Community unites to stand against child abuse

Published 3:59 pm Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Child abuse: even in the best of communities, the best of families, it happens.

“Alarming statistics show that a report of child abuse is made every five to ten seconds in the United States,” says Lesa Syler, director of the Butler County Department of Human Resources.

The Butler County DHR and Safe Harbor-The Children’s Advocacy Center joined forces on Tuesday to hold the community’s first Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Blue Ribbon Ceremony on the front steps of the courthouse.

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“Child abuse is more likely to occur in situations where families are isolated and feel no community support,” Syler said.

“This could be a young single parent who feels overwhelmed and takes the pressure out on the child. Or the young girl who doesn’t have a trusted adult to turn to when she is abused.  We must commit to being the support and help families need to prevent abuse from occurring.”

Children who suffer abuse and neglect are much more likely to become withdrawn and anxious and show extremes in behavior, to do poorly in school, to become involved in criminal activity and to commit suicide, Syler says.

April is Child Abuse Prevention Awareness Month, and the blue ribbons that have appeared all over town over the past few weeks represent recognition of the need to help safeguard the community’s children, says Kathy Smyth, director of Safe Harbor. The center uses the blue ribbons as a fundraiser for the children it serves who suffer from, or bear witness to, violence, neglect and abuse in their homes.

A Virginia grandmother, Bonnie Finney, first tied a blue ribbon to her van’s antenna in 1989 “to make people wonder,” Smyth explained.

Finney’s own grandchildren were abused by their parents, leading to the death of one of her grandsons.

Her grandchildren’s anguish led her to try to understand why and to seek to stop abuse.

“Why did she choose blue? In order not to forget the bruised and battered bodies of her grandchildren,” said Smyth.

“Today, millions of people participate in blue ribbon campaigns across the country as a reminder to help fight for the protection of our children. Bonnie Finney’s story is a reminder of the effect just one concerned citizen can have on raising awareness of child abuse and promoting prevention efforts.”

The 75 blue helium-filled balloons held by those gathered in front of the courthouse had a special significance, Syler said.

“Over the past year, our department has received reports of physical abuse, sexual abuse and neglect involving 75 children in Butler County. Each of these balloons represents one of those children.”

As Morgan Gibson sang “Concrete Angel,” a song about an abused child, the balloons were allowed to soar into the overcast, hazy skies.

‘We are a closely-knit community here, but we are not immune to those who harm children,” said Smyth. “So we need to continue to be aware, concerned, caring folks. It is far better to report a concern over the possible mistreatment of a child than to sit back and do nothing. Non-action is the most dangerous thing.”

According to, there are several common myths and facts about child abuse:

Myth #1: It’s only abuse if it’s violent. The fact is neglect and emotional abuse can be just as damaging, and since they are more subtle, others are less likely to intervene.

Myth # 2: Only “bad” people abuse their children. In truth, not all abusers are intentionally harming their children. Many have been victims of abuse themselves, and they don’t know any other way to parent. Many have substance abuse or mental health issues.

Myth #3: Child abuse doesn’t happen in “good” families. In fact, child abuse crosses all racial, economic and cultural lines. Sometimes those who seem to have it all on the outside are hiding a different story behind closed doors.

Myth #4: Most child abusers are strangers. Actually, most abusers are family members or close friends to the family.

Myth #5: Abused children always grow up to be abusers. While it is true abused children are more likely to repeat the cycle of abuse, many adult survivors of child abuse have a strong motivation to protect their children against what they went through and become excellent parents.

For more information or to report a suspected case of abuse, contact Butler County DHR at 382-4400 or Safe Harbor Children’s Advocacy Center at 382-8584.