MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — A new public service announcement airing on West Virginia television aims to educate adults about the warning signs of child abuse and to give them the courage to report what it. The 30-second "One with Courage" spots also tell people about the state's 20 children's advocacy centers, which serve children in a combined 32 counties.
The ad will air on West Virginia Media stations for eight weeks. One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before their 18th birthdays, it says, but only one in 10 will report it. The idea behind the campaign is to highlight the bravery required of children to disclose their abuse, then give adults the courage to find their own voices, said Emily Chittenden-Laird, executive director of the West Virginia Children's Advocacy Network.
Advocacy centers treat victims of both physical and sexual abuse, as well as children who witness violent crime or are mistreated in other ways. They listen to their stories and work to hold perpetrators accountable while getting those children started on a path toward healing.
"We are calling on all adults in our community to have courage by educating themselves, talking openly about this important issue and responding appropriately when they suspect abuse," she said.
Most children are assaulted by people they know, often by family or friends of their families.
"It's almost never a stranger," Chittenden-Laird said.
The campaign also helps educate adults about some warning signs, including unexplained injuries, changes in eating and sleeping habits, lack of personal hygiene and inappropriate sexual behaviors.
National figures show children are dying from abuse and neglect at a higher rate in West Virginia than any other state. It's a problem that judges, social workers and others say is fueled by rampant substance abuse and likely to grow unless lawmakers get serious about finding and paying for solutions.
Children's advocates say the state needs a safety net of suitable foster care, adoptive families, in-home services and community-based prevention and treatment programs for addicted parents and their children. Without them, they say, abuse victims are all too likely to repeat what they have learned.
Nationally, child abuse and neglect reports have fallen for five straight years, a new report by the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System shows, with the number of abuse-related deaths hitting a five-year low in 2011.
But West Virginia, where 16 children died last year, had the highest death rate at 4.16 children per 100,000, slightly ahead of Louisiana and Oklahoma.
Also partnering in the outreach effort are the Division of Justice and Community Services, the Sisters of St. Joseph Health and Wellness Foundation, the National Children's Alliance, Verizon Wireless and Image Outdoor Advertising.