Daily Hampshire Gazette [Hampshire MA]
October 23, 2022
By Scott Merzbach
[Photo above: Peter Pollard of Amherst is the first recipient of the Stop It Now! Founders Award. Jenny Coleman is the executive director of Stop It Now!, which focuses on getting potential perpetrators the help they need before they sexually abuse a child. Staff Photo / Carol Lollis]
Peter Pollard was a Daily Hampshire Gazette reporter in 1987 when he covered a tragedy in which a 2½-year-old Plainfield girl was in a coma in an emergency room, allegedly injured at the hands of her abusive father.
That man, making his home in a trailer, had lived in foster homes and been adopted, and the unfortunate outcome for his own child, Pollard says, may have stemmed from the sexual abuse he encountered with foster families.
“It allowed me to look at my own experiences of being sexually abused as a child and helped me understand that we as a community had failed this guy as he was growing up,” says Pollard, who was victimized by a Catholic priest. “We were collectively responsible for what happened to his 2½-year-old daughter.”
In the 35 years since he worked on that news story, Pollard has focused on methods to prevent child sexual abuse, not in conventional ways, though, but instead by aligning his work with the mission of the Northampton-based Stop It Now!, an organization focused on getting potential perpetrators the help they need before abuse takes place.
A former public education director for Stop It Now!, Pollard praises the organization for aiming to prevent sexual abuse of children and giving individuals and families the foundation and resources so perpetrators can understand they are not monsters and can lead productive lives.
Pollard, of Amherst, last week received the inaugural Founders Award from Stop It Now! Executive Director Jenny Coleman, both for his previous work with the organization and his ongoing advocacy, including being a member of its advisory council.
“Peter struck us as someone who has both courage and an ability to talk to folks in a nonalarming way about real-life experiences,” Coleman said.
Pollard’s work has included being a regional coordinator of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, communications director for 1in6 Inc., which provides support and information to male survivors of sexual abuse and assault, and a visiting fellow at the Office for Victims of Crime in Washington, D.C., focusing on young men of color who experience violence.
Pollard has also been able show both sides of issues and make all comfortable. “His voice is one of reason, hope and action,” Coleman said.
Stop It Now turns 30
The award comes as Stop It Now! marks its 30th anniversary with a 90-minute virtual recognition ceremony. That event includes the award presentation, testimonials for those who are fighting sexual abuse and interviews with those who have been instrumental in its success. Broadcast via its website, the program remains available for the public to watch online.
Coleman, director for six years and part of the organization for a decade, said as Stop It Now! has grown in stature nationally and internationally, it remains focused on prevention of child sexual abuse by creating hopeful, compassionate and respectful pathways for people to get counseling and treatment.
Stop It Now! founder Fran Henry, Coleman said, shifted the conversations that often put the responsibility on children, such as being about good touch and bad touch, to ones where perpertors would reach out for help, if only the resources were available.
“Fran helped shift the conversation to what adults could do, how can we build protective family advocacy and what will affect changes in behavior,” Coleman said.
In segments for the anniversary program, Henry said she was aware of people who might reach out for help, but had nowhere to turn, and built the program to provide help to them. As it has grown, expanding to a public health lens, Stop It Now! look at behaviors that are harmful and how those can be changed.
Stop It Now!’s best known program is the helpline that offers guidance, training and education and other means of reducing isolation.
“So much is about preventing child abuse and being able to support each other,” Coleman said.
For 15 years, Pollard worked for the state’s Department of Social Services, where he noticed people were becoming overwhelmed with cases. “They had never been given the tools to behave in a protective way,” Pollard said.
In 2002, he became active in the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
Pollard then went to graduate school, becoming part of Stop It Now!’s team from 2005 to 2008. He was allowed to be open about being sexually abused as a child.
He supervised the helpline, noting the hardest part is that people want to demonize those with impulses to commit wrongful acts.
“The tendency to demonize them is harmful because it may prevent them from getting the help they need,” Pollard said.
He also wrote content for blogs and edited materials for Stop It Now!
Pollar spent years with ServiceNet focused on partner violence, like sexual abuse. “Every kind of harm and violence has a foundation in trauma,” Pollard said.
Coleman said the organizations’ goal is to reach new people, with the launch of whatsok.org, that will target people ages 14 to 21, people struggling with behavior of loved ones and themselves. It is a safe place for them to ask questions and get support and is part of that focus on prevention.
The abuse he suffered from a priest has allowed Pollard to understand the situations of others and maintain his commitment to ending child sexual abuse.
“I wouldn’t be who I am today if I hadn’t learned from that experience, and been able to heal from it,” Pollard said.
Scott Merzbach can be reached at email@example.com.