by Marleese Patterson and Tyler West
In the U.S., nearly 700,000 children are victims of abuse every year. In 2017, about 1,720 children died from abuse or neglect, according to the U.S. Administration for Children & Families. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center says that one in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before they turn 18, but only 12 percent of this abuse is ever reported. In an effort to fight this epidemic, there are organizations that work tirelessly to put an end to child abuse.
The Bivona Child Advocacy Center in Rochester works to make prevention, reporting and response to child abuse easier by bringing partner organizations together under one roof, so children can tell their stories just once and get the support services they need. Bivona’s 22 partners include area police departments, Monroe County Child Protective Services, legal professionals, medical professionals, therapists and other nonprofits dedicated to advocacy for children and families.
“The reason Bivona was started is that in the past, the system was doing more to harm child abuse victims than help them,” says Bivona’s Marketing and Communication Specialist, Sara Hickman-Himes. “Children would often be re-traumatized—sometimes multiple times—as they told and re-told their story in emergency rooms and police stations. At Bivona, we work hard to change that.”
Bivona saw 1,902 children in 2017.
Students at The College at Brockport are working to help victims of child abuse, too. The Delta Sigma chapter of the sorority Phi Sigma Sigma adopted Bivona as its local philanthropy in the fall semester of 2014, and members have been busy this month raising money for Bivona.
“Our morals align with helping children,” says Jules Steckman, a member of Phi Sigma Sigma who helped organize this year’s fundraiser.
For the fundraiser, sorority sisters made small blue awareness ribbons out of satin ribbon and safety pins, then sold them at a table in the Student Union.
“Our suggested donation is one dollar, but we just tell people to donate what they can,” says Steckman.
All proceeds from the ribbons go to Bivona. Phi Sigma Sigma raises nearly $500 annually for Bivona, according to their advisor, Brittany Profit-Rheinwald.
Profit-Rheinwald says the sorority sisters also help Bivona by making blankets, donating books, tabling to spread awareness, and holding donation drives. They recently put up 1,825 flags to spread awareness, and they have been involved in social media campaigns to promote Bivona’s cause.
The hashtag #BlueForBivona can be found on multiple photos across various social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, due to the work of the sisters of Phi Sigma Sigma.
“Every time we table in the student union, we are able to bring awareness to issues, such as child abuse, and unite our communities,” says the sorority’s philanthropy chairwoman Sara Purvis, a senior majoring in Public Health Education.
Purvis used to be a nursing major, but after taking on her role as philanthropy chair she changed her mind.
“Being philanthropy chair solidified my decision to change my major to public health,” said Purvis. “I love the work that nonprofits contribute to our society.”
The fundraiser this month is especially timely, as April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month.
“We absolutely love it when students come to help out at our office or at events because it gives us a chance to talk to the next generation about what we do, and how to recognize and prevent abuse,” says Hickman-Himes.
On their website, Bivona has several suggestions for special ways community members can get involved to spread awareness this month. Community members can also volunteer at Bivona, host their own fundraiser, or donate money or items to Bivona.
“Aside from physically volunteering at Bivona or donating, community members can get involved simply by educating themselves and loved ones,” says Hickman-Himes.
“The very best thing anyone can do to help Bivona is to speak up,” added Hickman-Himes. “Speak up if you suspect abuse, speak up and share statistics, speak up and make it clear that this is a topic we need to address head on because the numbers are startling and they need to change.”
Most importantly, anyone who suspects child abuse should call Bivona at 585-935-7800, send them a confidential email, or call the New York State Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-342-3720.