While sexual abuse of a child is a nightmare scenario, parents, educators and child care providers need to consider it in order to prevent it from happening or deal with it when it does.
Washington County Children Services caseworker Ginger Davey underscored the importance of that by recounting a conversation she'd had with a recent victim.
The youth said to her, "Nobody told me that it was wrong that somebody in your family (touched) you there or for me to touch them there," Davey said.
Photo illustration by ROBB DeCAMP Special to the Times
Children should know which parts of the body are private, even if parents might feel uncomfortable talking about it initially.
"You can do it as vaguely and as simply as possible by telling them, 'If someone touches you in that area, you need to tell,'" she said.
Parents should also emphasize that the child won't get in trouble for doing so.
Stewards of children
Washington County Children Services, EVE Inc. and the Washington County Family and Children First Council have personnel trained in this program aimed at teaching adults how to prevent, recognize and react responsibly to child sexual abuse.
Training sessions can be scheduled by contacting Family and Children First at 376-7081.
More information is available online at www.wcfcfc.org
Monica, the mother of a sexual abuse victim who agreed to speak to The Marietta Times for this series on condition of anonymity, said there were aspects of the issue she hadn't addressed with her children until she learned about the abuse committed by a family friend.
"I have always taught my kids stranger danger," she said. "But I've never taught them family or friend danger."
Unfortunately, that's where the abuse is most likely to originate, Davey said.
"I've never had one case where it had been someone that the child did not know," she said.
Children Services used to have a fully staffed prevention unit, but it has fallen victim to budget cuts because it's not a required service, Stewart said.
"Unfortunately, prevention is the first thing to go, which is, to me, a tragedy," she said.
Two employees at the agency have recently been certified, along with representatives of EVE Inc. and the Washington County Family and Children First Council, to present "Stewards of Children." The
three-hour training program is designed to teach adults how to "prevent, recognize and react responsibly to child sexual abuse," according to the Family and Children First website. Bates said they're looking for opportunities to present it to groups of about 10 people, and anyone interested can contact Family and Children First administrator Cindy Davis for more information.
In addition, Stewart said people with questions about sexual abuse and prevention can contact Children Services.
"Then we can refer them, we can give them information," she said. "I wouldn't recommend just looking on the Internet because there's just so much misinformation."
Few schools in Washington County have regular programming to address sexual abuse prevention with children, although it is covered for incoming kindergarteners who attend Safetytown programs and in the D.A.R.E. program, which is aimed at fifth- and sixth-graders.
"We talk to kids in private situations about appropriate touches and inappropriate touches if there's any suspicion that abuse is going on," said Belpre City Schools Superintendent Tony Dunn.
Content on dating violence, which can include sexual abuse, is required by state law to be included in the high school health curriculum. And in the Warren Local school district, there has been a recent focus on avoiding sexual predators when using technology, along with cyberbullying and similar issues, said Tony Huffman, who served as Warren Elementary principal for the last school year.
At Frontier Local elementary schools, the district's contracted caseworker touched on the issue of sexual abuse, along with bullying and other topics, in individual classrooms, principals said. That approach is expected to continue with the mental health intervention specialist the district recently hired to take over the caseworker's duties.
In addition, new software the district is getting deals with issues like inappropriate touching, bullying and more in an age-appropriate manner, Frontier Superintendent Bruce Kidder said.
Sometimes outside entities provide programs on sexual abuse and other topics. Marietta magician Kerry Blair travels to schools in Ohio, West Virginia, Michigan and Indiana in conjunction with the not-for-profit National Child Safety Council and presents programs dealing with issues including bullying, Internet safety and good touch/bad touch.
Blair said he approaches the subject by asking children what certain kinds of touches mean, like a pat on the back and a punch in the stomach.
"But that's the problem - not all bad touches are punches," he said. "Sometimes the bad touch can be very gentle, but it's done at the wrong time in the wrong place by somebody who should know better."
At times, Blair said, he sees children withdrawing, looking down or otherwise reacting as if they think he's talking specifically to or about them. After one presentation, a teacher came up to him afterward and said she'd been sexually abused as a child.
"This woman was in her late 50s. So for 42 years she had carried this around and never told a soul," Blair said. "You never know how deep that runs, how long they'll keep it buried."
Public school employees and a number of others who deal with children in their line of work are also "mandated reporters," meaning they are required by law to notify children services or law enforcement if they know of, or reasonably suspect, a child is the victim of neglect or abuse, sexual or otherwise.
Training on how to recognize signs of abuse is required to be updated regularly, with the precise period of time determined by length of service. Some school districts, including Marietta and Warren, do the in-services online, while others take advantage of local resources. Fort Frye and Wolf Creek participated in a joint training session put on by children services and the Washington County Sheriff's Office.
Guidance counselor Lisa Polk said that in 12 years at Marietta Middle School, she's dealt with several sexual abuse cases a year. If she suspects a student is being abused, "I will speak pretty openly with kids," she said.
"In most of the cases that I've had, the child will say something that makes me ask questions," Polk said.
She also considers other possible signs of problems, such as avoiding eye contact, wearing multiple layers of clothing or exhibiting drastic changes in behavior or dress. But she noted each case is different, and those factors may not always be present, or if they are, may not mean the child has been abused.
Staff members at the Ely Chapman Education Foundation are also mandated reporters, said Alice Chapman, founder and chairwoman of the organization, which serves children in kindergarten through eighth grade. Chapman said they currently have six staff members trained in child abuse recognition, one of whom must be in the building whenever it's in use.
"For sexual abuse, it's really tough," she said. "Some of it's knowing the individual child, and some of it's knowing what's typical of a child that age."