SIKESTON -- You can be part of the solution in helping children live without violence.
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, according to Tammy Gwaltney, executive director of the Southeast Missouri Network Against Sexual Violence in Cape Girardeau.
"Child abuse happens right here in Southeast Missouri - it happens every day in our communities," Gwaltney said.
One in four children - 25 percent of our childhood population - has been subjected to some form of sexual or physical abuse before age 18. These include children of all ages, races and economic backgrounds.
During 2005, the agency provided free care to 128 children and adults from Scott County who were victims of such violence, "which is about 25 percent of our case load," Gwaltney said.
The Southeast Missouri Network Against Sexual Violence is a child advocacy center that provides forensic interviews and medical evaluations for nine Southeast Missouri counties.
"In just that program, there's about 500 kids a year that we see," Gwaltney said. "When there are allegations that a child has been sexually abused, the child is brought here by law enforcement, juvenile officers or child protection services officers."
Center staff are trained in forensic interviewing so they can "talk to the child about allegations, about what has happened to them," she said.
Special training is required to conduct forensic interviews "so that there's a structure to it, so that it's not someone who is randomly asking questions of the child," Gwaltney continued.
Care is made to make sure the interview is age appropriate and developmentally appropriate and that it is objective with no leading questions or suggestions about what may or may not have happened.
"It's a process that allows the child to tell in their own words what has happened to them," Gwaltney said.
A forensic medical exam is also conducted during the same visit.
"A forensic medical exam can only be conducted by medical staff - either physicians or nurse practitioners - who have special training through the state of Missouri for what is called 'SAFE,' sexual assault forensic evaluation," Gwaltney said.
During this exam, physical findings on a child's body are collected and evaluated to document injuries that are related to physical or sexual abuse.
The center also provides counseling and court advocacy for children that have been physically or sexually abused.
"The important thing to remember is, not only are we providing services to the kids, but most of these cases have some sort of legal process that is happening that takes some time to get through," Gwaltney said. "We still have 200-300 cases from prior years that we are still working on."
The center also has an outreach and education program in schools which served about 9,000 children in the area last year by teaching abuse prevention.
"We must all band together to address this problem and put a stop to violence against our children. Everyone is important in this fight," Gwaltney said. "One way to help is by supporting the 2nd Annual Paul Boyd Children's Charity Golf Tournament May 5 at the Bootheel Golf Club."
An insert promoting the tournament along with a donation envelope is included in most copies of today's Standard Democrat, Gwaltney said. "People can put a donation right in that envelope," she said.
Those who don't find a donation envelope are encouraged to call the center at 332-1900 "and we will work with them, do whatever we can to take care of kids," she said.
Gwaltney said those who aren't golfers can still find ways to contribute.
"Get your co-workers together, get a bake sale or yard sale together - everybody has a way to help," she said. "All services are free and all money raised stays right here in Southeast Missouri for our kids."
Since it started in 1997, NASV has cared for almost 2,000 victims.
The agency also coordinates services with Missouri Children's Division juvenile offices, prosecuting attorneys and other social service agencies to provide victims and their families with the support they need to recover from these acts.
For more information contact the SEMO Network Against Sexual Violence at 573-332-1900.