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Exchange Club honors child abuse victims with Field of Flags

Jul 28, 2017 12:14PM ● Published by Natalie Conforto

Gallery: Flags [1 Image] Click any image to expand.

“Child abuse doesn’t go away if we don’t talk about it,” said Gwen Knight, president elect of the West Jordan Exchange Club. “We don’t talk about it in age-appropriate ways. I’d like to see us prevent it before it occurs.” 

Each June, the local chapter strives to ignite conversations among families about child abuse by planting their annual Field of Flags at the Veteran’s Memorial Park, which stays in place for two weeks. Each flag represents a child who died in the United States this year from abuse and neglect. The club planted more than 1,000 flags. 

In fact, an estimated 1,670 child abuse fatalities occurred in 2015 (the most recent year for which there are statistics). This number is on the rise, as the rate is 5 percent higher than it was in 2011. The Exchange Club hopes that when people see the Field of Flags, they will think about how fragile children can be, and evaluate their own behavior to prevent child abuse. Most victims who die (74 percent) are younger than 3 years old.

“Fatal child abuse may involve a single, impulsive accident such as suffocating or shaking a baby, or it could involve repeated abuse over a period of time such as extended malnourishment,” Knight said. The nonprofit organization Prevent Child Abuse Utah reported that there are 10,000 incidences of child abuse per year in Utah, and that statistically, 80 percent of abused children never tell anyone.

Because the organization’s goals closely align with those of the Exchange Club, a representative from PCA Utah was on hand to pass out information regarding prevention as the flags were planted this June. About 80 other community members joined in the flag-planting effort to raise awareness. 

Volunteers were comprised of members of the Kearns High football team, the Taylorsville Junior ROTC, Latinos in Action, West Jordan Fire Department and other individuals who learned about the opportunity either through the Just Serve.org website or through members of the Exchange Club.

Utah’s sexual abuse rate of 29 percent is three times higher than the national average of 9 percent. Utah Representative Angela Romero was so alarmed by these numbers that she wrote House Bill 286. Passed in 2014 and implemented last school year, the bill mandates that all school districts provide sexual abuse prevention awareness to educators and a parenting course to parents of elementary students.

 “My belief is that one of the reasons our sexual abuse is so high is a lack of education,” Knight said. “It’s so important that citizens learn how to recognize, resist and report abuse. Then it’s important that they teach their children safety strategies as well, so they can protect themselves, support their friends if they are abused, and then learn how to behave as parents.” 

This year, Jordan School District is complying with the bill by requiring all faculty and staff, including substitute teachers, to complete a one-hour online course entitled “Child Abuse Prevention Training.” The free course helps adults recognize abuse, learn how to report it and hone their skills to support children who are victims of abuse. One point repeatedly stressed in the course is to always believe the child.

A separate online program is also available for parents. The module outlines how parents can listen to their child, monitor computers to keep their child safe from online predators and recognize the signs of someone grooming their child for sexual abuse.

Both courses are available for free at www.pcautah.org, in English and Spanish. Representatives from Prevent Child Abuse Utah are ready and willing to teach and educate groups. To comply with House Bill 286, some Jordan District elementary schools have invited PCA Utah to conduct parent nights at the school. 

The West Jordan Exchange Club always welcomes new members. Throughout the U.S., the national project for all Exchange Clubs is prevention of child abuse. The club also celebrates core values of Americanism and recognition of youth with scholarships. 

The group meets for breakfast and planning the second, third and fourth Thursday of every month at 7:30 a.m. at the Jordan Valley Hospital on the third floor in the community room. All who would like to learn more are welcome to attend.  

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