Child abuse happens here

BLUE EARTH – “As a society, we have the mindset bad things don’t happen close to home,” says Zac Huntley.

Many people believe child abuse doesn’t happen in rural areas. Huntley found out differently when he produced a video about child abuse awareness and added local statistics.

The video, which has no official name, was shown at a meeting of the Blue Earth Area School Board in conjunction with April being Child Abuse Prevention Month.

When Children First of Faribault County wanted to produce an abuse prevention video a few years ago, they turned to Huntley.

“I was asked to do this because they knew I was going to school for social work and had my own business for the past four, five years,” Huntley said.

He is finishing his last semester as he works toward a degree in social work at the University of Sioux Falls. He has another degree in business administration, and minors in marketing and graphic design.

His business is Zac’s Computer Sales, so he had the technical skills needed to make the video. And his mom is Ann Huntley, a facilitator with Children First and a social worker at Blue Earth Area Schools.

“Mom recommended I take a look at it,” he said.

Ann Huntley had already started work on the project.

“She had the song already picked out; that was the inspiration,” Huntley said.

The song, “Alyssa Lies” is from Jason Michael Carroll’s 2007 album “Waitin’ in the Country” and is told from the point of view of a father whose young daughter wants to know why her classmate is lying to everyone about her bruises.

Huntley found still photos of numerous random children, added child abuse statistics from Human Services of Faribault and Martin Counties, and edited it into a moving audio and visual experience.

Even though Huntley grew up in Faribault County – he’s a 2009 graduate of Blue Earth Area High School – the statistics took him by surprise.

“I was aware that child abuse was more common than most people know,” he said. “I was a little surprised by the Faribault and Martin County statistics.

“It’s always kind of an eye-opener to take a look back inside your own community,” he added. “After having been in college and studying social work, it’s interesting to look back and it’s saddening.”

The video was made in 2010 and has been updated with the most recent statistics each year since, the Huntleys said.

Copies are available from Ann Huntley, or it can be viewed on YouTube. Go to the YouTube website, search “Children First PSA 2013” to find the video.

In 2012, there were 221 reports of child abuse involving 287 children in Faribault and Martin counties. Of those cases, 59 percent were neglect, 30 percent were physical abuse and 14 percent were sexual abuse. Other types were less than 1 percent. The total is over 100 percent because many cases contain more than one type of abuse.

“We all think physical abuse is the worst,” she said, but she and her fellow social workers deal with the actual children behind the statistics. “We’d all agree the verbal and emotional abuse, that’s the most compelling and we don’t have a statistic on that.”

Emotional abuse is more difficult to trace, she said. Physical abuse tends to be documented quickly because it is visible and can be gauged by the severity of the injuries.

The Huntleys know it is difficult to report abuse but it can mean the world to a child.

“The perpetrators want it to stay hidden, so it’s difficult to see,” said Zac Huntley.

“If you see something that strikes a chord of concern, you might suspect abuse or neglect, it’s your job to report that,” he said. “We need it to be reported so that child doesn’t have to endure that abuse any longer than it has gone on.”

Those reporting abuse should call Human Services at (507)?238-4757 in Fairmont or (507) 526-3265 in Blue Earth. Callers can remain anonymous.

“No one is ever told who made the report,” Ann Huntley said.

The most important step is prevention, she added.

“The key to our kids is they have one caring adult to connect to,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be a parent; it can be a teacher, mentor, community agencies, 4-H, athletic adviser. If we’re making a plea to the community, that’s where anyone can make a difference. Reach out to young people and be that caring adult for them.”

The first step is educating yourself.

Ann Huntley said those interested in setting up presentations can contact her or Tami Armstrong, another social worker at Blue Earth Area, or Amy Becker at Human Services.

“It does take all of us to make sure kids are getting what they need,” Ann Huntley said. “Kids do better when they do feel connected, with a sense of belonging.”