FULTON, NY – According to the NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services, there are 32,246 registered sex offenders, of various risk levels, in the state as of April 25. That number includes 3,505 that are incarcerated.
The Child Advocacy Center of Oswego County is a non-profit, charitable organization that works with a team of professionals to provide services to child abuse victims and their families.
The team is comprised of the following agencies:
Prosecution, law enforcement, child protective services, medical providers, mental health professionals, school officials and probation – legal professionals.
Prior to 2001, these groups worked toward a common goal, but separate from each other.
The CAC now provides a single location for everyone to operate within. And, the rewards are positive, according to Karrie Damm, CAC director.
Over the past several years the threat of children being abused by a stranger has disturbingly taken a back seat to children being abused by someone they know and trust, she said.
As part of the CAC’s 10th anniversary and April being National Child Abuse Prevention Month, the CAC hosted a luncheon-workshop recently to focus on what Damm calls a “growing epidemic.”
“When a child comes in, they are made to feel safe,” she said. “We can interview and examine them in a child-friendly atmosphere.”
Prior to the CAC, abused children were taken to “at least a minimum of five different places,” Damm said. “And they were often ‘scary’ place (to the children) They had to go to the police station where the kids could see perps coming in and out, people in handcuffs and there were people walking around carrying guns that were right at eye level for the younger kids. They also had to go to hospitals, other counselors’ offices, the District Attorney’s offices.”
Also, the children had to tell their stories at each different location, which added to their trauma, she noted.
In 1985, a move was under way nationally to consolidate services in child-friendly locations. In 1998, a program got up and running in Oswego County.
“The team approach started and it caught fire in Oswego County,” she explained. “It took us three years to make it a non-profit – so that is where the anniversary comes from.”
The case of Erin Maxwell became a lightning rod, drawing huge attention to the issue of child abuse locally.
“I think that the one thing that Erin Maxwell did do for us was shine a light – this stuff does happen to families. I think with the sensationalization with some of the reporting of that, it took a complete left turn into dirty houses, because of the condition of her home. It took a huge detour into people being worried about housing conditions and people being dirty and kids going to school smelling badly,” Damm said.
It is an indication that something might be going on at home, health issues, substance abuse issues and others; it doesn’t necessarily mean it is abuse, she said.
Abuse is by individuals who are psychopaths, sociopaths, have sexual compulsions whatever that makes them commit crimes against children.
“It’s not just physical abuse. We even help with children who have lost their parents, due to disease or murder,” she added.
One is a situational sex offender the other is a predatory sex offender; they are the most dangerous.
Former Fulton Police Chief Mark Spawn stopped by the center to congratulate them on the milestone.
“This has always been one of those projects that worked from the get go. Nobody could argue against it,” he said. “It serves a special population. Things were kind of disjointed before and now this brings everyone together. The CAC filled a void.”
They are seeing close to 120 families for counseling right now.
And, they are in the process of opening a satellite office in Pulaski. That will cut down the travel time for those in the northern part of the county.
That was a topic in the early days, Spawn noted.
“We discussed where would be the best location to site the CAC. It ended up at Lee Memorial to start with,” he said.
“A lot of great things are happening now for the CAC,” said Assistant District Attorney Gregory Oakes. “The office in the Pulaski area will be a big help up there. They’re going to continue to grow and get better.”
“A child molester is every parent’s worst nightmare,” said Acting Commissioner, NY Division of Criminal Justice Services, Sean Byrne. “Unfortunately, people who abuse children are extraordinarily manipulative and resourceful. Parents may have no idea that the friend, relative, coach, clergyman or other trusted acquaintance who is lavishing attention and seemingly innocent attention on their child is a sexual predator – until it’s too late.”
“The idea of ‘stranger danger’ is out-dated and only occurs in 1% of cases in Oswego County. Our workshop addresses the epidemic of child abuse perpetrated by people who are well known to the child,” said Damm.
The video, Child Sexual Predators: The Familiar Stranger, was shown at the workshop. It is being used as an educational tool for law enforcement agencies and others all across the state, Byrne said.
It is being distributed to libraries across the state as well, he added.
The workshop, held at the CAC’s new location, 301 Beech St., also featured Director of the NYS Office of Victim Services, Tina Stanford as guest speaker.
The CAC works together with law enforcement investigators, child protective services, medical providers, therapeutic professionals, victim support professionals and the district attorney’s office to offer a safe, child-friendly site that is necessary for a well-coordinated, effective approach to child abuse investigation and prosecution, and service provision to families and individuals affected by child abuse, Damm said.
For more information, contact her at 315-592-4453 or www.oswegocac.org
To research the status of any offender, contact the DCJS at 1-800-262-3257. Or, visit www.criminaljustice.state.ny.us