BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) - More than 200 cities across the country, including Buffalo, gave voice to hundreds of people who were on a mission to March Against Child Abuse.
Wearing blue ribbons to symbolize their solidarity, more than 300 people marched through downtown Buffalo Monday morning.
Christine Retzer, Organizer of the March Against Child Abuse said, "We are here for the angels that were taken too soon, the children that are living with the effects and trauma from abuse and for those that are still suffering in silence."
At a hearing in Washington in June 2011, experts testified they believe roughly 10 children die in the United States, every day, from abuse and neglect. Studies suggest as many as 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls will be sexually molested by a close, trusted adult by the time they turn 18. About 3 million cases of child abuse are reported every year. Experts estimate twice that many cases - 6 million - go unreported.
Advocates say, those are six million children not getting help or relief from physical, emotional, or sexual abuse or neglect.
President & CEO of United Way of Buffalo and Erie County said, "The recent heinous child fatality and battering cases reported in the community are a testament to the seriousness of the problem."
Other young victims have survived, but now live with permanent and devastating injuries.
"We were initially told when we got custody of him after he was removed from his father, not to expect much more than a vegetable in a wheelchair. We're going to prove them wrong," said Jay-J's great uncle, Kevin Retzer.
Jay-J still cannot speak, but has learned to communicate through sign language. He has learned to walk, and will be starting school in the fall.
Christine said, "We're hopeful that he's learning, learning some letters, and really progressing. So we're very fortunate."
Advocates cried out for tougher punishments against abusers and survivors sent empowering messages to other victims.
"Do not feel like you can't tell anyone, because you can. I made that mistake before," said Akira Conrad, who spent most of her life bouncing between foster homes. The 15-year-old young woman says she's extremely grateful to have been adopted by loving parents. "Don't let anyone tell you that it is your fault, because it's not."
Another one of the survivors in today's march was baby Markus, now 13 months old. When Markus was just eight weeks old, his father shook him so violently that Markus has permanent brain damage.
Markus' mother, Jacquie Smith said, "They told me my son was going to die that night. They told me five different times, my son was not going to make it. We just don't know what the future holds for him."
Advocates point to cases like Bridenbaker's, is calling for stronger laws and harsher punishments for child abusers.
On average, advocates say, abusers who target children receive only about 25 percent of the time in jail as people who commit the same crimes against adults.
"The max sentence for Markus' father was seven years. Seven years, for my son having a life of disabilities? I don't think that that's quite sufficient," Jacquie said. "I honestly have no idea why it's considered less of an offense, if it's against a child."
Twenty-two-year-old Mark Bridenbaker received five years in jail for assaulting his son.
The New York State Senate passed two bills in 2012 that would have created new felonies for aggravated assault and aggravated murder of a child, and stiffened penalties for convicted child abusers, in particular repeat offenders - the "Protect Our Children Act" and "Jay-J's Law."
However, the Assembly failed to pass either bill.
Advocates are now asking everyone to call Assemblymembers and urge them to pass those bills during the 2013 legislative session.
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