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Sexual assault, child abuse community problems
COVID-19 adding to stresses facing families
county commission sexual assault month pic
Monday morning, the Barton County Commission approved proclamations recognizing April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Child Abuse Prevention Month. These were requested by the Family Crisis Center.

Barton County Commission meeting at a glance

Here is a quick look at what the Barton County Commission did Monday morning:

• Heard a COVID-19 update from county Health Officer Karen Winkelman.

• Approved a proclamation marking this as Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

• Approved a proclamation denoting this as Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month.

• Approved a resolution for a conditional land use permit for Jeffrey Bosch. 

On March 17, the Barton County Planning Commission considered an application from Bosch for the permit. Under that application, Bosch, owner of No Limits Kennels, asked to build an additional dog kennel on the property at  423 Walnut Street, Heizer.

As Heizer is zoned an Unincorporated Community District, the kennel is allowed under conditional use in this zoning district, said Environmental Manager Judy Goreham. The commission recommended approval of the permit.

• Renamed Earl Moses and Wilmer Wegele to the Barton County Planning Commission, and named Jeffery Bosch to the commission.  

The county sought applicants for the commission. Its focus is to plan for the proper growth and development of Barton County through the enactment of planning and zoning laws for the protection of the public health, safety and welfare. Although all applicants must reside in Barton County, the majority of members must be from the unincorporated area, Goreham said.

All three terms end March 31, 2023.

Two proclamations approved by the Barton County Commission Monday morning call attention to the ongoing problem of domestic violence in the era of COVID-19. They denoted April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Child Abuse Prevention Month and were requested by the Family Crisis Center.

This was the second week commissioners held their weekly meeting virtually, with only 10 attendees including the commissioners, select county officials and members of the media present in the commission chambers. The meeting changers were made in the wake of the pandemic and gathering size/social distancing restrictions.

April is designated as Sexual Assault Awareness Month to raise public awareness about sexual violence and to educate communities and individuals on how to prevent sexual violence, said center Executive Director Joanne Wondra, who addressed the commission remotely. The center provides services for sexual assault survivors at no charge and offers educational and professional training for community members and professionals.   

“Sexual violence is a widespread, preventable, public health problem in Kansas,” Wondra said. Sexual violence is any sexual act inflicted onto someone else against that person’s will or when that person is not able to consent or refuse the act and includes sexual assault, rape, unwanted touching, threatened sexual violence, exhibitionism, and verbal sexual harassment,  

The Family Crisis Center served 347 victims in 2019 and 63 victims in 2019 who identified sexual assault as their primary victimization, she said. In 2019, over 237 calls for incidents of sexual violence were reported to law enforcement in Barton County.

But, “the statistics do not represent the true incidence and prevalence of sexual violence for multiple reasons, including not all victims report the crime to law enforcement,” she said. “Sexual violence is often a tactic of domestic violence, so sexual violence may not be reported as the primary form of abuse and victimization by law enforcement although the victim has experienced sexual violence along with another kind of primary abuse.”

The center is Barton County’s local victim’s advocacy and services program for people in our community who have had sexual and/or domestic violence inflicted upon them. 

However, the center’s main fundraisers, like the annual Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event, have been postponed indefinitely due to COVID-19, Wondra said. “We have taken a hit,” she said, noting all donations are welcomed.


A COVID-19 dynamic

As for Child Abuse Prevention Month, the proclamation states child abuse and neglect can be reduced by making sure families have the support needed to raise children in a healthy environment and that there are dedicated individuals and organizations in Barton County working to counter these problems. 

“Preventing child abuse and neglect is a community problem that requires all citizens to be involved,” Wondra said.

Child maltreatment occurs when people find themselves in stressful situations without community resources and don’t know how to cope, she said. It can be reduced by making sure families have the support needed to raise children in a healthy environment.

“In Barton County, there are dedicated individuals and organizations that work daily to counter the problem of child abuse and neglect and help parents obtain assistance,” Wondra said. 

“All children deserve freedom from verbal abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and physical abuse and neglect,” she said. “All children deserve to have warm homes, loving hugs, tender care, parents and adults who listen and promote self-esteem, give quality time and provide necessary food shelter, clothing and attention.”

