LONGMEADOW – Jennifer Falcone has been providing free classes teaching adults how to prevent sexual abuse through her work with the Baystate Health Family Advocacy Center of Springfield.
Falcone, a Longmeadow resident and sexual abuse survivor, told Reminder Publications the center is a nonprofit organization with which she became about four years ago.
“I actually got in touch with Dr. Stephen Boos, who runs the advocacy center, and I started doing some volunteer work with him going out with him on his prevention sessions when he was speaking with school nurses,” she said.
She became more interested in the prevention sessions and eventually started running her own sessions.
One of the reasons she became interested was because locally she felt no one was teaching adults sexual abuse prevention except for the Advocacy Center.
“We can try to teach kids all we want to tell us when something happens, but really it’s our job as parents and as adults to prevent it from happening,” she added.
There is no current law requiring staff at schools throughout the Commonwealth to be trained in sexual abuse prevention, she noted. Massachusetts is the only state that doesn’t require sexual abuse prevention training for school staff.
However, there is legislation going through the state that would likely be implemented within the next five years, requiring school staff to be trained in sexual abuse prevention, she added.
“The thing about sexual abuse is it doesn’t usually just happen out of nowhere,” Falcone said. “Ninety-three percent of the time it’s someone known to the child and there’s a grooming process and because of that grooming process, if we know what we’re looking for and we have some information on how we can intervene, we can set boundaries and prevent the child from any actual sexual abuse happening.”
She added that one in four women and one in six men report having been sexually abused as children. One in 10 of all young adults report being sexually abused before the age of 18.
Falcone said she’s interning with the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families this year. Through her work with both groups she has seen a large number of sexual abuse cases locally. Prior to her volunteer work with the Advocacy Center she was a stay-at-home mom.
“Many of the local stories we hear in the news could have been prevented if adults knew what they were looking for and if schools and other youth serving organizations were working to create a culture through policies and training to protect kids from sexual abuse,” she added.
In Longmeadow, the School Committee is working to have mandatory sexual abuse prevention sessions for staff, she noted. Darkness to Light, a sexual abuse prevention organization with online courses, is being offered free to staff. Seventy staff members have chosen to take courses.
Falcone said some advice to help parents prevent sexual abuse includes self-education by learning information through online courses on Darkness to Light or at in-person prevention training sessions.
“For example, many folks are surprised [to learn] that up to 40 percent of sexual abuse is perpetrated by other children,” she added.
She offered other sexual abuse prevention guidance for parents, including being vigilant of grooming behavior and to limit one-on-one interaction between adults and children.
Falcone said most organizations advocate for a “rule of three,” people or more with a child in order to prevent sexual abuse. There is an 80 percent chance that a child could be sexually abused if left alone with an adult.
“I think it’s important as parents, especially, that we teach our kids body safety and safe touch and not safe touch, but really we need to be creating a community, a culture, where we just don’t accept it [and] it doesn’t happen,” she added.
She also said if there is an instance of sexual abuse or a suspicion of abuse call for help.
“The Department of Children and Families will take all reports of suspected child sexual abuse and either investigate or refer the case to the District Attorney’s Office,” Falcone added. “The Baystate Family Advocacy Center and Stop It Now! are great resources if you see something troubling that doesn't rise to the level of suspicion of knowledge of abuse.”
Falcone said sometimes the hardest part of her job is getting people to attend prevention sessions because it’s a difficult topic to talk about.
Currently she has no upcoming public sessions.
For more information about the Baystate Advocacy Center visit www.baystatehealth.org/Baystate/fac.