By Migael Scherer
Special to the Islands’ Sounder
“How many kids have I failed?”
This unlikely question haunts Kim Bryan, prevention coordinator of San Juan County’s Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services. At a recent training for certification to work with children victimized by sex traffickers, she listened to Alex, a 26-year-old who had been sold nightly, by her parents, as a prostitute for 11 years starting at the age of nine. “Her story was horrific,” Bryan says. “But what stuck me the most was when she described the adults in her life who did nothing to help her throughout those terrible years. No one — not the school nurse, not her teachers, coaches, church youth group leaders, neighbors or even the drug store clerk she bought condoms from as a little girl. Not one adult asked Alex if she was okay, or if she was being hurt, or if there was anything she wanted to talk about.”
Stories like Alex’s are rare in rural communities, Bryan admits, but the reluctance of adults to get involved in cases of abuse is universal.
“Child abuse happens in all communities yet good people have a difficult time believing that children are abused in their world,” Bryan says. “But as a community of caring adults, we must take action to protect our children.”
While it’s relatively easy to agree that children must be kept safe, many adults feel ignorant and unprepared regarding this issue. To inform and mobilize communities in the San Juan Islands, DVSAS is hosting a series of on-going forums, “Protecting Our Children.”
The next meeting will be Monday, March 26 at the Lopez Library, Thursday, March 29 at the Friday Harbor Library and Tuesday, April 3 at the Orcas Library. The meeting will begin with a 10-minute talk on recognizing signs of possible child abuse and the importance of bystander response. During the remaining 45 minutes participants will begin to identify what actions they want to take individually and as a community.
All adults are welcome.
Scherer is a DVSAS volunteer