HARWICH — It’s a painful topic to discuss, but one that can’t be kept a secret.
The sexual abuse of children is a real problem on Cape Cod, and a group of students at Monomoy Regional High School is taking part in a unique partnership with Children’s Cove to raise awareness among their peers.
The 13 sophomores have been meeting as Monomoy’s Teen TASK (Taking A Stand for Kids) Force since December, working with Children’s Cove staff, the Dennis Police Department, Independence House and the Massachusetts State Police. The purpose of the group is to engage teens by empowering them to advocate for peers affected by abuse and to encourage them to step forward.
The TASK Force was divided into three teams, each developing its own child abuse awareness project. They designed their own promotional materials working with volunteers from Grouper Marketing, and each team had a separate week to implement their public awareness project in April, National Child Abuse Prevention Month.
“We recognized the fact that the best way for teens to hear the message about child sexual abuse would be from their peers,” Children’s Cove Director Stacy Gallagher said. “They taught us a lot about how they talk with their peers and the best way to present information in a meaningful way.”
One team used a strategy that put creative materials in common areas that peers engaged in, another had a table during their “Jawsome” hour where they played a fact game for prizes but also learned about abuse, while the third used a dazzling hologram that got a lot of attention.
Child sexual abuse affects one in four girls and one in six boys before the age of 18. Children who have experienced abuse often disclose to a peer, often to someone their own age, but sometimes the friend fails to tell a trusted adult, leaving the victim without help. The Teen 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. It does not encourage students to serve as peer counselors.
Melissa Maguire, Monomoy’s director of student services, said she’s proud of her students.
“It was so impressive to see the collaboration between our amazing MRHS students and Children’s Cove,” she said. “Our students were passionate about their projects which addressed teen dating violence and more.”
This was the first year for Monomoy’s Teen TASK Force, which was based on a pilot program at Dennis-Yarmouth High last year. Gallagher said she’s thrilled with the students’ involvement.
“It was incredible to see their success, creativity and passion not only for the idea of raising awareness, but supporting victims who have not come forward yet and encouraging them to get the support they need. They gave us a lot of insight and information to better engage their peers and spread awareness,” she said.
The programs in Monomoy and D-Y may serve as models for other school districts, Gallagher noted. Children’s Cove has shared their success with some other school districts on the Cape, and are hoping to launch another Teen TASK Force next school year.
Established 21 years ago, Children's Cove uses an interdisciplinary approach to help 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.
Learn more at www.ChildrensCove.org
Email Alan Pollock at alan @capecodchronicle.com