By MLynn Hartwell
Many of us have fond memories of our childhood. We grew up feeling secure,
safe, and loved unconditionally by our parents and caregivers.
Unfortunately, this is not a reality for hundreds of children in our
region. A recent survey of the first 100 children who had been victims of
childhood sexual abuse, seen by the new Traverse Bay Childrens Advocacy
Center, had an average age of just under nine-years-old.
Currently there are over 48,000 known sex offenders in the State of
Michigan. Of these, about 13,000 are incarcerated. Around 4,500 of the
registered sex offenders are out of compliance; as required by law. Some
of these people may be living in our region. Michigan ranks number two in
registered sex offenders per capita.
Three years ago the Michigan State Police received a grant to establish
the new position of Community Service Trooper. In our region, Trooper
Rich Hall works out of the Kalkaska post. His responsibilities include
developing community-based services and training. We are already seeing
results from his efforts, as we share ideas, and develop new solutions to
the challenge of child sexual abuse, neglect and bullying in NW Michigan.
On April 16, the Traverse Bay Childrens Advocacy Center, in celebration
of National Child Abuse Prevention Month, hosted Building a Brighter
Future for Children, launching a Zero Tolerance for Child Abuse
collaboration and commitment among agencies and organizations, including
our Traverse City Area Public School District, law enforcement, social
services, our family courts, the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa & Chippewa
Indians, the GT County prosecutors office, as well as leaders from the
No longer will it be up to us individually, or up to any single agency to
ensure the safety of our children, stated Brooke Nettz, executive
director of the Traverse Bay Childrens Advocacy Center.
The TBCAC team believes that it is only through the collective
consciousness of the entire community that will protect children from
abuse, bullying, and neglect.
If you are not going to teach your child about sex, somebody else is. And
guess what thats going to look like! Nettz says. Its not going to be
pretty. If you are not going to talk to your child about their body;
somebody else will. It may be a relative, a friend, somebody you trust
from your church. We must do a better job of teaching children about their
bodies, and boundaries earlier in life.
For instance, if a four-year-old discloses that grandpa touched me,
this child probably wont know that grandpas touching was wrong. This
child may not even be mad at grandpa, so how do we as the Advocacy Center
meet this childs need? We are now able to teach them about body safety
and personal boundaries. We help them to be strong and resilient, because
everything about their life is about to change.
Some of the ways we help children include reaching out to their familys
Maybe they are in a great church group, and we are able to reach out and
say, you know what, this family needs a little extra support right now,
Nettz says. Maybe this family will need help from the Womens Resource
Center, because the family was living with Grandpa, and now they dont
have a home. Maybe they need food, and we will pick up the phone and call
the Father Fred organization and say, we really need some extra
nutritional assistance for this family. We look at each individual
family‘s situation and develop a network in order to support this family.
On April 25, the Traverse City Area Public School Board passed an
Anti-Bullying Policy that will protect all students and staff with no
exceptions, to the cheers of several hundred concerned parents and
community members. The TCAPS policy includes a more responsive and
accountable family-based response to bullying in our schools. Teachers,
counselors, and staff are receiving training on how to recognize the
different types of offenders along with their motivations, as well as how
to recognize the indications of childhood bullying, abuse and neglect in
victims. TCAPS is also addressing how to thwart online predators who are
increasingly savvy at grooming and luring children in the cyber-world.
Michigan law requires that all physicians, dentists, dental hygienists,
examiners, nurses, EMTs, audiologists, psychologists, marriage and family
therapists, counselors, social workers, school administrators, teachers,
law enforcement officers, clergy and child care providers must report
suspected child abuse or neglect.
Once a report is filed, the child, along with their family, becomes
eligible for a wide range of services that will improve the familys
ability to care for their child.
It is up to all of us to help a child or vulnerable adult. Please make the
call. Your call is confidential.
Who to Contact if you think that a child is being abused (information is
Grand Traverse and Leelanau Counties 231.941.3900 (after hours:
Benzie County 231.882.1330 (after hours: 800.937.5903)
Kalkaska County 231.258.1200 (after hours call 800.937.5903)
Antrim County 231.533.8664 (after hours call 800.937.5903)
Michigan Sex Offender Registry http://www.mipsor.state.mi.us/
Traverse Bay Childrens Advocacy Center http://www.traversebaycac.org
Traverse City Area Public Schools http://www.tcaps.net
World Forum Early Care and Education http://www.worldforumfoundation.org
Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians
MLynn Hartwell has worked as an early childhood development specialist,
a Traverse City Human Rights commissioner, as a professional educator, a
para-legal, and researcher. She is an advocate for social justice, civil
rights, and the environment. She has two adult children and owns the
local communication and marketing firm Utopian Empire Creativeworks,
serving regional and Fortune 500 Corporations.