Measures taken to contain COVID-19 may have stalled, or even rolled back, efforts to combat sexual abuse here in Foxboro and elsewhere, according to members of the town’s child sexual abuse awareness committee.
Committee chairman Robert Correia last week told selectmen that restrictions on public gatherings and other safety measures imposed during the pandemic made it impossible for the panel to fully fulfill its mission in 2020.
“Like most organizations we’ve had to reinvent how we connect with the community,” Correia said, reading from a prepared text. “While this has been frustrating, we have continued with this important work.”
Because child sexual abuse most often involves parties known to each other, he said public school closures, limits on religious assembly and reduced social interaction all conspired to isolate children without safe options or appropriate resources.
“Our hearts are truly broken for the most vulnerable in our community,” he said.
Formed in 2013 by a vote at town meeting, the seven-member panel works through a local bylaw to provide training and information in an effort to reduce opportunities for potential abuse in Foxboro.
“This has been a very trying year,” he said. “We know that child abuse does not take a holiday just because things are closed down — it’s actually worse.”
Correia conceded that some initiatives have languished during the pandemic — like proposed legislation to establish mandatory reporting protocols, an inter-faith program to address church safety and efforts to document training among youth sports leagues, private athletic facilities and Patriot Place establishments.
But he said the task force was successful in launching a new website and refocused a program to train town employees in child-protection measures — including bystander awareness training.
“Progress has been slow but we are still engaged,” he said.
Accompanying Correia was the Rev. William Dudley, pastor at the Union Church of South Foxboro, who told selectmen of a chance encounter at a local supermarket that prompted a Franklin man to contribute $1,020 to help Foxboro’s efforts at raising awareness about child sexual abuse.
Dudley said the middle-aged benefactor, who plans to appear before the local task force at a future date, identified himself as a youth victim of sexual abuse.
After learning of Foxboro’s program, he wrote out a check for $1,920 — reflecting $40 for each year he has “survived” since the incident.
“With tears in his eyes he told me a little of his story right there in Stop & Shop,” Dudley said, presenting the check to selectmen.
“It reminded me of how profoundly this affects people for their entire life.”
“He met with us afterwards and told the story,” Correia added. “It was so heartbreaking. He was still a broken man. We know how this breaks somebody down. It doesn’t disappear. It’s there forever.”
Going forward, Correia said the panel intends to extend a long-standing relationship with the Hockomock YMCA, which helped implement early awareness training here in Foxboro.
In keeping with that objective, he challenged selectmen to embrace a leadership role by completing the panel’s online awareness training — thereby providing an example for other elected and appointed officials.
“This would be a good gesture for all the others to follow,” Correia said.
Selectwoman Leah Gibson noted the late Tony Calcia, who died unexpectedly last March, trained many local officials in his role as the Y’s vice president for Child Protection and Social Responsibility.
“Tony trained me in person and there’s nothing like his training,” Gibson observed.
Not coincidentally, Foxboro’s child sexual abuse committee received the first annual Tony Calcia Child Protection Award, which has been established by the Y in his memory, at the Hockomock Y’s annual meeting last September.