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City and Y join to fight sexual abuse

Program training seeks to educate

Parents, youth sports coaches, and teachers were among the 20 residents who attended the fifth session of Shine the Light Melrose, a program cosponsored by the city and the Melrose Family YMCA to help prevent child sexual abuse.

The 2 1/2-hour training session held Wednesday night focused on the tools people need to spot - and stop - child sexual abuse - using materials developed by Darkness To Light (d2l.org), a national child abuse prevention program. So far, about 500 Melrose residents have attended the free training sessions, which began in 2010.

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“This training is not easy, but I hope you will find, as I did, that it’s worthwhile,’’ said Melrose Mayor Robert J. Dolan, who spoke briefly at the start of Wednesday’s session. “Anywhere there is a large gathering of children, there is always a risk for something to happen.’’

Three years ago, the city was rocked by a child sexual abuse scandal at the Melrose Family YMCA. James Conner, a Y employee and girls’ basketball coach, pleaded guilty to 20 charges of sexual abuse of minors, including five counts of child rape and four counts of indecent assault. He is now serving up to 30 years in state prison.

As a result of the scandal, the president and vice president of the Melrose YMCA resigned in 2009.

The Melrose Family YMCA has since merged with the Greater Lynn YMCA to form a new entity, YMCA of Metro North. All staff at the Melrose facility have been received training in sexual abuse prevention.

“It’s a priority for us,’’ said Diana Brennan, the Melrose Y director. “We all have a stake in protecting children.’’

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Shine the Light Melrose was formed by the city and the Y to educate the public about prevention.

The Darkness To Light curriculum aims to help Y’s, sports leagues, and other youth organizations develop policies to protect children.

Instruction includes video interviews with child sexual abuse survivors, including Marilyn Van Derbur, who was Miss America in 1958.

Group discussions focus on identifying sexual abuse, developing a response plan, and legal reporting requirements.

“Making sure you report it is huge,’’ said Heather Josephson, a volunteer who helped run Wednesday’s training. “You must report it.’’

Participants receive certificates stating they’ve completed the course. Some residents found the training enlightening.

“It’s the kind of thing everyone should know,’’ said Sheri Leo, 32, a mother of a 16-month-old, who moved to Melrose in August. “We should all have a vested interest in protecting kids.’’

Cate Arkins, the girls’ lacrosse coach at Melrose High School, was surprised by US statistics showing that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused. “That was eye-opening,’’ said Arkins, 53, who also is involved with a youth lacrosse league. “I think every coach should take this.’’

Brennan said the Y is considering offering training sessions for parent-teacher organizations, youth sports coaches, and leaders of other groups. The goal is to have 5 percent of Melrose’s population, or about 1,300 residents, take the course.

“The more people who are aware of sexual abuse, the safer the community will be for the children of Melrose,’’ she said.

Kathy McCabe can be reached at kmccabe@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKMcCabe.

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