The man who may have snatched a 9-year-old girl from her home in Citrus County, Fla., lived only 150 yards away. Jessica Lunsford's father, Mark, had never met or heard of John Evander Couey until the convicted sex offender became the prime suspect in his daughter's sexual assault and murder.

The Lunsford case made national headlines because it's rare for children to fall victim to strangers. Security expert Gavin De Becker explained it this way in his ground-breaking 1999 book "Protecting the Gift": Strangers have a much more difficult time of winning children's trust than someone who is already part of a child's life. We train kids to beware bad guys lurking around the corner -- when it may be a family member or acquaintance who poses a danger.

Statistics from the Children's Advocacy Center of Lowndes County bears out De Becker's findings. Eight out of 10 abused children were targeted by one of their own parents, not strangers.

Fortunately, we have a resource like the CAC in place to help. Working as a neutral agency, the CAC serves as the umbrella over which all child abuse professionals can collaborate to increase prosecution of abusers while minimizing victims' trauma. The agency conducts forensic interviews to determine abuse for investigative purposes.

The CAC, which operates on grants, donations and the United Way, needs support to continue its valuable service. For information, call CAC executive director Laurie Bajalia at 245-5369.

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