Waterville-area leaders know that speaking out about child abuse is not the only step toward prevention, but they say it’s a big first step.

With that in mind, central Maine and state agency representatives plan to hold a vigil and “speak out” to raise awareness for child abuse and neglect at Castonguay Square in Waterville at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, including city Police Chief Joseph Massey and Mayor Karen Heck.

The event’s aim is to highlight the persistent problem of child abuse and neglect and ways of preventing or reporting it, with the focus on the fact that April is Child Abuse Prevention Month.

“It’s unfortunate that we have to gather and talk about it anyway,” Massey said. “But it’s an opportunity for us to bring to the forefront the issues of child abuse and prevention. We’d like to think our children are our most precious resource and people would not abuse them. It’s necessary that we meet to make sure that we bring this out publicly.”

The vigil and rally come the day after a statewide child abuse and neglect council event at the Hall of Flags in Augusta.

Organizers hope the vigil will shine a light on the problem of child abuse and get bystanders and people in the community to recognize signs of abuse and neglect and do something about it.

“I think the difference these types of events can have was evident” on the front page of Tuesday’s Morning Sentinel, Heck said, referring to the arrest of three men on charges of domestic violence assault with the help of public awareness efforts.

“Three people were arrested for (alleged) domestic violence assault, and (Executive Director of the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence) Julia Colpitts’ comment was that more people were willing to get involved and speak out against something damaging,” Heck said. “The more people we have speaking out, the more we can prevent it.”

Educating the community on signs of neglect or abuse and getting the word out that it’s a problem can help hold the abusers accountable, Massey said.

“It takes a concentrated effort from all of us to combat these issues, more than just police,” Massey said. “I think it’s a serious problem — not just in our community, but across the state and across the country.”

Certain signs of abuse, Massey said, can range from the obvious — injuries that aren’t consistent with a child’s age — to the more subtle, such as a withdrawn child or one who doesn’t seem as developed for his or her age.

“If this information never got out there, I think a lot of people may miss that opportunity to recognize the problem and may never report it,” Massey said.

The annual vigil, which features a panel that will include members of the Know Violence Task Force, is vital to educate the greater community and advocate for the children, Massey said.

“I think it makes a big difference. We need to make people aware and educate them,” he said. “The way to do that is to address it publicly. Using a public forum and getting coverage is a good way to let people know this is a serious issue and we have a responsibility to stop child abuse and neglect.

“If we don’t advocate for them,” Massey continued, “then who would?”

Jesse Scardina — 861-9239 [email protected] Twitter: @jessescardina