More than 60,000 children were confirmed victims of abuse in Texas in 2012, according to Champion for Children organizers who hosted a statewide conference to raise awareness Friday at the Abilene Civic Center.
Lori Bunton, conference chair, said more than 400 people are participating in the two-day conference. This year is the first time the conference has reached full capacity.
Law enforcement, social workers, child care providers, medical professionals, teachers and others who have constant professional contact with children were invited to participate and learn about child abuse, child sex crimes and bullying.
As social media becomes more popular and technology continues to advance, Bunton said children are finding their voice; however, they may not be corresponding with the right people when an issue arises.
“Children aren't communicating with parents as much as they could – or should – and/or teachers because they're relying so much on texting and all of those kinds of things,” Bunton said. “So we've lost that verbal communication and so our whole goal here is to educate others and to empower children to speak.”
Lt. Joe Tauer of the Abilene Police Department Youth Division attended the conference.
“Smartphones, the iPads, and all of this technology makes so many horrific things readily available,” Tauer said. “I know that the crimes that we've investigated that children are – that they are getting involved in – a lot of it has to do with technology because they're accessing things and getting educated at earlier ages on things that prior to (recent times), they did not have readily available.”
He also had advice for parents.
“Parents need to be extremely involved in their child's life and know what they're getting into – as far as the computers and iPads and smartphones – because what they transmit and receive over these devices can affect their child – not just being victimized – but also educating where they can actually become the perpetrator,” Tauer said.
Bunton said it is not only children who need assistance. That is why the conference theme for 2014 is “the power to cope.”
“We're covering some self-care things to help people that are in the front line on how to take care of themselves because they are exposed to much of this trauma themselves,” Bunton said. “We want them to be safe and help them so they can continue to help the children.”