Florida YMCA takes aim at preventing peer-to-peer sex abuse

MANATEE — In early November, former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky gave child sex abuse an indelible face when myriad accusations rolled in against him.

But the president and chief executive officer of the YMCAs in Manatee County warned Friday that the rising form of child sex abuse is not adult on child, but rather child on child.

“I know that the Penn State situation is getting a lot of traction, but peer-to-peer abuse is rising,” Sean Allison said.

“This is not something that we were looking at five or six years ago,” Allison added.

Children can and are crossing boundaries with each other in ways that adult leaders could never have imagined, Allison said.

“Child sex abuse has teamed with bullying,” Allison added.

It is now no longer enough that the roughly 250 staff and volunteers in Manatee County make sure that no adults are ever left alone with one of the 8,000 children in the county’s program. Now, no two children can be left alone, Allison said.

“We don’t allow children to use the rest room together unattended,” said Dan Yonko, senior executive director for Manatee County’s YMCAs. “We always have supervisors with them.”

No matter the form, Manatee YMCAs are taking action against child sex abuse.

“It’s very dark, very evil,” Allison said. “It’s a devastating thing that is happening. And, when we find it, we have to act decisively.”

Recently in Manatee’s Parrish Y branch, a staff member saw a man in his 30s having inappropriate conversations with teenagers on Facebook.

“He was using a ‘Y’ computer and somehow was able to get onto Facebook,” Allison said. “We were able to print out the conversation he was having and called law enforcement. The people he was contacting were out of our county, in Lakeland or Ocala. The parents of the children in those cities were contacted. The staff was vigilant. I believe he ended up being arrested. We were also able to banish him from the Parrish branch.”

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