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Bivona Child Advocacy Center

How should communities address child sexual abuse? It's a question that has been raised in recent weeks after Hilton elementary school principal was charged with sexually abusing his students. State Police say there are now 11 victims at Northwood Elementary School, all boys, between the ages of 8 and 12. The principal, Kirk Ashton, faces a number of charges, including first-degree sexual abuse, second-degree course of sexual conduct against a child, and endangering the welfare of a child.

How can children, families, and the community heal? And what can be done to better screen for possible predators? How can abusers be reformed? Our guests answer these questions and more. Our guests:

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It was a call to a hotline that triggered an investigation into the alleged sexual abuse of nine students at Northwood Elementary School in Hilton.

"This child indicated that he was empowered and he found a safe adult, and the safe adult took it from there," said Stefanie Szwejbka, manager of community education at Bivona Child Advocacy Center.

The coronavirus pandemic is having an effect on the number of calls made to the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Hotline staff report that a growing number of callers say abusers are using COVID-19 as a reason to further isolate victims. Locally, calls to Willow Domestic Violence Center have increased, with victims looking for advice for how to adapt their safety plans. The center has ramped up phone counseling services and is working to address a possible increase for shelter services. Advocates for children are also expressing concerns about how physical distancing could impact children who live in abusive homes. 

This hour, our guests discuss how to help victims of all ages. Our guests:

photo provided by Deborah Rosen

Schools have been closed since Monday. On Friday, Governor Andrew Cuomo mandated that all non-essential travel be put to a halt, and for employees to work from home with the exemption of healthcare workers and others whose work is deemed essential. That includes Monroe County's Child Protective Services.

Deputy Monroe County Executive Corinda Crossdale says that so far there are no indications that child abuse and exploitation are increasing as social distancing requires families to stay home.

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Local supporters are reacting to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s decision to step forward and assist child sex abuse victims.

Cuomo unveiled his 2017 policy initiatives in a book, which included a plan for the Child Victims Act. The proposal would do away with the statute of limitation on prosecutions of those who abused children.  Further, it would allow victims to bring civil lawsuits for 50 years from when their attacks took place.

freeimages.com/Erik Araujo

Senator Chuck Schumer is promoting bipartisan legislation to close what he calls a "gaping hole" in the federal law.

Schumer says the loophole prevents summer camps and other organizations that work with children from accessing FBI sex offender background checks for prospective employees and volunteers.

At Bivona Child Advocacy Center in Rochester, prevention education and outreach specialist Stefanie Szwejbka says while important, background checks don't guarantee a child's safety.      

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Four more organizations have joined Bivona Child Advocacy Center and other community partners to educate people about child sex abuse.

In a collaborative effort called Darkness to Light, adults are trained how to talk to children about abuse, recognize potential danger, and address the issue.

Bivona's Outreach Specialist Stefanie Szwejbka says this education effort now involves 15 community partners, all of whom undergo training that teaches them intervention techniques.