Checking the Pulse on Youth Advocacy and Prevention Education Work

by Matt Renaud, Youth Advocate & Prevention Educator at AWARE

I’ve been the Youth Advocate & Prevention Educator at AWARE for a little over two years now and I’m finally starting to feel grounded in what this job is all about.  That being said, I also feel that the field of youth advocacy (and advocacy in general) has been shifting during the course of my time at AWARE and that it continues to shift.  Maybe this is the way it has always been – the only thing that stays the same is that everything changes.  After all, in order to best meet the needs of the people we serve, we need to be constantly evolving.  I got curious about how other Youth Advocates and/or Prevention Educators have experienced change, success, and challenge in their role, so I sent out a set of questions to my colleagues across the state.  Responses came from people who have been in this work anywhere from one year to over a decade.  Here is a picture of where youth advocacy in Vermont is headed, straight from the horse’s mouth.

 Where do you see our work as Youth Advocates and/or Prevention Educators headed in the future?

Savannah Williams from Umbrella North in Newport explained, “Schools used to be really hesitant [about working with advocacy programs] before Act One was passed, but now Youth Advocates & Prevention Educators are seen more as allies than as strangers in certain communities.”

Bobbi Gagne from the Sexual Assault Crisis Team (SACT) in Barre describes the future of advocacy as “Learning from youth what they see as issues they face rather than us deciding what issues they see as important.”

What’s your favorite part about being a Youth Advocate and/or Prevention Educator?

Laura Young from Umbrella South in St. Johnsbury says, “My favorite part of being a Youth Advocate and Prevention Educator is all of the relationships that I have been able to build Continue reading

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Exposed and Uncovered – Child Sexual Abuse in Your Community: How it Happens, How to Respond Part I

 

By Laura Young, Youth Advocate, Umbrella

On Friday, June 9th a local St. Johnsbury counselor was arrested for sexual assault of a child (a 14 year old young man) and recording a sex act of a minor. Many of our community members have been left reeling and angry. How can a man with that level of trust in the community rape a young boy? Not to mention the question lying in the back of our heads as advocates and concerned community members-how many more children did he violate?

I recently watched the movie Spotlight which covered the way that the Boston Globe brought to light the sexual violence occurring within the Catholic Church in the early 2000’s. I couldn’t help but think of this movie as I think of the actions of the counselor in St. Johnsbury. In both situations, the priests and, in this case the counselor, used their standing in the community to cover up their actions.

At this point, when I think of those in authority who abuse children there’s so much I could say. I could keep you reading for days but I will try and sum up just a few (okay, seven) of my thoughts on how this happens and what to do if your community has been affected by child sexual abuse.  Here are three of my thoughts…watch for Part II for the rest!

  1.  An abusive person from outside of the family is generally a trusted, well liked member of a community and of a child’s life.

First, it is important to note that, according to the National Sex Offender Public Website, 30% of perpetrators of child sexual abuse are members of the child’s family.

Of the 70% that are not family members, we tend to have this image in our minds of a perpetrator of a man in a white van offering candy to small children. Although sexual abuse by strangers does happen (10%), the truth is that 60% of perpetrators of child sexual abuse are people well known in the victim’s family or the surrounding community. Someone with the communities’ trust and respect. Perhaps we like to think of the man offering candy as a way to protect ourselves from thinking that we may give our trust to someone who could violate our child but this is not the (horrible) truth. Taking a look at the National Center for Victims of Crime’s website we learn that “3 out of 4 adolescents who have been sexually assaulted were victimized by someone they knew well.” This includes individuals that their family and community knew well too.

Often, perpetrators look for places to work or volunteer where they will be around children. They will make an effort to get close to the child’s caregiver and earn their trust or look for a child who does not have actively involved adults. They may intentionally be a friend to families who are having family difficulties and they may hang out in places where children frequent, they may offer to coach or mentor children etc.

Also, people who are seeking to abuse children may use their ties to religious organizations, sports or schools (or in St. Johnsbury’s case their work in a counseling office) to their advantage. Within these organizations, children are taught to trust and respect whomever their authority is (as they should be able to do). Additionally, by being involved in the community, especially in religious organizations the perpetrator has established themselves as someone who shares certain values which causes some parents and some community members to naturally be more trusting of this individual because they hold them to a higher moral standard.

  1.  A sexual predator will groom their victim and their victim’s family as well as the surrounding community

Grooming is an action that a sexual predator takes in order to earn the trust of a child and Continue reading

Staying Positive

 

by Matt Renaud Youth Advocate and Prevention Educator, AWARE

 

Earlier today, I saw a news story titled, As pressure mounts, ISIS militants hide behind kids.  The title really says it all – ISIS militants are now literally using children as shields to avoid being targeted by U.S. military forces.  This story was kind of the proverbial icing on the cake for me after the recent events in Paris, Colorado, and California.  Even though all of these events seem to be terrorism-related at this point, it’s not even the terrorism that has me feeling down, it’s the amount of violence in general in our world that seems to be increasing as of late (or maybe the media is just paying more attention to it) and how there seem to be more and more innocent people (including many children) getting caught in the crossfire either literally or indirectly.

After seeing this news story and reflecting on recent events, I thought I’d look for some positive news stories involving youth to share in my post because it seems to me that one way to effectively “combat” this ongoing violence is to promote positivity.  Sorry for a short post this time around – I just wanted to share some uplifting stuff (more for my own self-care than anything), so I hope you enjoy the following links!  By the way, I read more news sources than just CBS, that’s just the site I happened to be searching on.  I’m usually more of a Fox News person (just kidding!).

I hope everyone has a great holiday season and let’s keep in mind how much we all have to be truly thankful for, even in the face of such senseless violence.

Twin Boys Reunited with their WWII Hero

On The Road:  Explaining Terrorist Attacks to Children

7 Year Old Donates Money in Piggy Bank to Vandalized Mosque

Breathe deeply!  Taking Care of the Caregiver

~by Judy Szeg, Educator, Office & Volunteer Coordinator, Safeline, Inc.

 “You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe                                          deserve your love and affection.”  – Buddha

Watch a lit candle.  Do yoga.  Walk your dog.  Smell your favorite scent.  Listen to music.   Dance.  These are small things but, oh, so important when done mindfully.

The readers of this blog have very diverse roles – teachers, other school staff, parents, counselors, therapists, faith leaders, youth group or community leaders, the list goes on and on.  One thing that we may experience in common is that we may sometimes feel overwhelmed as we do our best to support the children and youth in our lives.

Unfortunately, many of the children and youth that we know experience very serious challenges in their young lives, whether due to domestic or sexual violence, alcohol or substance abuse, bullying, poverty, homelessness or many other issues.  When we interact with them on a regular basis, become aware of their situation and witness their pain, fear or sadness, we may find that we are impacted more than we realize.

Have you found yourself having difficulty sleeping and worrying about a youth you know?  Continue reading