Sadly, as more people have spent more time in their homes, instances of domestic violence have increased locally and across the nation.

April is child abuse prevention month.

If one child in our community is abused, that is one too many.

The number of abuse cases reported here is, quite frankly, staggering. Every year, thousands of cases are reported and investigated.

Child abuse ranges from neglect of basic care, to substandard living conditions to emotional abuse, to sexual abuse. Both boys and girls suffer sexual abuse and more often than not it is from a family member or close family friend.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers these cautions to help parents and caregivers prevent and combat child sexual abuse:

— Take an active role in your children’s lives. Learn about their activities and people with whom they are involved. Stay alert for possible problems.

— Watch for “grooming” behaviors in adults who spend time with your child. Warning signs may include frequently finding ways to be alone with your child, ignoring your child’s need for privacy (e.g., in the bathroom) or giving gifts or money for no particular occasion.

— Ensure that organizations, groups and teams that your children are involved with minimize one-on-one time between children and adults. Ask how staff and volunteers are screened and supervised.

— Make sure your children know that they can talk to you about anything that bothers or confuses them.

— Teach children accurate names of private body parts and the difference between touches that are “OK” and “not OK.”

— Empower children to make decisions about their bodies by allowing them age-appropriate privacy and encouraging them to say “no” when they do not want to touch or be touched by others, even in non-sexual ways.

— Teach children to take care of their own bodies (e.g., bathing or using the bathroom) so they do not have to rely on adults or older children for help.

— Educate children about the difference between good secrets (such as birthday surprises) and bad secrets (those that make the child feel unsafe or uncomfortable).

— Monitor children’s use of technology, including cell phones, social networking sites and messaging. Review contact lists regularly and ask about any people you don’t recognize.

— Trust your instincts. If you feel uneasy about leaving your child with someone, don’t do it. If you are concerned about possible sexual abuse, ask questions.

— If your child tells you that he or she has been abused, stay calm, listen carefully and never blame the child. Thank your child for telling you. Report the abuse right away.

Locally, the Children’s Advocacy Center of Lowndes County provides services to children who have been in abusive environments. We wish their services were not necessary, as do they. Sadly, those services are needed in our community almost every day, and we are fortunate to have an agency such as CAC.

The Children’s Advocacy Center of Lowndes County, Inc. is a community resource center that was created to minimize the trauma of child victims of abuse by responding to their immediate and long-term needs in a child-friendly, safe environment. The CAC works hand in hand with law enforcement, child protective services, the courts, mental health professionals and the medical community as they investigate, treat and prosecute child abuse cases.

Children should be protected at all costs, and suspicious behavior should always be reported to authorities. Yes, falsely accusing someone is bad, but allowing a child to go even one more day in an abusive situation is far worse.

It cannot be said often enough: If you see something, say something.

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