Child Abuse Prevention Not About Stranger Danger, Advocate Notes

Marilyn Sanders of the River Valley Child Advocacy Center in Russellville, Arkansas
Marilyn Sanders of the River Valley Child Advocacy Center in Russellville, ArkansasKaren Steward

Marilyn Sanders of the nonprofit River Valley Child Advocacy Center in Russellville, Arkansas talked about the myth of stranger danger during Child Abuse Prevention Month.

“Ninety percent of children know their abuser. I grew up in the stranger danger era. [But] it’s not the strangers who are abusing our children. It’s people they know who have gained access to them. Who have been able to groom them. It’s often going to be neighbors, family members, or a family friend,” said Sanders. 

The presentation was hosted by the 100 Families initiative of Pope County, Arkansas. The 100 Families initiative helps families who are in crisis move to stability.

Jeff Piker, coordinator for the 100 Families initiative in Yell and Pope counties, and Marilyn Sanders of the River Valley Child Advocacy Center
Jeff Piker, coordinator for the 100 Families initiative in Yell and Pope counties, and Marilyn Sanders of the River Valley Child Advocacy CenterKaren Steward

Sanders noted many cases are hard to prosecute but that does not mean they didn’t happen. She said this reality can be hard for her to witness.

“Most of the cases that we get do not ever make it to prosecution. You have your different burdens of proof... and most of the time it's that's child's word against the [potential] offender's word. You get a little five-year-old who you can't really put on the stand, but the accused has the right to face their accuser. So then a lot of times they plea... to keep that child from taking that stand."

Sanders also spoke about state laws on child abuse, including the law regarding mandatory reporters of child abuse. She said a manual called Pub 357 is the resource to consult for anyone interested in knowing more about these laws in Arkansas.

She offered advice on what to do if a child confides in you.

“To report child abuse, you should answer what happened, where did it happen, who did it, and where are they? Because if that [potential] offender is in the child's home, we've got to make sure that child's safe."

Sanders said to be aware that sometimes children use words, like rape, that mean something else to them. She said it's not uncommon for children to think that touching, like putting a hand on a leg, is rape, so clarification is needed.

"You don't need to know all of the details. Just say to them, 'Tell me about that'. Just listen. Don't ask [the child] lots of questions."

To report child abuse in Arkansas, you can call the hotline at 1-800-482-5964, call law enforcement if you know the child is not safe, or go to the online portal at: mandatedreporter.arkansas.gov.

Smart Justice is a magazine, podcast, and continuing news coverage from the nonprofit Restore Hope and covers the pursuit of better outcomes on justice system-related issues, such as child welfare, incarceration, and juvenile justice. Our coverage is solutions-oriented, focusing on the innovative ways in which communities are solving issues and the lessons that have been learned as a result of successes and challenges. 

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