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'It takes a whole community to protect children' | Blount County advocacy center aims end child sexual abuse through training

So far, New Hope has trained 5% of the county's population on how to identify the warning signs. Their goal is to bring an end to child abuse.
Credit: WBIR

BLOUNT COUNTY, Tenn. — Research shows more than 70,000 child abuse cases were reported in Tennessee in 2018. 

Recently in Knoxville, a man was found guilty of raping a child. The 7-year-old told a teacher about the abuse which prosecutors said happened repeatedly over several years. 

RELATED: Knoxville man found guilty of raping a child

One East Tennessee county is heavily focusing on preventing sexual abuse by rallying the community to work together and training adults to know the warning signs.

"It takes a whole community to protect children," said Tabitha Damron, executive director for New Hope, a child advocacy center in Blount County.

Since 2011, New Hope has been training adults on how to recognize and respond to child abuse. Just this weekend they announced they reached a tipping point of training 5% of the county's population.

Reaching that level is something only five counties have done in Tennessee so far. 

Last year, New Hope's prevention coordinator, Becky Rials, and volunteers trained more than 800 people. They reached their goal this year by training more than 1,000. Their next goal is training 10% of the county's population. 

"Last year was the highest number of children we served to date," said Damron. 

In 2018, New Hope served 588 children. Not all were victims of sexual abuse, some experienced physical abuse and others were siblings of victims. 

Damron believes that high number could be a result of more adults knowing the warning signs of sexual abuse. 

"There were more adults out there that knew what to look for and how to respond," she said. 

Eventually, she'd like to see no children walking through New Hope's doors. 

"Research shows one in every ten children will report abuse before the age of 18, so it's a huge problem."

To combat the problem, New Hope partnered with national nonprofit Darkness to Light with a goal to train and educate the entire county through their program 'Stewards of Children.' 

More than 5,400 people have taken the two-hour course and are now on the front lines of fighting the widespread problem. 

"I think as adults it's our responsibility to minimize opportunities and know what to look for so we're asking the right questions of the child and giving them the opportunity to disclose if they need to," said Damron. "We would love to work ourselves out of a job."

The last training session of the year will be held on Dec. 3 at Maryville Baptist Church at 6 p.m. It's free and open to the public.