HARWICH — Many cases of child sexual abuse go unreported. But when a child or teen does summon the courage to disclose the abuse, they're as likely to turn to a peer as they are to talk to a trusted adult.
For that reason, Monomoy Regional High School is partnering with Children's Cove to create a new teen task force to address the problem.
“Child sexual abuse affects one in four girls and one in six boys before they're 18 years old,” Children's Cove Community Education and Outreach Coordinator Jacob Stapledon said. “Children who have experienced abuse, or are experiencing abuse, often disclose to a peer, often to someone their own age,” he said. The problem happens when the friend fails to tell a trusted adult, leaving the victim without help.
Developed with the Dennis-Yarmouth school district in 2016 and now at Monomoy High, the task force educates students about the need to help friends who have suffered abuse by talking to a guidance counselor, a school resource officer, or Children's Cove.
“We're not asking these students to be counselors to their peers,” Stapledon said. Task force members are there to help their peers get the assistance they need.
Established 20 years ago, Children's Cove uses an interdisciplinary approach to helping sexual abuse victims, providing medical attention and counseling in a safe, home-like space. While the county-operated center also allows officials to preserve evidence that might be needed to prosecute the case, its primary mission is to advocate for the victims of child sexual abuse.
Monomoy Schools' Director of Student Services Melissa McGuire, who is helping to organize the task force, said teens will meet with Children's Cove staff, police, social services experts and others to gain a detailed awareness of the problem.
“We believe this will benefit everyone in the Teen Task Force, as well as their peers in the Monomoy Community,” McGuire wrote in a news release. “They will learn about larger issues affecting our community and ways they can get help for their peers. It is an absolute benefit to our school.”
The task force, which is being formed now and will hold its first meeting next month, isn't just about helping victims of abuse. Student members will also educate their peers about healthy relationships, warning signs and the dangers of activities like “sexting.” Stapledon said a survey of students at D-Y showed that many teens have shared explicit photos of themselves this way, and many feel it's a normal part of a relationship.
“Obviously we don't want kids to be sending underage nude photos of themselves,” he said. The educational message for students is that sexting is essentially the manufacture of child pornography.
“If it's distributed, they can get in trouble, or people receiving it can get in trouble,” he said.
Membership in the task force is open to any interested student in the sophomore class. Working with 10th graders is a conscious decision, Stapledon said.
“We want there to be longevity with these ambassadors,” he said. For their three remaining years in the school district, task force volunteers will be available to educate peers or help friends in need, along with their family members. While the task force will hold monthly meetings at the school, it will also hold one session at Children's Cove in Barnstable. The visit will be informative, but will also help prepare student volunteers who might encounter a friend who's afraid to call.
“They can tell them, hey, I've been there,” Stapledon said.