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W.Va. campaign spotlights adult role in halting child abuse

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A new campaign aims to promote what adults can do to stop child abuse.

The West Virginia Child Advocacy Network on Tuesday launched "One with Courage," a statewide public-awareness campaign that encourages adults to know the signs of child abuse and to report it to law enforcement.

For too long, child abuse prevention campaigns have centered on encouraging children to prevent their own abuse, said Joe Thornton, secretary of the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety.

Thornton spoke during a news conference about the campaign Tuesday at the Schoenbaum Family Enrichment Center in Charleston.

Campaigns that focus on alerting children to "stranger danger" are misleading, at best, he said. Almost all types of abuse are done by people the victim's family knows and trusts, he said. Asking children to say no to adults is impractical, too, he said, because most of the time the child feels they can't do so.

"Only one in 10 abuse victims disclose their abuse to an adult -- many not until they're adults," Thornton said. "It's a very troubling statistic, and that's why we need these support systems to be able to support these young folks."

Nationally each year, more than 800,000 -- one in 300 -- children are victims of abuse and neglect, Thornton said. Ninety-five percent of victims know their perpetrator, he said. In 2010, there were more than 4,000 victims of abuse and neglect in West Virginia, he said.

In 2012, eight children died from abuse or neglect, he said.

"One with Courage" will run for eight weeks on network television, in print advertisements and on social-media websites, said Emily Chittenden-Laird, executive director of WVCAN.

The campaign encourages adults to know the signs of child abuse, which include: unexplained injuries; changes in behavior, eating, sleeping and school performance and attendance; returning to earlier behaviors, such as thumb-sucking or bedwetting; fear of going home; lack of personal care or hygiene; risk-taking behaviors and inappropriate sexual behaviors.

The campaign is jointly supported by the state Division of Justice and Community Services, the Sisters of St. Joseph Health and Wellness Foundation, the National Children's Alliance, Verizon Wireless, Image Outdoor Advertising, WV Media Holdings and WVCAN.

To learn more about the signs of abuse and to find a local children's advocacy center, visit www.wvcan.org.

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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