NEAR WEST SIDE — An upcoming symposium by a Chicago nonprofit organization will analyze child sexual abuse in black communities, a problem that organizers say needs to be addressed more often.
“Breaking the Silence: A Call to Address Child Sexual Abuse in African-American Communities” will be the first conference on the topic sponsored by the Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center.
TV journalist Merri Dee, a survivor of domestic abuse, will be the keynote speaker at the Nov. 8 event. She will be joined by the Rev. Corey Brooks, pastor of New Beginnings Church in Woodlawn, author Robin Stone and other panelists who will explain the causes and effects of sexual abuse of black children.
Julia Strehlow, outreach and training coordinator for the advocacy center, said raising awareness about community problems such as sexual abuse is the purpose of its symposiums.
Strehlow said the center also hopes to get more black kids victimized by sex abuse into mental health services.
Bringing greater awareness to mental health issues among blacks is another goal of the advocacy center, spokeswoman Julie O'Brien said.
"We know that our African-American clients engage in mental health services at a lower rate [26.5 percent] than other races," O'Brien said.
The engagement rate for Latinos is 36 percent, while for whites, it's 31 percent, O'Brien said.
Fifty-five percent of the children referred to the advocacy center are black, and most of those seeking services live on the South and West sides, O'Brien said.
From July 1, 2012, to June 30 of this year, the top three ZIP codes of clients were 60623, 60629 and 60639, which include Lawndale, Chicago Lawn and North Austin.
It's these children and the many other cases that go unreported each year that the advocacy center is trying to reach with mental health services, O'Brien said.
The symposium runs from 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. in Room 302 at University of Illinois at Chicago's Student Center East Building, 750 S. Halsted St.
While the event already has reached its 125-person capacity, those interested in attending can contact Strehlow at 312-492-3700 or jstrehlow@chicagoCAC.org to check for last-minute cancellations.
The center's symposium last year on sexual abuse of children with disabilities attracted more than 100 people, O'Brien said.