Protecting children from sexual abuse not a top priority in Arkansas, survivor said
Late last year, a 6 year-old Bentonville girl, Jersey Bridgeman, was found dead in Bentonville, after being suffocated and raped. Earlier this year, another case happened in Arkansas where a former youth baseball coach in Texarkana area pleaded guilty to sexually abusing young children. Sexual abuse is more widespread than is thought. Unfortunately, a sexual abuse survivor said that Arkansas has done very little to raise awareness about this matter.
Phyllis Harrington, the founder of Break The Silence-Speak Out America, a non-profit organization working to prevent and stop sexual abuse in children, said, “It’s really bad. There’s one out of three girls and one out of six boys that are sexually abused every two minutes before the age of 18.” She added that studies showed from a total of about 470,000 students enrolled in Arkansas schools, about 77,000 girls and 40,000 boys in Arkansas have been or will be sexually abused by the age of 18.
According to Harrington, although Governor Mike Beebe earlier this year declared the month of April as Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month, the state has not done enough to prevent sexual abuse. She said she has contacted the governor, legislators, school superintendents, communities and mayors of several cities in Arkansas. The organization that has been working for a year, recently received a building from a private donor. Harrington said she needs college students and people in the community to help the organization clean and renovate the building.
The 3,500 square-foot facility will be used for a thrift store to fund the programs, classrooms, counseling rooms and possibly rooms to house victims. Harrington said support groups and counseling are essentials for sexual abuse victims.
“When people are abused in any shape or fashion, it’s really hard. It really traumatizes people and it’s hard to get ahead in life,” Harrington said. “I’m a survivor of sexual abuse myself as a child.” She went through counseling sessions to open up about her experience. “God has been working with me for years to be able to go out and help others. But, I had to seek healing first, before I’m able to help someone else,” she said.
Break The Silence-Speak Out America is trying to prevent and stop sexual abuse of children through education and awareness. Harrington said her goal is for Arkansas schools to implement sexual abuse prevention in their curriculum. She said it is very important for anyone to know that they can talk to someone about it. “It’s OK to tell if someone is harming you and if someone is touching you in inappropriate way. Tell someone, your mother, father, teacher or a pastor. Tell someone so we can get you some help,” Harrington said. She said males can find it hard to open up about their experience if they were abused in the past. Bullying, she said, is the primary factor of any kind of abuse, including sexual abuse. She appreciates schools that raise awareness on bullying to children and teenagers.
She also hopes that with the new building she can provide sexual abuse prevention training as well as healing to the survivors that may still be in trauma and finding it hard to move on in life. In effort to spread awareness to communities in Arkansas, Harrington has been traveling to different cities with other sexual abuse survivors. “A lot of children can’t speak for themselves, so I want to be that voice for them and to help protect them,” she said.
Break The Silence-Speak Out America is asking the public on Oct. 25 through 26 to help clean and renovate the building that was donated to the organization. The building is located at 6810 Arch St. Pike, Little Rock, AR 72206. Harrington also asks anyone to drive by and donate “Loose Change” to their organization.
In the state, there are some other organizations such as PATH or Partners Against Trafficking Humans which works to help victims of sex trafficking and ACASA or Arkansas Coalition Against Sexual Assault which works to eliminate sexual violence.