DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - Making the world safer for children is the ultimate goal of a decades old conference in downtown Dallas this week.
The Dallas Children's Advocacy Center's Crimes Against Children Conference started 30 years ago, supporters say, with "one table, two speakers, four boxes of doughnuts" and a few dozen attendees.
Now, some 5,000 people will gather from every state in the nation and some 40 countries to share best practices for recognizing and stopping child abuse.
"It's an epidemic," says Lynn Davis, President & CEO of DCAC. "Over a million reports of abuse every year, between 25,000 to 30,000 in Dallas County."
So the obvious question-- why?
"We trust too much," says Davis, adding that "95 percent of children are victimized by someone they know. So it's someone within the family, or someone with the home or it's a neighbor, a coach, a teacher, a clergyman. It's not a stranger. And so parents have to keep their eyes out. When we were growing up, they were always talking about 'stranger danger'. Well, that's not who's molesting our children. It's someone the children know and trust."
Davis says it's critical that parents push past the awkwardness and teach their children that it's okay to set boundaries and speak up if someone makes them uncomfortable. Those awkward conversations are also an opportunity to reassure them that they will be believed. It's important, he says, for parents to trust their own instincts, as well.
"A lot of times parents will tell you, 'well, my gut was telling me that I shouldn't take my child there. My gut was telling me that I shouldn't let my child hang out with that adult or with that older child' what we're telling parents these days: trust your gut. Trust your gut."
The center is a resource for parents, yes, but also for those in the community like clergy and teachers, legally required to report suspicions of abuse.
"They feel they need to collect evidence. They need to be 100 percent sure." None of that is necessary, says Ray Lara, an Education Specialist with DCAC. "Simply report it and let those professionals take over." Lara teaches the teachers, if you will, not only how to look for and spot signs of abuse, but what to do with those suspicions.
It is an ongoing battle, experts say, to try and stay a step ahead of those that would harm children.
"We have guys at this conference who do nothing all day every day but watch gaming sites to make sure that predators aren't contacting children through gaming sites. It's something that we wouldn't have thought about 15 years ago or 30 years ago, but it's something that we have to think about every single day."
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