asking the right questions and showing a concern to anyone who has the opportunity to be alone with their child. For example, if parents drop a child off at someone’s home to receive piano lessons, ask how he/she plans on keeping their child safe. Research of abusers shows that if an abuser feels the parent is asking these types of questions, the child is not a good victim.

Another point strongly taken is to teach your children the correct names of their body parts. There have been occurrences when children have tried to tell adults what was going on, but by using unfamiliar language, the adults did not understand. Also abusers would rather children not know the correct terminology. Using the correct words from the very beginning allows children to be comfortable using the terms.

When asking a child questions, always use questions that cannot be answered with a “yes” or “no.” For example, don’t ask, “Did you go to the park?” One should ask, “Where did you go?”  “What did you do?” “Who was there?” “Tell me what happened.” This allows children to tell their stories.

Children should feel that you will believe them, that you are not going to be mad at them, and that you will do your best to protect them.

Families should plan for safety in advance. A tip was given for children who have cell phones. The parents and child should have a code. For example, if the child feels uncomfortable in a situation and wants to be picked up, all he has to do is text an uppercase X. If the parent does not know where the child is, he has to give the parent the information. It was stated that the child should have back-up people, multiple adults, who know the code in case of an emergency when parents cannot be reached.

Children should be taught OK Touch and NOT OK Touch. It used to be called Good Touch and Bad Touch, but these words are not used anymore.

Some warning signs that something may be wrong are changes in behavior, such as becoming clingy and anxious, recurring nightmares, inexplicable mood swings, changes in eating habits, drawing frightening or inappropriate images, playing in sexual ways with toys, displaying a fear of certain people or places, mentions a secret shared with an older child or adult but won’t talk about it, has different names for body parts, and regresses to younger behavior like bed wetting.

For older children the signs may differ but include changes in normal behavior. For example, an older child might become depressed and anxious and start hurting themselves and turn to drugs and/or alcohol. There could be excessive dieting or over-eating, sudden unexplained changes in personality, such as mood swings, insecurity, withdrawing from family and friends, and outbursts of anger. There can be talk of suicide or even suicide attempts, promiscuity, and unexplained money or gifts.

The following statistics come from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau.

In 2015, 74,546 children in New Jersey were investigated with 54,180 reports being categorized as possible child abuse/neglect.  Of these, 10,282 children were part of a substantiated report of child abuse/neglect. 

It was reported that “8.8 percent of victims, or 848 children, were identified as having been sexually abused.  It should be noted, however, that typically 80 to 90 percent of cases of child sexual abuse go unreported, and that these numbers only take into account those reports that were processed by Division of Child Protection and Permanency, and therefore, perpetrated by a parent or caregiver.”

To find more information and statistics go to: http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/research-data-technology/statistics-research/child-maltreatment.

Ruth Austin of the Montville Township Women’s Club said, “I thought the program was highly informative. Every parent should make the time to attend such a meeting and check out the Prevent Child Abuse New Jersey website. People think it will never happen to them, but the statistics show otherwise.”

And Montville Township residents also know better than to think it could never happen in their town. A former Montville Township first-grade teacher Jason Fennes recently was sentenced to 14 years in prison on his guilty pleas to sexually abusing four girls in Montville and a 14-year-old girl he coached in track at Butler High School.

Szmutko and Conklin said that many abusers are people who are close to the family or may be family members themselves. The presenters said there is hope for them. If caught in time and with proper rehabilitation, it is likely they will not be repeating offenders. However, if the abuser is a sociopath or a psychopath, this does not apply.

Montville Township Women’s Club member Linda Peskin said, “The program was excellent and educational. It was informative and also thought provoking.”

Alexandria Sarra is president of the Women’s Club, which has about 35 members. Marguerite Corazza, first vice president, Carol Sokol and Virginia Diaczuk are members of the Prevent Child Abuse committee, which organized the program.

Some facts about presenters:

Since Oct. 2012, Szmutko is a home visitation program coordinator with Prevent Child Abuse New Jersey. She is a national trainer for Parents as Teachers and has a master’s degree in public administration from Rutgers University. Previously, she worked to provide out-of-school-time programming for elementary school students throughout Trenton.

Christine Conklin has a degree from Rutgers University’s Douglass College in English and elementary education, and she is a certified K-8 teacher. Conklin has her roots in early childhood education. She has been a teacher, family child care owner and operator, child care center director, executive director and regional manager.  Her most recent position is a program manager at Prevent Child Abuse New Jersey where she supervises and collaborates with a team of technical assistance specialists for the central region of the Grow NJ Kids Technical Assistance Center that covers five counties in NJ’s Early Childhood Quality Rating and Improvement System. She and her team work to raise the bar of quality for NJ's youngest population as they coach, mentor, provide technical assistance and collaborative networking opportunities to child care centers and family child care providers. Conklin is a certified Enough Abuse trainer, child advocate and mother of three.

For further information, please visit www.preventchildabusenj.org and google the Adverse Childhood Experiences Survey.