Central New Yorkers fight to end child sexual abuse

May 2, 2014

Two survivors of child sexual abuse are urging central New Yorkers to take part in a program that aims to prevent abuse, by arming bystanders with information.

Dan Leonard’s story of child abuse goes back to when he was 11 years old and a football coach began abusing him. And Leonard says he wasn't the only victim.

“He abused hundreds of kids over the years. Anyone attached to that football program knew what was going on or should have suspected it.  Nobody, all those years, all those kids, nobody said anything,” Leonard said.

Leonard says youngsters can’t defend themselves against sexual predators, and need help from adults. Statistics show one in ten children in central New York will become a victim of sexual abuse before they turn 18. So he’s encouraging as many central New Yorkers as possible to take the training.

"I have one friend, this same coach befriended both families. Groomed both families.  That father, his father, never allowed Bobby to go out with this guy. So he knew something. Never said anything. Never called the police, never talked to my father. So this is a good example of silent bystanders,” he said.

It was a similar situation for Jennifer, a survivor who was abused by a family member starting when she was 12.

“I know that there were red flags that got missed along the way. So whether people knew and just turned a blind eye to it or if they just didn’t realize there were red flags there,” she said.

These survivors hope their stories send home the message that adults have a responsibility to report suspected child abuse.  They hope a program called Darkness into Light, offered through the McMahon Ryan Advocacy Center, the YMCA and other local agencies gives adults the tools to identify child abuse and report it.  The goal, says McMahon Ryan Executive Director Linda Cleary, is to offer a brief program to 18,000 central New Yorkers by the year 2020.

"If you can train five percent of your community, then enough people have been changed at that point that you start to see behavior change and then it really starts becoming a ripple effect for us,” said Cleary.

Leonard hopes this program can save children the pain he’s dealt with for most of his life.

“Children can’t protect themselves.  And you have to speak up.  and there are anonymous ways to report to the police where you don’t have to get involved.  But something’s got to be done.  You’ve gotta speak up.”