Wynona’s House Announces Upcoming Prevention Program and Shares Insight from Internationally Recognized Child Abuse Expert Michael Johnson, Specialist in Abuse Investigation, Detection, and Prevention Efforts

Wynona’s House Announces Upcoming Prevention Program and Shares Insight from Internationally Recognized Child Abuse Expert Michael Johnson, Specialist in Abuse Investigation, Detection, and Prevention Efforts
Detective Mike”and Former Prosecutor Robert Peters Share Tips for the Community to Help Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect

NEWARK – December 13, 2022 – The Wynona’s House Child Advocacy Center (CAC) is eager to share insight from Internationally Recognized Child Abuse Expert Michael Johnson, who participated as a keynote speaker at the CAC’s 2022 Training and Workshops on Child Maltreatment, titled “Child Safety in the Dawn of the Metaverse – Are We Ready for This New Frontier?” At the event, Detective Mike provided an interactive presentation suitable for a broad child protection audience, which serves as a visual interpretation of the roadblocks inherent within a child abuse investigation. “Little Suzy” follows the journey a victim takes, from the earliest stages of an outcry through the reporting, investigation, interview, therapy, medical exam, criminal and civil prosecution, defense representation and court hearing(s), and the effects the professionals, semi-professionals, and laypersons have on the outcome.

Detective Mike shared his advice for parents, teachers, and others in the community to help prevent child abuse and neglect, “Parents need to have the most difficult conversations you can possibly have.” Many parents wonder how early is too early to have these conversations with their children, but ultimately they can be adjusted based on the age of the child. There are cultures that consider these topics taboo (talking about sex, and with that, the prevention of sexual abuse) so it’s necessary to adjust cultural appropriateness of these conversations. Wynona’s House seeks to address this with community-centered strategies that are necessary to reach families from different cultures. Wynona’s House will be launching a community-based prevention program to address this challenge to encourage families to partake in these important conversations. The new model will improve outcomes for children and families in Essex County by better utilizing protective factors, identifying and reducing risks to children, and increasing education. 

According to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), there was a 97% increase in online enticement reports in 2020 compared to the year prior. NCMEC’s CyberTipline® (1-800-THE-LOST), a hotline used to report suspected child sexual exploitation, received over 29 million reports in 2021, up from 21.7 million reports in 2020, an 8-million report increase. “Overwhelmingly, those who exploit children are known to the child. A very new trend we’re seeing is online enticement being perpetrated by someone the child doesn’t know,” stated Robert J. Peters. Peters is Senior Attorney at Zero Abuse Project, a nonprofit committed to the elimination of child sexual abuse. He is also the founder and chair of SHIELD Task Force, a nonprofit that partners with CACs and local stakeholders to encourage reporting of sexual abuse and online safety. Peters continued, “Talk to your child about good digital citizenship; even if there are appropriate safeguards around your child’s devices that might not be the case at friends’ homes. Kids are being exposed to things at a much younger age than previous generations: teach both boys and girls not to share explicit photos and not to solicit them. The most important safeguard is an open, honest, and loving relationship with your child.” NCMEC is an excellent resource for parents; learn more about the statistics at www.missingkids.org/ourwork/impact#reduceexploitation.

Safety measures in virtual worlds are the responsibility of the user, and often the user is a child whose parent(s) may be unaware of their online activity. Parents may be unaware of settings that increase online safety on online games, applications, etc. For instance, Meta Horizon Worlds, a free virtual reality online video game, offers users the option to click a button to activate a safety circle around their avatar. “These criminals are always one step ahead; these predators are always one step ahead. With knowledge, awareness, and collaboration, we can get one step ahead of criminals and predators who are always devising new ways to reach children,” shared Minela Kajmak, Development and Communication Associate, Wynona’s House. “One of the reasons we chose the topic for this year’s event is people need to talk about it, this is the only way something is going to be done about it.”  

“Our goal is to share with our community, particularly parents, that virtual and online spaces are now the space of choice for predators to groom and exploit children.” stated Dominic Prophete, CEO, Wynona’s House, Essex County’s Child Advocacy Center. “We are prepared to support our families and our community as they navigate protecting their children while they use these spaces.”

Details about the 2022 Training and Workshops on Child Maltreatment event are available at www.wynonashouse.org/events/2022-trainings-and-workshops-on-child-maltreatment. For more information, contact Minela Kajmak at mkajmak@wynonashouse.org or 973-735-2237.

About Wynona’s House Child Advocacy Center

Wynona’s House is an incorporated 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization named in honor of its legislative champion, the late Senator Wynona Lipman, who helped develop the Center to promote justice, hope, and healing for child victims of abuse and neglect throughout Essex County by coordinating investigation, prosecution, treatment, prevention, and supportive services utilizing the “child-centered” multidisciplinary team approach. Located in Newark, Wynona’s House brings together all of the first responders to child abuse, serving 22 municipalities of Essex County with over 860,000 residents, and provides direct services to more than 950 abused/neglected children each year. For more information about Wynona’s House visit wynonashouse.org.

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