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All Points West: Taking action against child abuse
September 10, 2015 Frank Marquez   

Read more by Frank Marquez
Last week, I was fortunate to attend a joint fundraiser benefitting CASA (Court appointed Special Advocates) and CAPstone (Child Advocacy Center) at the 7th Annual Light of Hope Breakfast. It warmed my heart as it did the speakers who said they were delighted to see the number of the cars lining the Scottsbluff-Gering Highway, waiting to get into an already packed parking lot at the Weborg 21 Centre.

Not entirely sure what to expect, I skimmed the program which conveyed this sentiment: “We appreciate you taking the time to come and learn more about CASA and CAPstone’s role in fighting child abuse and neglect in our community, and how you can help.”

Before being seated, my boss Lisa Betz introduced me to esteemed guest Sen. John Stinner, who was lauded for his support, along with many others (individuals and businesses) who attended the fundraiser.
On top of already being uncomfortable in formal settings, I was embarrassed about being a donor. I would rather keep a low profile, expressing more humbleness and humility. I prefer not to speak of doing good deeds, except to do them, feeling the cash drawer in my heart contains more than enough for a lifetime of giving. My wallet, on the other hand? Well, that just leaves the work for someone else, taking nothing away from supporting a heart-felt meaningful cause.
After writing checks, my fellow compatriots and I left to get on with our work day. Planning and producing a weekly newspaper does not happen overnight, though many days, I wish it did.
Shelley Thomas, a forensic interviewer for CAPstone, spoke about the work she does for those who are victims of abuse, and helping them make progress as survivors.

She mentioned how she is not alone in providing support, there’s a long line of people who play important roles, including those in law enforcement and health and human services, the combined effort of so many folks who care is probably too numerous to quantify. Even more impossible to quantify, beyond hours and effort, is how the kids benefit from such help.

I’d have to go back to my teaching days for any point of reference. I taught at an at-risk high school in Las Vegas, dealing with literally hundreds of kids who needed someone beyond the scope of my teaching duties, or so I thought. Job description aside, I felt I was obligated as a public servant. Several kids who were homeless, abandoned by their parents, reached out to me. A girl who was pregnant, could tell me about her circumstance, and not her parents because she was afraid they wouldn’t let her finish her senior year. It was important for her to wear a cap and gown at the graduation ceremony.

Some of my students went days without food, coming to my classroom to ask for bottles of water and money. I was not alone. Many of my fellow teachers did the same.

Thomas spoke with her arm around a victim of sexual abuse. The young girl stood there at a podium in front of hundreds of us who gathered at W21, telling her very personal account of being sexually abused by someone she loved and trusted. She expressed great courage and conflicting emotions, but by telling her story, she hoped she could reach others who might be suffering in the same way. This campaign to promote awareness about child sexual abuse was also talked about at my church the previous Sunday, when a fellow parishioner announced TLC Network was airing a documentary entitled “Breaking the Silence,” on Aug. 30. According to the story, an estimated one in 10 children will be the victim of sexual abuse before the age of 18, with an estimated 42 million survivors in America today.

Another featured speaker, Patricia Morales told a story about a Scottsbluff boy who suffered abuse. He was both beaten and starved. But because a few brave souls stepped forward to report it, the boy is doing well today.

I listened intently, and looked around the room, wondering if anyone at breakfast suffered abuse as a young child. Given the statistics, chances are good. In fact, I can tell you without hesitation and in no uncertain terms, I was like the boy Morales described. Her story hit me like a ton of bricks.

After decades, I can tell you, the impact of abuse does not fade for me. It’s as vivid to me as when it happened. Since those days, I have forgiven my abusers, and moved on with my life. Driven by sheer will, I talked myself out of being a victim, or somehow making it reason or excuse to fail in life.

Though, I experienced quite a few starts and stumbles. No one can undo the damage. What we have learned is true: hurt people hurt people. In my case, as much picking myself up by the bootstraps as I did, there were just as many instances of sabotaging my own progress. Much of this went unreported. I almost began to believe it was a way of life. But I realized, as time went on, the abuse was just a part of a wider social problem, and was more intense when social programs and help agencies did not exist.
An exception to some extent, I went from victim, to survivor, to a compassionate teacher. My heart ached for my students because I saw myself in them, striving to overcome the helplessness.
At the end of the hour-long breakfast, several questions remained in my mind. How much of the fundraising makes a dent? Are we fighting a wildfire with a garden hose?

I know my story will join the millions of others. Nevertheless, it is my attempt, my plea, to get our community to understand, child abuse will continue until all of us take an active role in preventing it.
I bore the signs of abuse. Though no one was looking. Or, other adults noticed, or were cognizant, intervening or reporting it, was something they were unwilling to do. Everyone, not just teachers and health professionals, should be given training about the signs of child abuse. Let me add, our public schools are just a microcosm. The untreated abused child who grows up risks becoming an abuser because the behavior has gone unchecked for too long. Ill behavior begets crimes. Our prison populations swell. You get the picture. Should anyone’s life be less valued?

Turn the crisis on its side, and ask yourself, if I don’t play an active role, how is the world any better or worse? Is it in my power to help correct this deadly course? More crassly, would I be spending less in taxes to help build institutions that treat the mentally ill and criminals, thus keeping the reality of the crisis at arm’s length?

One of the last things Thomas said was, “we are blessed to live in a community that cares.” Indeed we are, but it is one thing to care. Taking an active role is entirely another.
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