• A West Virginia woman was sentenced to 10 years for child abuse and felony sexual abuse of her then 3-year-old daughter.
• A former respiratory therapist pleaded guilty for countless acts of molestation on young, brain-damaged patients at a hospital in San Diego where he was employed for 25 years. Under a plea agreement, he will serve 45 years and eight months in prison.
• A hospital employee was charged with molesting a comatose toddler. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 14 years and eight months in jail.
These stories and others from the Associated Press made headlines around the world in just the past month.
But neglect and child abuse also happen in our backyard.
• On March 15, the body of Christopher Michael Barrios was found inside a garbage bag just three miles from his home in Brunswick. George Edenfield, a convicted child molester, and his parents, David and Peggy, are charged with murder in the death of Barrios. The state is seeking the death penalty for all three.Before the child was killed, authorities say, Edenfield and his 58-year-old father forced the boy to have sex with them while Edenfield’s 57-year-old mother watched.
• In Liberty County, another story of sexual abuse has torn a family apart. They are now struggling with the devastating reality. Family members have agreed to talk about the incident, but their names and certain aspects of the case have been omitted to protect their identity and not jeopardize the pending case.
One local family's story
By Patty Leon
Coastal Courier (Hinesville, GA) Staff Writer
“Words can’t explain how I feel. The innocence of this child was taken away by someone she loved and trusted, someone she was very close to,” a relative said.
Another relative is accused of sexually molesting the young child.
According to the family, the child reported being touched inappropriately and was made to do “bad things.”
The Liberty County Sheriff’s Department was called and the child was taken to Liberty Regional Medical Center where a technician from Savannah collected evidence from on the child and her clothing.
“This person violated this child’s trust and needs to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” the relative said.
In a statement released by the child’s mother, she said she was angry and afraid the suspected offender was able to post bond and be released from jail.
She and the family vow to see this case all the way to its culmination, and decided to speak about the incident to educate the community about such tragedies.
They said the accused offender is possibly a threat to other children.
“This person is too close and I don’t feel comfortable with that and I personally feel that anyone who has done this to a child should not be allowed to bond out and be placed back in the community,” the relative said.
As an added measure of protection the family has filed for a temporary protective order that does not allow this person within 100 yards of the family and the child.
The family never doubted the child’s allegation and indicated that since the incident the child’s behavior has changed dramatically.
“There are two other siblings and the child uses them and us as punching bags now,” the relative said. “The child just lashes out.”
The family described how the child kicks and scream at night, wakes up from nightmares, or has sleepless nights.
“The other day when the child was talking to me and began to tell me, in graphic detail, what happened, I had to stop her. If I couldn’t cope with the situation, and I am in my 40s, how can a young child cope?
“Maybe I was wrong in stopping the child from expressing what happened, but I couldn’t take it.”
Terri Liles is a licensed master social worker and coordinator of Helen’s Haven, a children’s advocacy center in Hinesville. She said sexual abuse perpetrated by someone a child knows and trusts is not uncommon.
“Unfortunately up to 80 percent of child sexual abuse cases are committed by someone the child knows well or is at least acquainted with,” Liles said.
“If the perpetrator is someone within the immediate family or friends, the more traumatic the abuse is likely to be to the child.”
Liles said a critical factor involved believing the child’s story in the first place and reporting it. In addition, she explained the importance of supporting and protecting the child so she can begin to heal and overcome the experience.
“One of the first things we want to address with the children is the trauma, and help them re-establish some sense of safety in their lives,” she explained.
Teaching children assertiveness skills and how to protect their bodies are techniques used by Helen’s Haven to reduce the chance of a child being victimized again.
Liles said parents and caregivers need to teach their children, at an early age, about the touches that a child should consider safe and the ones that may be harmful. She also identified the need for families to inform their children that is OK to tell on a friend or relative that may have touched them inappropriately.
“Most parents tell their children don’t talk or go near strangers but since a good percentage of sexual offenders are people the children know, they must be told that it is okay to tell on anyone, including other children as the number of juvenile sex offenders are on the rise,” Liles said.
She believes protecting children should be a community response, not just families’.
When counseling and working with the families during healing, Liles looks for ways for children to express themselves.
“For children, talk therapy may not be the way for they can express themselves,” she said. “Children do better through play therapy, through painting and drawing, story creation and therapeutic games.”
When faced with abuse, Liles stresses the importance of families finding support when they need it and making sure families know that help is available.
“We can’t force anyone to come to therapy, people have different ways of coping with events, but if they decide they want help all they need to do is call and we will be there.”
Signs of abuse
√ A change of behavior
√ Trouble sleeping
√ Sleep interruption
√ Wanting to sleep with a caregiver/parent
√ Short tempered
√ Depression (depression in children may look different than it in adults)
√ Hyper-vigilant or easily startled
√ Not feeling safe
√ Increased fear
√ Issues with self-esteem
√ Difficulty with inter-personal relationships
√ Eating disorders
√ Possible re-victimization
√ Possibly becoming abusers themselves
Where to find help
Helen’s Haven Children’s Advocacy Center serving six counties Liberty, Bryan, Evans, Long, McIntosh and Tattnall (912) 369-2326
Tri-County Protection Agency 368-9200
Adult/Child Protective Services 370-2555
Court Appointed Special Advocates 876-3816
Prevent Child Abuse Liberty 876-5961
Rape Crisis Center 1-888-241-7273