Monday, May 20, 2013

Series: Education is key to prevention of child sex abuse

This is the third in a four-part series on child sexual abuse. On Tuesday, a victim tells her story in the Aiken Standard.

Nelson Mandela, who was South Africa's first black president, once described education as “the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Education also is an important tool in the prevention of child sexual abuse.

Series: Advocacy center aids victims of child abuse“Children are taught to obey adults, and that is a good thing,” said Gayle Lofgren, executive director of the Child Advocacy Center of Aiken County. “But kids also need to know there are times when it's appropriate for them to say no.”

According to Lofgren, parents need tow warn their offspring about the threat of sexual abuse and teach them how to protect themselves from being molested.

“Sit down and talk with them about what kind of touching is OK and what kind of touching is not OK,” she said. “Tell them a hug is OK if it's from somebody they want it from. But if they don't want a hug from someone, and they feel uncomfortable, tell them it's OK to say no. Then teach them how to say no in a nice way and let them do some role-playing exercises involving different situations.”

Lofgren recommended a book called “The Swimsuit Lesson” to parents who are uneasy about discussing sexual abuse with their children. Written by Jon Holsten, a retired police sergeant and child sex crimes investigator in Colorado, the book teaches youngsters that it is inappropriate for someone to touch the parts of their bodies that are covered by their bathing suits. It also has a parents' guide offering advice about talking to children about sexual abuse.

“There are some really good pointers,” Lofgren said.

Copies of “The Swimsuit Lesson” are available online at www.amazon.com.

In the Aiken County Public School District, guidance counselors are responsible for educating children about protecting themselves from sexual abuse, according to Gina Bassford, who is the district's liaison for counseling services. She said they follow a set of standards known as “The South Carolina Comprehensive Developmental Guidance and Counseling Program Model.” Under those standards, counselors identify and explain appropriate and inappropriate touching to prekindergarten through fifth grade students as part of their efforts to teach them safety and survival skills.

“There is no mandate to specify how counselors cover that, so it gives them the freedom to tailor their guidance to their students; they are the ones who know their students best,” Bassford said. “I know they particularly talk to children a lot about safety before they go home from school for the summer because the structure of their schedules change. They're with different caregivers and things like that.”

At least two bills that address child sexual abuse education in the public schools have been introduced in the South Carolina House of Representatives.

One of those bills would make changes to South Carolina law to require school districts to provide age-appropriate instruction in sexual abuse and assault awareness. It also would require the State Board of Education to select or develop the instructional units that would be used in such education. Those units, according to the bill, should be appropriate for each age level from 4-year-old kindergarten through 12th grade.

The other bill would require the State Board of Education to develop curricula and other written materials to educate students, school personnel and parents and guardians about child sexual abuse. It also would require local school districts to maintain a list of school and community resources that provide services for children who may be victims of sexual abuse.

Both bills were referred to the House Education and Public Works Committee. The next step would be for those bills to be considered by that committee's K-12 Subcommittee, but that hadn't happened as of the end of last week, said Bill Taylor, a representative from Aiken County. The 2013 regular session of the 120th South Carolina General Assembly is scheduled to end June 6. There will be another regular session in 2014.

“Given the crunch of time, they probably won't be heard this year, but they could be heard starting next year,” said Taylor, who is the 1st Vice Chairman of the Education and Public Works Committee and also is a member of the K-12 Subcommittee. “Because we're only in the first year of a two-year legislative meeting, bills can stay alive and keep moving or keep not moving as the case may be. It's not until the end of the second year that they all die.”

While Taylor said he considers child sexual abuse education an important issue and he supports it, he wasn't sure bills addressing it were needed. According to Taylor, the State Department of Education provided him with information that many teachers in South Carolina had received training involving child sexual abuse education in recent years from an organization called Darkness to Light.

“I sometimes question whether it's necessary for the State Department of Education to develop curriculum; that's not really its job,” Taylor said. “What is there to prevent the local school districts from taking this on and enhancing their programs if they don't think they're up to full speed? I thoroughly embrace home rule.”

Read more: Series: Education is key to prevention of child sex abuse
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