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Learning the signs of abuse: Troup County churches offered free training

LaGRANGE — Child sexual abuse can happen at almost any time, in almost any location, such as a home, school, playground or even church. Now Darkness to Light, a child sexual abuse awareness program put on by the Twin Cedars Youth and Family Services, is hoping to get more people in the faith community involved with these sessions. Mckenzie Jackson, coordinator of Darkness to Light, said the Georgia Center for Child Advocacy received a grant for churches within the state of Georgia to be trained for free. Jackson said if every paid staff member within the church will commit to attend the sit-down version of the Darkness to Light session, then up to 500 members of their congregation can receive the same training online, free of charge. The training sessions would cost $10 per paid staff member, which would have been the same cost for the entire congregation. Jackson said the Georgia Center for Child Advocacy wanted to offer the incentives to churches to eliminate cost and time constraint issues. As good as the deal sounds, Jackson said so far, no church in the state of Georgia has signed up for the opportunity. “It’s difficult to talk about child sexual abuse. It breaks our heart and it’s hard to hear,” she said. “But it is the children who are losing out. They’re not being given the tools to understand boundaries or other people’s boundaries. Because of our fear or our discomfort, we sacrifice our children to someone who preys on them. “We need to protect our children more and that means educating ourselves more, becoming wiser, not being fearful of the issue,” Jackson continued. According to Jackson, 90 percent of children who are sexually abused said they knew their abuser, which means child sexual predators can also easily blend in to any crowd. Abusers are “funny and charismatic … they’re very helpful,” Jackson explained. “Churches have an open door policy. We want you there … our desire is for you to be there. There’s not background checks at the front door when you’re coming in to worship … unfortunately, with that there’s an easy opportunity for predators to be apart of our congregation. “We have to, as a church body, stand firm on a ‘rock’ and make the right decisions to protect our children,” she added. “At the end of the day, that is the most important thing. We don’t want to wait until it (child sexual abuse) happens to our children. We want to be proactive.” Jackson said the Darkness to Light program helps churches reflect on current policies, or even create new procedures in those who deal with children in their congregation. She also said being proactive in the classes may also decrease their insurance policies. “This training really opens the door for churches and gives them the opportunities to protect their children,” explained Jackson. “This way, they can require their workers for vacational Bible study or Sunday school to have this training before they start working in those church programs. “We are looking forward to our first church in Georgia to take this opportunity being offered and get trained in the Darkness to Light program,” Jackson continued. “I’m challenging churches in Troup County to be the first ones on the map.” The Darkness to Light training offered to Georgia Churches will continue through December. Anyone interested in learning more about the program can call coordinator Mckenzie Jackson at 706-594-0290.