BERLIN — The state of Massachusetts has become so fed up with child abuse that agents there began the “Enough Abuse Campaign” in 2002. A decade later, officials in Worcester County are bringing the program to the Eastern Shore.
Partners from the Berlin Police Department (BPD) and the Children’s Resource Intervention Center, Kids Empowerment Team (CRICKET), presented the program to the Berlin Mayor and Council Monday, receiving unanimous and passionate support from town leadership.
“In this little town, it is going on right around us,” said Councilwoman Lisa Hall of child abuse. “Nobody wants to talk about it; they’re very uncomfortable with it.”
CRICKET Program Manager Wendy Myers told the council that her organization will be one of hopefully several partnerships to endorse the campaign.
“They were very, very successful in Massachusetts,” she said.
The Enough Abuse Campaign focuses on getting away from the old tried and true child abuse identification system of “good touch or bad touch” because that method puts the onus of responsibility on the child.
“That’s really not very responsible,” she said.
Instead, the program focuses on mature and frank talks with children to get information in a sensitive and responsible way as well as teaching adults how to spot warning signs of child abuse in their community.
“It’s not putting the blame on the child,” said Berlin Police Pfc. Jessica Collins.
Collins added the campaign delves into some of the less explored areas in child abuse, such as when both the victim and the aggressor are children.
“A child can abuse another child as well,” she reminded the council.
The campaign will be funded in Worcester through a $5,000 state grant. Worcester is one of only three counties in Maryland, including Talbot and Baltimore, to receive funding for the campaign.
According to Myers, CRICKET already makes significant outreach efforts against child abuse that will mesh well with the new effort.
“We offer in-house forensic interviews with specially trained interviewers that know how to get the truth from a child about what happened to him or her,” she said.
The goal, continued Myers, is to spread information to the public.
“What we’re doing is going out into the community and talking about this campaign,” she said.
Campaign partners hope to meet with schools, religious institutes and other pillars of the community. The problem, according to Myers, is much larger than most people realize.
She told the council that so far into 2012, CRICKET has investigated 50 reported cases of child sexual abuse while in 2011 there were 83 cases reported. Between negligence, sexual and physical abuse, Myers revealed that CRICKET usually receives between 475 to 500 reports every year.
“Our sex abuse statistic has steadily been on the rise for the last six years,” she said.
Myers added that, as bad as that sounds, there’s a chance that actual abuse rates are not up, they are just being reported more regularly thanks to awareness programs. However, she did admit that with the rise of the Internet, access to children has become easier for abusers.
Mayor Gee Williams expressed support for the campaign and suggested that that group visit town events and set up a booth or presentation for visitors to Berlin.
“It’s a captive audience that is constantly changing,” he said.
Hall re-stated her belief that the public is not as aware of the issue as they should be.
“We pay more attention to a DUI then we do sexual abuse to our children,” she said.
The $5,000 grant will be used to fund training outreach as well as to put a billboard up along Route 50 from July through August. While it is a one-shot grant, Myers explained that the information collected during the yearlong campaign from the three participating counties will be used to generate a custom program for Maryland sometime in the future.