Conversations on sexual abuse can often bring an uncomfortable silence.
It’s something that Sandy Springs resident Kim Cunninghis is used to. Since 2006, she has been talking about sexual abuse prevention as a facilitator for Darkness to Light, the children's protection agency.
“I would get push back from people saying, 'I have boys,’ or ‘My kids are older. I would know by now,’ “ said Cunninghis, a mother of two. “I flat out had people say, ‘It’s not in our neighborhood; not in our community.’ “
Since news broke on the Penn State and Syracuse University scandals, people are a little more willing to talk openly about sexual abuse and prevention, Cunninghis said.
Calls have increased and more men have expressed interest in Darkness to Light workshops. The sessions raise awareness for parents and people who work with children. “Then you can start having a dialogue with your kids. Or your child is going to a sleepover and you want to be aware of who is going to be in the house,” Cunninghis said.
She added, “It teaches you kind of what to look for in a perpetrator. The grooming process; how long it takes. It’s not just the child that gets groomed, it’s the entire family. And in [Jerry] Sandusky’s case [at Penn State] that was an entire state.”
These can be scary concepts for a parent, said Daren Roberts, a children’s instructor at Alliance Martial Arts, in Sandy Springs, who took the Darkness to Light workshop.
Unlike, say, bullying, sexual abuse is not something people talk openly about, he said. “It’s very scary for a parent to try to conceptualize that there are [harmful] relationships in your child’s day to day life that you are not aware of,” he said. “And you have to protect other kids too.”
The training helps adults talk about their own experiences. Cunninghis said, “People have come forward and given good feedback [following the workshops]. They’ve said, “Yes it was somebody my family knew…”
One in 4 girls, and 1 in 6 boys are abused by their 18th birthday, according to Charleston-based Darkness to Light.
A case of sexual abuse
Darwin Hobbs, who is training to become a Darkness to Light facilitator said he was sexually abused by his stepfather from 10 to 12-years-old.
“For many years I kept it secret and I did not tell a soul until I was about to marry my wife Tracy, in 1993,” said Hobbs, 43, a worship pastor at Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church, in Norcross.
Hobbs said he told his mother just before his 40th birthday, after his stepfather died. He now talks about it openly, as part of his healing process. "There is tons of shame behind that kind of thing happening. You’re flooded with guilt, all kinds of depression…It’s like I literally died. Like all sense of normalcy for me was no longer possible,” Hobbs said.
The harm is even deeper if an adult witnesses the abuse and doesn’t stop it. “Because you go though life with a sense of fear and not feeling protected,” he said. Referring to the Penn State scandal, he said, “I can only imagine if someone said, ‘What the hell are you doing,’ and you are rescued.”
Moms becoming proactive
Daren Roberts has noticed Sandy Springs moms becoming more proactive with their children’s surroundings. “The more awareness that’s out there, the more it gets talked about,” the martial arts instructor said. “I know a lot of moms who are regularly checking the sex offender websites when someone moves into the neighborhood. The more transparency, honesty and accountability [the better]. You cant go wrong in terms of the child’s safety.”