Parents, youth sports coaches, and teachers were among the 20 residents who attended the fifth session of Shine the Light Melrose, a child sex abuse prevention program cosponsored by the city and the Melrose Family YMCA.
The two-and-a-half hour training session held Wednesday night focused on the tools people need to spot -- and stop -- child sex abuse - using materials developed by Darkness To Light, a national child abuse prevention program. So far, over 500 Melrose residents have attended the free training sessions.
"This training is not easy, but I hope you will find, as I did, that it's worthwhile " said Melrose Mayor Robert J. Dolan, who spoke briefly at the start of the session. "Anywhere there is a large gathering of children, there is always a risk for something to happen."
Three years ago, the city was rocked by a child sex abuse scandal at the Melrose Family YMCA. James Conner, a Y employee and girls' basketball coach, pleaded guilty to 20 charges of sexual abuse of minors, including five counts of child rape and four counts of indecent assault. He is now serving up to 30 years in state prison.
The Melrose Family YMCA has since merged with the Greater Lynn YMCA, to form a new entity called YMCA of Metro North. All staff at the Melrose facility has been received training in sex abuse prevention.
"It's a priority for us," said Diana Brennan, the Melrose Y director. "We all have a stake in protecting children."
Shine the Light Melrose was formed by the city and the Y to educate the public about child sex abuse prevention. The Darkness To Light curriculum aims to help Ys, sports leagues, and other youth organizations develop child protection policies. Instruction includes video interviews with child sex abuse survivors, including Marilyn Van Derbur, an incest survivor who was Miss American 1958.
Group discussions focus on identifying sex abuse, developing a response plan, and legal reporting requirements.
"Making sure you report it is huge," said Heather Josephson, a volunteer who helped run Wednesday's training. "You must report it."
Participants receive certificates stating they've completed the course. Some residents found the training enlightening.
"It's the kind of thing everyone should know," said Sheri Leo, 32, a mother of a 16-month-old, who moved to Melrose in August. "We should all have a vested interest in protecting kids."
Cate Arkins, the girls' lacrosse coach at Melrose High School, was surprised by statistics showing one in four girls, and one in six boys, are sexually abused. "That was eye-opening" said Arkins, 53, who also involved with a youth lacrosse league. "I think every coach should take this."
Brennan said the Y is considering offering training sessions for parent-teacher organizations, youth sports coaches, and leaders of other groups. The goal is to have 5 percent of Melrose's population, or about 1,300 residents, take the course.
"The more people who are aware of sexual abuse, the safer the community will be for the children of Melrose," she said.