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SW OK Residents Walk Against Child Abuse

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LAWTON Okla_ Nearly 50 southwest Oklahomans marched around the Comanche County Courthouse Monday to raise awareness about child abuse. April is child abuse awareness month.

Monday's walk is part of the first-ever National Million Man March Against Child Abuse, and over 200 cities across the United States participated in the march.

From June 2011 to June 2012, 148 children were removed from their abusive homes here in Comanche County. Advocates say that's just the tip of the iceberg, because those are only the cases that are reported. That's why the people at Monday's march say it's going to take the entire community to help educate the public on identifying cases and preventing this problem.

This group is on a mission: to put a stop to child abuse. Janet Chilson-Murrain, who organized Lawton's walk, said she decided to act after hearing the tragic story of baby Briana: a five-month-old girl whose life was cut short by her own mother's abuse.

"In New Mexico, this was years ago, she was severely abused throughout her whole life," Chilson-Murrain said. "She was five-months old when she was finally killed. I cried, and then I decided I've got to do something. Then, I heard about the march, and I said, ‘Okay, good place to start."

Advocates say unfortunately, stories like Briana's are all too common, and many victims do not get justice.

"A lot of that goes unreported, because of the shame," Marie Detty Executive Director Diane Owens said. "It's so crucial for those young people to get in the counseling help, because a lot of times, if you don't get help, you'll end up with issues the remainder of your life in relationships and how you parent your children."

"It's not being handled properly to me," said Lacey Hedrick, who's studying to become a children's counselor. "There are a lot of cases where they say there's no proof, but there is. Kids come up dying. The criteria they need is someone to tell what, when, why, who. A child is not going to tell you. So, therefore the DA's not going to do anything, and no charges are being pressed."

Chilson-Murrain said she considers Monday's march a success but said raising awareness about child abuse should be an every day priority.

"If you notice things, report them," Chilson-Murrain said. "Volunteer at your local community center, get involved with the infrastructure of your city, and do anything you can do to help your city and the families."

Chilson-Murrain said Oklahoma City and Tulsa also held their own marches. She said next year, she hopes to recruit more cities across the state to participate in the march.

The group said they not only want to raise awareness about child abuse; they also want stronger sentencing for violent crimes against children.

"We also want to hold our lawmakers accountable for providing stronger sentences," Chilson-Murrain said. "I think we also should hold them accountable to providing funding for programs like Marie Detty, because without the programs, I really don't know what a lot of families and youth will do."

Lacey Hedrick, who attended Monday's march, said she is working with senator Randy Bass on a bill aimed at tougher punishments for child abusers.

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