Advocates shed light on child abuse prevention - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Advocates shed light on child abuse prevention

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JACKSON, MS (Mississippi News Now) -

For people like Tasha Smith, it's too often a hidden problem that needs to be brought to light -- the prevalence of child abuse in Mississippi.

"I just think it's very difficult at times to digest some of the things that happen to our children," Smith said.

Smith is the child abuse prevention director with the Department of Human Services. She says one of the biggest problems with child abuse, whether physical or sexual, is non-reporting.

"Sometimes kids might not even fully understand, especially the younger they are, the magnitude of what's happening. They might feel a little uncomfortable, but they might not know that it's actually a crime taking place," Smith said.

Coinciding with child abuse prevention month, MDHS is launching a statewide push to bring attention to the importance of child abuse prevention.

"Children are being harmed at alarming rates," Smith said.

In the state's last fiscal year from Oct. 1, 2011 through Sept. 30, 2012, close to 7,500 cases of child abuse and neglect were reported to DHS.

When it comes to sexual abuse, national numbers show it happens to one out of three girls and one out of six boys and that's just what's reported. Mississippi lawmakers are working to change those numbers.

A piece of legislation now waiting on the governor's signature is designed to create preemptive strikes against sexual abuse. Known as "Erin's Law," it'll put age appropriate educational programs in public schools from kindergarten through the fifth grade.

"I think it's just good to keep children informed. I think children have to have that discussion," Smith said.

With many cases of child abuse happening at the hands of a victim's family member or known adult, Smith says it makes it harder for a victim to be identified. Through prevention efforts however, the hope is to make it easier.

The MDHS picnic for prevention will be held this Saturday at Leflour's Bluff State Park from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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