It takes an entire community to raise a child and keep them safe. With April being Child Abuse Awareness Month, the team at McLane Children's Medical Center is stressing the importance of a united and educated front to combat this growing issue.
As a survivor of child abuse, Couren Williams believes it important to speak about the uncomfortable topic.
"When I was coming up it was more of whatever happens in the house stays in the house," said Williams. "There are a lot of young black boys getting raped, molested, transported, stolen, and abused in so many different ways. I was one of those boys."
After processing his own trauma, Williams has made it his mission to educate and empower the community when it comes to recognizing and reporting child abuse.
Williams said, "Now in 2022, we’re raising a generation who is going to speak out even if it’s happening in the household. "
McLane Children's Medical Center is taking a stand against child abuse too. Throughout the years the number of patients admitted to the hospital with suspected child abuse has been on the upward trend. Last year, the child abuse protection team treated 788 children.
"Crime in general since March of 2020 has increased in the situation we were in with the pandemic, child abuse is no different. Now we’re in a position where people are doing exactly what we need them to do which is seeing something and saying something," said Stephanie Newell, the 1st assistant district attorney Bell County.
Newell sees hundreds of these cases come across her desk every day. She said having a strong relationship with law enforcement and hospital staff is essential to building a case that benefits the victim.
Newell said, "Having their first contact that strengthens the prosecution when we have strong advocates that are actually responding to these incidents of abuse."
Sarah Wheat, the Trauma Program Manager at McLane Children's Medical Center said, "It’s really important for us to step up and talk for these kids that most times are taught not to speak for themselves."
Wheat explains being aware of the signs of child abuse is key. Those red flags can manifest in many ways like withdrawing from social activities, bed-wetting, anxiety and headaches, vomiting, and chronic pain when it comes to physical abuse.
"The goal of making the children safe that is our primary mission to keep these kids safe. While 788 is a lot, one is too many. So, the mission doesn’t change regardless of the number," said Wheat.
Like the hospital, Williams is using his voice to highlight hip-hop culture in a positive light and empower children in the process.
"I wanted to be empowered I didn’t want to just be a sad story," he said.
To the kids who are walking in the path Williams once did he says, "Don’t be afraid. There’s somebody that cares, there’s somebody there is going to step in and fight for you. We love you. Won’t let nobody tell you you cannot speak up."