Child safety forum a step forward

When I heard that Westwood Baptist Church in Alabaster had quickly pulled together a forum to talk about child safety and sexual abuse in the wake of former teacher Daniel Acker Jr.’s alleged shocking confession to molesting more than 20 girls during his teaching career, I was encouraged that Westwood officials were taking action.

After reading City Editor Neal Wagner’s account of the forum online, I’m even more gladdened to see that our citizens are openly communicating about child sexual abuse. It’s an uncomfortable subject for anyone to discuss — and a terrifying one for parents and those who guard our children — but it’s a necessary one.

Child sexual abuse is a disease infecting the world, and, unfortunately, Shelby County isn’t immune.

In 2011 alone, the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department received 72 reports of sex crimes against children. That number doesn’t include crimes reported in Shelby County cities with separate police departments.

Sadly, we will never know the true number of child sex abuse cases, because many child victims don’t report their attackers out of shame or fear.

Even more regrettably, sometimes when children do report their abuse, their claims are ignored or met with disbelief.

At the Westwood forum, Shelby County Sheriff’s deputy Russell Bedsole said, “We ignore our victims because they say it was a teacher, a counselor or even a police officer (who molested them). The people who victimize children are usually not strangers, and they can appear to be respectable citizens.”

As Bedsole reminded us, anyone can be a sexual predator, but predators typically are familiar to children and guardians. It’s so important to take children’s words and actions seriously.

Most of us likely know a victim of sexual abuse.

Many of us are victims of sexual abuse. The only way to prevent abuse is to be well-informed about warning signs and knowledgeable about how common child sexual abuse really is.

I applaud Westwood Baptist for leading our community in communication, and I hope other county organizations will follow suit. Working together, we can protect our children from suffering in silence.

Amy Jones is the associate editor for news for the Shelby County Reporter. She can be reached at 669-3131 ext. 30 or by email at amy.jones@shelbycountyreporter.com.