A$50,000 federal grant is allowing the Children's Advocacy Center to get Spanish-language messages about preventing child abuse out into the Hispanic community, said Marlene Mish, executive director.
In the past, Mish has had to bring a translator while performing Darkness to Light outreach education about child sexual abuse within the Hispanic community.
Learn the facts and understand the risks: Realities — not trust — should influence your decisions regarding children.
Minimize opportunity: If you eliminate or reduce one-adult, one-child situations, you'll dramatically lower the risk of sexual abuse for children.
Talk about it: Children often keep abuse a secret, but barriers can be broken down by talking openly about it.
Stay alert: Don't expect obvious signs when a child is being sexually abused. Signs often are there but you've got to spot them.
Make a plan: Learn where to go, whom to call and how to react. Don't overreact. Offer support. Call Child Protective Services or law enforcement.
Act on suspicions: By acting on suspicions of child sexual abuse, you may save not only one child, but perhaps countless others.
Get involved: Volunteer and financially support organizations that fight child sexual abuse.
— Source: Darkness to Light. For more information, see darkness2light.org
Darkness to Light is a course that provides seven specific steps adults can take to protect children.
Mish believes in the training, but she also believed her message was losing some of its impact in translation. Mish wanted to recruit messengers from within the Hispanic community, which she says is both underserved and overburdened.
"These families are hungry for information but terrified that if they report, something bad will happen to them — someone will be deported, for example," Mish said. "For an Hispanic child to break the code of silence is to betray the family, his community and his entire culture."
But a child's silence and an adult's ignorance are a perpetrator's most powerful weapons. Mish is counting on the Spanish-speaking Darkness to Light facilitators to break through those cultural barriers and perform a vital service to Hispanic children — and to society as a whole, she said.
"They're going to give their community permission to talk about this issue," Mish said.
The grant has allowed the CAC to train five volunteer Spanish-speaking facilitators. The center is looking for another five for training in September or October, Mish said.
Medford resident Juan Salles, 48, one of the new facilitators, will reach out to organizations, including faith-based, Spanish-speaking groups and education centers such as Headstart, he said.
Salles, an organic coffee distributor and father of two, took the Darkness to Light training at CAC two weeks ago. He was the only male in the class, Salles said.
"I want to educate my community with workshops," Salles said. "I believe the Children's Advocacy Center has provided a great tool."
Salles has volunteered in other organizations that help children, including Junior Achievement and Children's Miracle Network. His experiences have helped convince him there are lifelong impacts from child abuse, he said.
"Parents don't realize the trauma done to young brains," Salles said. "And sometimes they don't think of the resources available to them in fighting this."
Salles said he would reach out to the clergy and school officials within the Hispanic community first. Then he would like to start teaching workshops for parents and "fight the disease of hurting or abusing children," he said.
"The problem is widespread," Salles said. "I believe there is a lack of awareness. But a lack of protection for our children damages everybody. I have seen how children have been mistreated in our culture — and I mean our entire culture, not just in the Hispanic community."
The CAC has also created Spanish-language public service announcements. Radio Medford has made PSAs in English and Spanish that direct people to the center for training and guidance, Mish said.
"We wanted them to be in their own unique language that is culturally in tune with their values," she said.
One woman was so grateful that her culture was being recognized in mainstream media that she came to take Darkness to Light and then went on to become a certified facilitator, Mish said.
"There is tremendous passion in the Hispanic community," Mish said. "And they are really passionate about how to protect their children."
Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.