Darkness to Light facilitator and education coordinator at the Kids' HOPE Center, Sarah Bright, received an international award from Darkness to Light for recruiting organizations to attain the Partner in Prevention status. Oregon is first place in the nation for training the most organizations in Partners in Prevention.

COOS BAY — Coos County leads the state in the number of residents trained to recognize child sex abuse.

The Kids’ HOPE Center, a child abuse intervention center, announced in a press release that it has surpassed its goal to train five percent of Coos County residents in the Darkness to Light program. The goal was to train five percent of residents within three years, but accomplished it within two years.

“The Kids’ HOPE Center provides an important and necessary service in Coos County, as it has some of the highest rates of child abuse in the state of Oregon,” the release said.

Program Director Ashley Matsui told The World that the Darkness to Light training is important to the center because of the number of abuse and neglect cases they see every year. When the center got the grant to offer the Darkness to Light training, it was organized so it is free for participants.

“The only thing we ask of people is to give up their time,” Matsui said. “We feel fortunate that our county, out of all of Oregon, has taken this training seriously.”

The center’s education coordinator, Sarah Bright, is one of the facilitators for the free training and explained that when it started the focus was on teachers and social workers.

“But I had it in my mind the day we started that we needed to train parents,” she said. “It’s hard because you’re asking parents to leave their family since we don’t have daycare, but we do provide food. It hasn’t been easy to bring parents in, but I feel it is so important for every adult to have the training. It helps them identify when a child needs help and if a parent gets the training they might see signs in their child or be more vigilant for who is with their child.”

Bright pointed out how difficult it can be for parents to spot a predator, who often gains the family’s trust, appears to be nice to their kid and gives little gifts.

“Not everyone knows what it looks like, but with this training they will figure it out,” Bright said.

Not only that, but the Darkness to Light training helps remove the Hollywood stereotypes of child predators being "a big, scary guy driving a van,” Matsui said.

“That’s not how it happens,” Matsui said. “A small percentage of cases are that, but over 90 percent of cases are with perpetrators who are known to the child. It is someone the family knows and trusts and has built a relationship with, allowing the perpetrator to gain access to the child. This training talks about the grooming process and how easy it would be to overlook that person gaining family trust and getting close to your child.”

Sexual abuse cases are mostly what the center processes, with more and more of those cases being reported every year.

“But I don’t necessarily think more people are being sexually abused, since people have always been sexually abusing kids, but now people know the signs in order to report it,” Matsui said.

The Kids’ HOPE Center has 350 child abuse cases so far in 2019. Matsui said that 60 percent of those are sex abuse cases, while the rest are neglect. Most of these cases are for children 12 years old and under.

Not only will the Darkness to Light training teach participants how to identify abuse, but it will teach how to respond when a child discloses abuse.

“Those initial reactions are important,” Matsui explained. “Kids will test the waters when disclosing to an adult and if they feel believed they are more likely to fully disclose, but if the child is not met with support and understanding then they often don’t fully disclose or won’t recount later if they don’t have adult support around them.”

In 2018. Bright attended the Darkness to Light conference in Memphis, Tenn., where she received the Partner in Prevention award. When she received this award, the center had 25 partners or organizations committed to putting its staff through the Darkness to Light training. Now, the center has 45 partners. Bright said that Coos County has 45 of the 58 Partners in Prevention registered in Oregon.

“It shows how this community is coming together and realizing how important it is not to just train part of your staff, but all of your staff,” Bright said.

Matsui pointed out that the center has reached beyond the realm of social services, which include teachers and law enforcement, to training organizations that often have nothing to do with children at all.

“Like bakeries, banks, organizations where their primary goal isn’t social services,” Matsui said. “It’s encouraging for us that there is so much community support. We get calls from across the state on how we have so much buy-in from the community.”

People who have done the training are asked to repeat it every two years, while committed partners are asked to put new employees through the training.

One of the important tasks of the Darkness to Light training also includes breaking the stigma surrounding child sex abuse. For Bright, she has seen how participants in the training start out uncomfortable when discussing the topic but become more comfortable by the end.

Matsui added that it is often nerve-wracking for people walking into the training simply because some expect to be asked to talk about personal experiences, which doesn’t happen.

One of the other benefits to the training is that there are five or six different facilitators.

“They are from all walks of life and genders, which helps make people more comfortable,” Bright said. “There is the stereotype to not talk about this, but when you do the training you realize you have to talk about this.”

The training is every third Saturday of the month from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and every fourth Tuesday from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. To attend, call the center at 541-269-4196.

“It’s proud for us at the center to not only have 3,000 people who have done the training, but so many organizations who have committed to training their staff because they believe in this mission,” Matsui said.

The organizations who are Partners in Prevention are First Student Bus Company, Boys & Girls Club, Here We Grow Daycare, Wally’s House, Millicoma Middle School, Waterfall Community Health Center, Coos County 4H, Coos Drop Youth Era, Hauser Community Church, Sunset Middle School, North Bend High School, North Bend Middle School, North Bay Elementary School, Hillcrest Elementary School, Smart Reading, Restoration Education Center, Seabird Chapel, Bay Clinic Pediatrics, Powers Police Department, Powers High School, Powers Elementary School, Reedsport Highland Elementary, Reedsport Community Charter School, Coquille Tribe Head Start, Reedsport Library, Umpqua Discovery Council, Reedsport City Council, Reedsport City Hall, Myrtle Point District Office, Myrtle Crest Elementary, Myrtle Point High School, North Bend Streets, North Bend Admin and Finance, North Bend Parks and Recreation, North Bend Public Works, North Bend Wastewater, North Bend Library, North Bend Pool, North Bend Fire Department, Myrtle Point Bus Drivers, Mid-Columbia Bus Company, South Coast Hospice, Kids’ HOPE Center, Riley Creek Elementary School and Oregon Pacific Bank.

Reporter Jillian Ward can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 235, or by email at jillian.ward@theworldlink.com. Follow her on Twitter: @JE_Wardwriter.