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The Daily Tar Heel

Specialists Use Education To Combat Child Abuse

Although child abuse cases are uncommon in Chapel Hill, experts say there is still reason for concern.

According to the Orange County Rape Crisis Center, one in three girls and one in six boys are sexually assaulted before the age of 18.

Sabrina Garcia, a domestic violence and sexual assault specialist who works for the Chapel Hill Police Department, said the bulk of the department's cases included harassing letters, e-mails and verbal harassments. "We are very fortunate that we do not have a lot of cases reported," Garcia said. "We're still a small enough place where people are still aware and they report any unfamiliar scenes."

Orange County officials say the low numbers can be attributed to the county's use of school intervention and education on the issue.

Matt Ezzell, the community education coordinator for the Rape Crisis Center, said representatives from the center spoke to 10,000 students in 2001, including students in every kindergarten through fourth-grade class in Orange County and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City schools, as well as some middle school and high school classes.

"We follow an empowerment education model to empower kids and show them that they have rights and to help promote their safety," he said.

Ezzell said he speaks with parents and teachers to inform them about how to deal with a child who has been abused.

"We show them how to talk to kids and break it apart so that it will not be so scary," Ezzell said. "We want to show them different ideas on how to approach the kids and make them feel positive and empowered."

Ezzell said he hopes the measures will help prevent future cases by teaching kids how to say no and show them how to protect themselves. "I think there is a lot of silence, and there is always work to be done so kids aren't carrying around such a heavy burden," Ezzell said.

According to Garcia, juvenile abuse cases involve children ranging from infants to 17 years old. Cases with younger children usually involve immediate access between the child and the offender. Molesters are often neighbors or family members of the child, she said.

Garcia said technology allows for more contact with strangers. "As children get older, the natural progression is to remove family and broaden social contacts through devices like chat rooms."

Garcia said children are often left unchaperoned to chat with strangers who can exploit a child's insecurities.

Garcia said agencies like the Rape Crisis Center are available to help connected family members and friends in addition to the victims.

"Both the children and the people close to them feel the effects," Garcia said. "We have to hold offenders accountable and mandate corrective treatment."

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