New initiative aims to reduce child abuse in Northland

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DULUTH, MN. (KBJR) – A new effort between two groups in hopes of eradicating child sexual abuse was announced on Friday.

The announcement from the First Witness Child Advocacy Center of Twin Ports and the Child Abuse Protection Coalition follows earlier this month’s “I Stand With Kids”, which raises 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 bodily autonomy and boundaries in a way children can understand.

Among those present at a press conference on Friday was Carmella Hatch, an early literacy librarian at the Duluth Public Library.

“I think part of our role is to watch over these children,” she said, “the more we know about them, the more conversations we have.”

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

90% of these children know their abuser. Books titled “My Body Belongs to Me” and “My Voice If My Superpower” hope to bring those numbers down.

“Having a book to guide you through that conversation and doing it in a pace and language that kids are going to understand is really helpful,” Hatch said.

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

“You know, other than the library that has books for families, we’re really an information point,” Hatch said.

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

Leaders of the First Witness Child Advocacy Center say they have seen a 30% increase in reports of child abuse during the pandemic. The center investigates allegations of abuse and trains adults to identify them in the community.

“We’re lucky 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. In 2020 there were 188 interviews and in 2019 there were 231. The center also advocates for children at risk of abuse.

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

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

“To support a campaign that helps children to express themselves, to have language, to empower themselves,” she continued, “to tell their story.”

The First Witness Advocacy Center was founded in 1991. You can find their website here for more information about their services.

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