Victims are people you know. Anyone can be an offender. There is no demographic of an abuser.
On Jan. 15, Stacy Pendarvis, program director for the Monique Burr Foundation for Children, educated the Jacksonville Women Lawyers Association about child abuse and bullying prevention.
During this continuing education luncheon, attorneys and professionals learned that cyberbullying and digital abuse affect millions of children in the U.S.
Pendarvis explained that one out of every seven children age 10-17 will be sexually solicited online and that more than half of all youths experience some form of cyberbullying. Girls are disproportionately affected.
The impact on Florida alone is staggering. Not only does Florida rank fourth in the nation for the volume of child pornography produced, but the economic impact of child sexual abuse treatment is more than $9 billion annually.
Statistics show 70 percent of children and teenagers admit to hiding their online activities from parents. Much to the shock of many in the room, Pendarvis said the fourth most frequently searched term by children under the age of 7 is “porn.”
She explained there are text codes youths use, such as “Code 9” to indicate there is a parent in the room. Other codes are more sinister, such as “GKY” (go kill yourself) or “GNOC” (get naked on camera).
Many of these childhood victims of abuse or bullying are exposed to multiple forms of victimization and maltreatment, known as polyvictimization. For instance, a child bullied at school is more likely to experience later sexual abuse or physical assault.
Consequences of abuse and bullying include physical and mental issues, cyclical abuse, relationship issues, and societal burdens.
There are various pathways to victimization, which the Monique Burr Foundation is seeking to prevent through early childhood education. The foundation has developed a program called Child Safety Matters that is offered at no cost to public schools throughout Florida; Duval County has mandated this program this coming year. Students in kindergarten to sixth grade are taught “no blame, no shame” rules about abuse and bullying. Within four weeks of participating in these programs, more than 40 percent of schools report at least one child disclosing sexual abuse or bullying.
“Don’t think it’s not happening in our communities, to our kids,” Pendarvis said.
The foundation offers a program to empower adults with the knowledge and skills to protect the children in our communities. To find out more, visit MBFChildSafeyMatters.Org.
The next JWLA luncheon, at 11:45 a.m. Feb. 12 at The River Club, will feature Kevin Gay, who will discuss mass incarceration and its impact on poverty in America. Visit JWLA.org to RSVP.