Go from 'Darkness to Light' on child sexual abuse

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Sarah Martinez
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
It can be sensitive, scary and uncomfortable.

It can also be informational, beneficial and useful.

But ultimately it can empower parents, teachers and neighbors to stop a horrible act.

Darkness to Light training, a program that focuses on child sexual abuse, is now available for anyone willing and able to learn and discuss the touchy subject. The training, which came to Hurlburt Field for the first time this month, is provided by the Emerald Coast Child Advocacy Center located in Niceville, but the organization is willing to make house or unit calls.

"The training is important because we see [child sexual abuse] on a daily basis and want to protect our kids," said Tom Dunn, Emerald Coast CAC case advocate and Niceville police officer. "The best way to do that is to get the word out and educate the public."

Attendees watch a video that includes child sexual abuse survivor stories and opinions from different subject matter experts like child psychologists. They then work on book exercises that relate to what they have seen in the video.

Students will learn child sexual abuse statistics; for example, nearly 70 percent of all reported sexual assault cases occur to children ages 17 and under. They will learn what to look for in an abused child like physical signs, emotional and behavior changes such as sexual language not appropriate for that child's age. This could indicate a child being exposed to abnormal sexual behavior and language.

The training session is open to everyone but one Hurlburt parent in particular found the information very informative.

"I think the training is wonderful and of good quality since it comes from a professional," said Staff Sgt. Elaine Vandenburg, Air Force Special Operations Command knowledge operations, and mother of an eight-year-old boy. "It's important not just for parents, but anyone involved with kids."

The students go through a seven-step process to help identify, prevent and deal with child sexual abuse responsibly. Communication with the child is echoed in every step of the process and participants learn how to appropriately talk to children and other adults about it.

They also learn how to minimize opportunities for a sexual offender to attack, like limiting when a child will be alone with an adult.

"Talk with the child when he returns from a visit with another adult. Notice the child's mood and whether the child can tell you with confidence how the time was," said the video's narrator.
According to the video, the child and the child's family knew and trusted the abuser in more than 90 percent of sexual abuse cases.

"My eight-year-old, who is involved in sports, could be exposed to a one-on-one situation with another adult which might make him uncomfortable," Sergeant Vandenburg said. "I want him to know he can come to me and let me know what's happening no matter what."

Every other Tuesday the Emerald Coast CAC reviews all the child sexual abuse cases in confidence. The organization averages 3 to 12 cases every two weeks.

The Emerald Coast CAC is a non-profit, multi-disciplinary team that serves Okaloosa and Walton Counties. The staff consists of a child protection team, members from the Department of Children and Families, State Attorney's office, licensed mental health counselors and local law enforcement.

To schedule a training session for your unit or organization, contact Mr. Dunn at 850-833-9237. For more information, visit the Emerald Coast CAC website at www.eccac.org.