Wondra said that effective child abuse prevention programs succeed because of partnerships created among social service agencies, schools, faith communities, civic organizations, law enforcement agencies and the business community. Through partnerships and collaborations, the center, Kansas Children Service League, Central Kansas Court Appointed Special Advocates, Department for Children and Families, St. Francis Ministries, Child Abuse Prevention and Education, University of Kansas Health Systems – Great Bend Campus sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) program, 20th Judicial District Juvenile Services and law enforcement officers “work daily to address child abuse and neglect.”

Again, the pandemic is having an impact as quarantines and stay-at-home orders effect family dynamics, Wondra said. 

“This is the calm before the storm,” she said. “When this opens back up, the numbers will be huge.”

With schools closed, teachers are no longer on the front lines to report possible abuse, Wondra said. “Everyone now has to be more vigilant and pay attention to what is going on around them.”

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt and the Kansas State Child Death Review Board encouraged Kansans to wear blue this past Friday and post a picture on social media to increase awareness of child abuse. 

The effort is part of April’s observance of Child Abuse Prevention Month and the Blue Ribbon Campaign to Prevent Child Abuse. Under normal circumstances, Kansans are encouraged to wear blue to the workplace to increase awareness. Due to stay at home orders in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, tomorrow’s focus has shifted to raising awareness online. 

April was first declared as Child Abuse Prevention Month by President Ronald Reagan in 1983. The Blue Ribbon Campaign to Prevent Child Abuse was begun in 1989 by a Virginia grandmother in memory of her grandson, who died due to child abuse.


Background

The Family Crisis Center, based in Great Bend, provides advocacy and support to all survivors and secondary victims of domestic and sexual violence, child abuse and neglect. The Domestic and Sexual Violence Center creates a safe environment for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault to understand the resources and options available for those in Barton, Barber, Comanche, Edwards, Kiowa, Ness, Pawnee, Pratt, Rush and Stafford counties.  

The Dell Hayden Memorial Child Advocacy Center creates a safe, family-friendly environment for children and families. The CAC becomes involved with the children and families upon referral from Department for Children and Families and/or Law Enforcement in order to assist with the investigative process and provide services through referrals as well as advocacy to the child and family. Services for the CAC are provided in Barton, Pawnee, Rush and Stafford counties.


COVID-19 affecting child abuse reporting


Social distancing in response to the COVID-19 outbreak has already had a significant impact on reports of child abuse in Kansas. The Department for Children and Families recently reported the daily average of calls made to the state’s Protection Report Center has dipped from 200 per day in fiscal year 2019 to 102 per day last week. 

The center’s phone number remains active for Kansans to report suspected cases of child abuse or neglect at 800-922-5330. In cases in which the child may be in imminent danger, call 911.

The State Child Death Review Board says warning signs of child abuse may include parents or caregivers who lack social contact outside the family, have alcohol or drug abuse problems, or are excessively controlling or resentful of a child. Abusive parents or caregivers may belittle children by either directly criticizing them or using subtle put-downs disguised as humor. They rationalize their behavior as a form of discipline aimed at helping the child. Often the discipline is inconsistent and a result of unreasonable expectations or demands on the child. 

Abusers also avoid talking about their child’s injuries.

Victims of child abuse may exhibit a lack of trust, be fearful or anxious about going home, have uncontrolled emotions, and lash out in anger. They may become depressed and withdraw from others. Unexplained injuries, excessive sadness or crying, flinching at sudden movements and difficulty sleeping can also be signs of abuse. Children who are neglected often have bad hygiene, wear ill-fitting or dirty clothing and have untreated injuries or illnesses. They can appear underdeveloped and malnourished and are frequently late or missing from school.

Children regularly get bruises and bumps, especially over bony areas such as the knees, elbows and shins. However, injuries on other parts of the body, such as the stomach, cheeks, ears, buttocks, mouth, or thighs raise concerns of abuse. Black eyes, human bite marks and burns seldom come from everyday play.

“If you suspect a child is being abused or neglected, it is important to speak up,” said Sara Hortenstine, executive director of the State Child Death Review Board. “Many people are reluctant to get involved, but consequences of staying silent can be devastating and sometimes fatal for the child.”

While physical abuse is the most visible form, emotional abuse, sexual abuse and neglect also result in serious harm. Ignoring children’s needs, putting them in unsupervised or dangerous situations or creating a sense of being unwanted are all forms of abuse.

For additional information on child abuse and neglect, visit www.ag.ks.gov, or call 785-296-7970.