MORRISVILLE, N.C. — In the past seven years, efforts spearheaded by The Redwoods Group have helped reduce the incidence of child sexual abuse involving YMCAs throughout the United States by 40 percent.
Still, says Kevin Trapani, president and CEO of the Morrisville-based insurance provider, which focuses on YMCAs, Jewish community centers and nonprofit resident camps, that level of reduction is “not enough.”
What’s more, he says, “we cannot go much further without the community being engaged.”
So the company and its foundation are trying to get communities involved.
In partnership with Darkness to Light, a national nonprofit based in Charleston, S.C., that works to empower people to prevent child sexual abuse, Redwoods earlier this year launched Shine the Light.
The initiative is working with 19 YMCAs throughout the United States to raise local awareness of child sexual abuse and train key community representatives to be “stewards” of children.
“Whether you are a policeman, teacher, priest, parent or mayor, it doesn’t make any difference, you are a steward of children,” Trapani says. “Your responsibility is to be aware of the signs of child sexual abuse, and to be able to react to it, and to find a way to stop the abuse from happening.”
For its role in Shine the Light, including a $100,000 grant that has generated $200,000 in federal funds and another $300,000 from participating YMCAs, Redwoods in November received the “Corporate Voice of Courage” award from Darkness to Light.
Anne Lee, president and founder of Darkness to Light, says Trapani “gets the power his executive leadership will have in not only keeping children safe from sexual abuse but also creating an actual shift in culture.”
Lee, an adult survivor of child sexual abuse she suffered from age four to seven at the hands of an extended family member, says 42 million survivors live in the United States, where one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before age 18.
Childhood sexual abuse takes a strong toll on its victims, who are more likely to face problems such as teen pregnancy, substance abuse, alcoholism, depression, suicide, and declining academic performance, Lee says.
Trapani says the vast majority of child sexual abuse is committed by children against children, often in locker rooms when they are in various stages of undress and adult counselors too often are not present.
Redwoods, which integrates social mission into its business model, donates about $700,000 a year to charity and requires its nearly 80 employees to volunteer 40 fully-compensated hours a year, has worked with its clients to change supervisory behavior, and has “virtually eliminated peer-to-peer abuse events in locker rooms and showers,” Trapani says.
Still, he says, roughly one-third of all incidents are perpetuated by adults, and their relationships with children typically are abetted by first “seducing” the parent to trust the adult predator and give him or her “autonomous access to the child,” and then “grooming the child to be receptive” to sexual advances.
Trapani, who grew up and worked at YMCAs, also is working to develop a national partnership with YMCA of the USA, and possibly with Urban Ministries, a media company that has served over 40,000 African-American churches.
“We have to train everybody,” he says, “to understand the warning signs of a predator grooming the child.”