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February 12, 2014

Bringing children from darkness to light

COMMERCE — One out of every 10 children in the United States are sexually assaulted before  they reach the age of 18, according to researchers from Darkness to Light.

In 2012 alone, there were more than 200 reported instances of child abuse in Commerce.

County Court-at-Law No. 1 Judge Andrew Bench said he wants that to end.

Bench spoke before the Retired Teachers Club inside the Alumni Center at Texas A&M University-Commerce about his partnership with Darkness to Light, a program designed to equip citizens with tools to spot and prevent child abuse.

Bench said a lot of the abuse is toward children less than 10-years-old.

“One of the things I noticed was aggravated sexual assault was from juveniles to another juvenile,” he said. “I have cases where the defendant who is alleged to have had sexual assault, most are against age less than 10.”

According to research, more than 50 percent of sex offenders will repeat the crime after release.

Bench said without conclusive evidence showing that rehabilitation works, and the average sex offender abuses 17 individuals in his or her lifetime, he does not want offenders back on the streets.

“Knowing what I know, I am reluctant to take the rehabilitation approach,” he said. “I’ve seen as many as 400 victims from one offender.”

Victims of sexual offences are more likely to engage in deviant behavior such as violent crimes, theft, alcohol and drug abuse, and becoming a sex offender themselves.

It is for that reason Bench said he encourages people to sign up for training through the Darkness to Light program.

“They have peer review studies showing that for every person trained, 10 children are saved from abuse,” he said, adding that after he went through the program, he is now able to spot suspicious behavior. “The program increases awareness.”

Bench said the program has seen great success in Hunt County.

When he presented the program to Greenville Mayor Steve Reid originally to train people in the parks and recreation department, Bench said Reid wanted more people trained, so Bench worked with the mayor to train 95 percent of the city of Greenville’s employees.

Since Bench is on the board of the Greenville YMCA, any person who works at the YMCA is now trained through the Darkness to Light program.

Another important group of people who are trained are Hunt County teachers.

“The superintendents all jumped on board and said ‘yes, we’ll all do it’,” he said. “We’re going to train every teacher in Hunt County on the program. Imagine the children who can be saved.”

Bench said he does all this on top of being a judge because he feels it is his duty to protect children.

“It is our duty as adults to raise our awareness to protect the children of our county,” he said. “If we can prevent one child from being victimized, it is worth every penny.”

For more information on how to get involved, visit www.d2l.com.

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