New initiative aims to drive down child abuse in the Northland

DULUTH, MN. (CBS 3 Duluth) — A new effort between two groups hoping to stamp out child sex abuse was announced Friday.

The announcement by Twin Ports-based First Witness Child Advocacy Center and the Child Abuse Protection Coalition follows the start of I Stand With Kids month raising awareness of the dangers of child sexual abuse.

The initiative includes the donation of 85 books to the Duluth Public Library, the Little Red Book Shelf and the YMCA.

The books talk about body autonomy and limits in a way that children can understand.

Attendees at a news conference Friday included Carmella Hatch, an early literacy librarian at the Duluth Public Library.

“I think part of our role is to take care of these kids,” she said, “the more we know them, the more conversations we have.”

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According to Darkness to Light, an organization working to empower adults to prevent child sexual abuse, 1 in 10 children will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday.

90% of these children know their abuser. The books, titled My Body Is Mine and My Voice Is My Superpower, hope to lower those numbers.

“Having a book that takes you through this conversation and does it at a pace and in language that kids will understand is really helpful,” Hatch said.

The books were purchased with $1,000 donated to the Childhood Abuse Prevention Coalition by the Kiwanis Club of Friendly Duluth. The library is part of the coalition.

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“You know, apart from the library having books for families, we’re really an information center,” Hatch said.

The library already has the books on its shelves in its three branches.

The leaders of the First Witness Child Advocacy Center said they had seen a 30% increase in reports of child abuse during the pandemic. The center investigates allegations of abuse and trains adults to recognize them in the community.

“We’re fortunate where we live, we have a dedicated group of child abuse professionals,” said Tracie Clanaugh, the center’s executive director.

According to the center, they conducted 232 forensic interviews in 2021. There were 188 surveys in 2020 and 231 in 2019. The center also advocates for children who may experience abuse.

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“What we do know is that child abuse, particularly child sexual abuse, went unnoticed and unreported for decades.”

According to the CDC, 91% of abused children know their abuser. Clanaugh says these crimes often go unreported…which is what makes this new initiative so critical.

“To support a campaign that helps kids have a voice, have the language, have body empowerment,” she continued, “to tell their story.”

The First Witness Advocacy Center was established in 1991. More information about his services can be found here on his website.

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