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Child abuse prevention rally planned on Friday

| Wednesday, April 23, 2003

UNIONTOWN - Fayette County Children and Youth Services and the Crime Victim Center will hold a child abuse prevention rally on Friday to see if people are really man enough to help with prevention.

This is the second year the two organizations are co-sponsoring the rally with funds through the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR).

Men Against Sexual Violence (MASV) is a project of PCAR and is asking men to sign pledges agreeing to never commit, condone or remain silent about sexual violence.

Friday's rally - at 10 a.m. in front of the Fayette County Courthouse in Uniontown - is named "Are You Man Enough?" and is also designed to create and increase community awareness of child abuse and sexual violence.

Last year, according to Gina D'Auria, casework supervisor for Children and Youth Services and organizer of the rally, the group received 200 pledges. D'Auria hopes they do better this year.

Friday's rally, says Linda O'Keefe, legal advocate supervisor for the Crime Victim Center, will differ from the previous rally.

"People purchase their pledge cards for a dollar, which is split between the two organizations and goes toward their children programs. With the dollar handed over and the pledge signed, the pledged individuals will be placed into a raffle for a gas grill and will also be treated to a barbecue and a bake sale after the rally," she says.

The pledges are part of a statewide effort where organizations that receive funding are required to hold such events to educate the public and create community involvement. April is Child Abuse Prevention Month.

O'Keefe says they've been conducting speaking engagements to several different places and have received many donations and many signatures for the pledge cards, which "are plastered all over the Crime Victim Center's walls."

Not only do the organizations have the public's support, but that of speakers attending the rally.

Fayette County commissioners Vincent Vicites, Sean Cavanagh, Ronald Nehls; District Attorney Nancy Vernon; child abuse prosecutor Jack Heneks; and Uniontown Mayor James Sileo will speak. Crime Victim Center board member the Rev. Leonard Tucker will offer prayer.

"In today's society, nobody deserves to be abused," says Sileo, who wants people to open their minds and hearts in combating the problem of child abuse.

Sileo says the hardest thing about abuse is first admitting its existence, then the problems it inflicts on society and dealing with them by prosecuting those who commit such crimes to the fullest extent of the law.

Uniontown Post Office Postmaster Pat Ferrel will present stuffed teddy bears, which were collected at the post office, for the organizations to distribute.

"The children who go through Children and Youth Services need something cuddly," says D'Auria.

According to MASV, the overwhelming number of perpetrators of sexual violence are men.

"So the main thing," says O'Keefe, "is to get men to the rally and pledge."

D'Auria says it's nice to see the men coming out and showing support since most social service workers are women.

The men must become an integral part of the solution of sexual violence, notes MASV.

"This is something we'll continue to do," D'Auria says.

O'Keefe wants people to know that the problem is out there, and the social workers see it every day.

In 2002, Children and Youth Services received 337 general protective service referrals and 331 referrals for abuse reports, which included 107 sexual abuse incidents, 191 physical abuse incidents, eight incidents of neglect, 19 evident risks of sexual abuse and six evident risks of physical abuse.

This year, Children and Youth Services received 100 general protective service referrals and 88 referrals for abuse reports, which includes 18 sexual abuse incidents, 40 physical abuse incidents and seven incidents of neglect.

"If you're part of the community, you are also part of the solution," says O'Keefe.

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