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Bringing light to dark subject

April 18, 2012
April is always a busy month for Lisa McSpadden. It's a time when she, and thousands of others across the country, work to raise awareness of a violent, hurtful and dark side of our society: child sexual abuse.

Blue pinwheels have been placed at Crawford County schools and the Crawford County Judicial Complex in English to bring awareness to child abuse.
McSpadden, a victim advocate who works for Hoosier Hills PACT in Crawford County, sees the damage to the county's children and families caused by sexual abuse almost daily. She observes how those perpetrators who are caught are often able to make their way through the court system with inadequate punishment and return to violate again.

So, that is one of the reasons McSpadden puts so much stock in April every year — April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month — and she believes that an ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure.

"I like prevention," McSpadden said. "That's our best option. But we still have to work hard to help those who have already suffered from abuse. As a victim advocate for PACT, I work with both kids and adults and all crime victims. But my focus is mainly on domestic violence and sexual assault.

"For instance, we help women and families develop a safety plan and set goals. They may not know what help is available, and we explore a lot of options. We look at their problem, tell them what can happen and what can be done. For women who have been abused, it takes, on average, being abused seven times before they leave," she continued. "Many have given up hope and won't make a change. They are scared, no money, no place to go, and many of them have grown up with it. Their children are exposed to it, and then they become grown-ups and the abuse continues another generation. But women will often stay in an abusive relationship until the fear of staying is greater than the fear of leaving."

So, April gives victim advocates like McSpadden hope for awareness and prevention of abuse. When someone spots blue pinwheels spinning in the wind around Crawford County this month, it is the work of McSpadden. She hopes the pinwheels will make people pause, if only for a few seconds, and think about the pain and suffering children and families are experiencing at the hands of others.

Last week, McSpadden, assisted by several kids from English Elementary School, placed pinwheels at all county schools and on the courthouse lawn. Several churches throughout the county are also participants, displaying pinwheels in their yards and individuals are encouraged to pick up pinwheels at McSpadden's office at the Patoka Family Health Care Center in English and display them near their mailboxes. She also has window decals available for display.

According to a press release from Prevent Child Abuse Indiana, the pinwheels, which now serve as the national symbol for child abuse prevention, convey the message that every child deserves the chance to be raised in a healthy, safe and nurturing environment. Blue ribbons, which are being worn by CASA volunteers, Head Start personnel and others in the county throughout April, are still used to represent children who have been harmed.

McSpadden added that a date to add to calendars is April 25 — Denim Day — which asks businesses, organizations and individuals to wear denim in support of sexual assault survivors and to raise awareness about sexual assault misconceptions.

Denim Day caught on after a teenage girl in Italy was raped by her driving instructor in 1998. The man was convicted, but his case went to the Supreme Court of Appeals in Rome. The court overturned the conviction, arguing that because the girl wore very tight jeans, she must have had to help remove them, thereby giving consent to have sex. The ruling sparked widespread protest. The day after the decision, women in the Italian legislature protested by wearing jeans and holding placards that read "Jeans: An Alibi for Rape". The case made international headlines, and the young woman's jeans became a symbol of awareness that what someone wears is never an excuse for rape. As of 2011, at least 20 states officially recognize Denim Day.

"Wearing denim is a low-key way to talk about it — awareness," McSpadden said. "PACT did it last year, and we hope it will be bigger and better this year.

McSpadden and others will have a roadblock at Marengo on May 26 to collect funds for use in the fight against child abuse and sexual assault. They will also visit county elementary schools during April, passing out coloring sheets and teaching students to make pinwheels.

"And every student will get information to take home to their parents," she added.

McSpadden added that she is looking for volunteers to help with the Crawford County Prevent Child Abuse organization, which meets on the second Wednesday of the month at 11:30 a.m. at Marcy's Kitchen in English.

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