Hiram – According to statistics posted on the Portage County Children’s Advocacy Center’s website, one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused by the age of 18. For 90% of those children, a known and trusted adult often inflicts the abuse. Armed only with gutter spikes (to make planting pinwheels easier), and determination to share their important message, volunteers planted 700 pinwheels in Hiram on Monday to raise awareness and promote reporting of child abuse and neglect. The program, sponsored by the Portage County Children’s Advocacy Center, has been staging similar, colorful displays at a dozen locations around Portage County throughout the month of April as a part of Child Abuse Awareness month.
The pink and blue pinwheels began spinning in front of Robinson Memorial Hospital, the site of the Portage County Children’s Advocacy Center. As the month progressed, the pinwheels were moved to other locations, including the Portage County Courthouse, Streetsboro Town Square, Aurora Police Department, and schools in Rootstown, Kent & Ravenna. The Children’s Advocacy Group is charged with improving the community’s response to child abuse and neglect and to lessen the negative impact of abuse on children. This year, Bikers Against Child Abuse (BACA) joined the effort in front of the Hiram Village Police Department, having participated in similar events in Trumbull, Mahoning, and Ashtabula Counties.
BACA, an international non-profit organization, is on a mission to create a safer environment for abused children. All members refer to each other by “road names” like the group’s Chapter President and Vice President Jammer and Hollywood. According to local BACA member Mama Bear, either children’s service agencies or a child’s legal guardian makes the group aware of children who may need their assistance. The group then meets with the child, bringing them a BACA vest for protection and special teddy bear that is filled with hugs, according to Mama Bear. “We want to remove the stigma they feel — and let them know that they aren’t alone.” BACA members befriend the child during this trying time, and often sit in court with children, empowering them to face their perpetrators.
Mama Bear was made aware of BACA when her son was offered their assistance after being violated at the age of four. She shares, “When that happens to a child, they begin to feel like a freak of nature. But when BACA kids get together, they’re all the same – the stigma is removed. It’s very empowering.” She’s been a proud member of BACA for nine years. Her son, who is seventeen, plans to join as soon as he’s eighteen.
According to Judy Paydock, from the Child Advocacy Center at Robinson, exact numbers of affected children in Portage County are hard to calculate. “We serve many counties through our Center and the Children’s Advocacy Center at Akron Hospital. We receive many calls, but not all calls result in cases.” It’s important to remember, when a child asks for help, listen to them. Believe the child, and tell the child it is not his or her fault. Don’t question the child yourself – this may further traumatize them. If you’re aware of a child who may need help, contact the Children’s Advocacy Center’s 24 hr. hotline at (330) 296-CARE (2273). For more information on Bikers Against Child Abuse, email firstname.lastname@example.org.