Tips on empowering children and preventing sexual abuse

Published On: Jan 31 2013 06:08:45 PM CST   Updated On: Jan 31 2013 06:59:26 PM CST
LA CROSSE, Wis. -

It has been nearly two weeks since a La Crescent Montessori Academy teacher was arrested on suspicion of molesting several students.

Jason Barker, 37, faces six counts of criminal sexual conduct.

He has not been convicted of any crime.

According to the criminal complaint, the school only became aware of the allegations after five students confronted Barker.

So what can be done to empower more students to speak up and help stop instances of abuse from happening?

In many cases of child sexual abuse, many kids never choose to come forward. In fact, research shows about less than 30 percent of children ever say anything.

Part of the solution for getting child sexual abuse to stop relies on the children being educated themselves, but the other big component relies on the adults.

“We need to educate and empower children on what to do,” said Jeanne Meyer of the Family and Children’s Center in La Crosse.

Meyer said for children being sexually abused, it’s oftentimes difficult for them to tell someone simply because of who is abusing them.

“The child knows that person and that always brings very difficult circumstances, because they generally like that person or they love that person, and they don't want that person to necessarily get in trouble, but they want the abuse to stop,” said Meyer.

To add to the problem, Meyer said children oftentimes don't know what sexual abuse is. That makes them a perfect target for predators.

So to prevent this from happening, Meyer said, adults, educators and parents should step in to teach kids.

“Talk to them when they're very young,” said Meyer. “Teach them what their body parts are, just like you teach them an eye or a nose or an arm. We talk about the other body parts, and we help children understand that no one should be touching them in places that is not OK.”

Alyson Holmay at the Parenting Place said while educating kids is a big step in prevention, adults have an even bigger role.

“We're adults, and it’s important to take that pressure off of children, because as adults we're meant to protect them,” said Holmay.

She said adults should be on the lookout for anything that doesn't look or seem right.

“Is there an adult in their agency that's really trying to spend a lot of alone time with children?” Holmay used as an example. “Are they always volunteering to take the kids to the bathroom or to take the one-on-one tutoring?”

The examples sound pretty harmless, but with training, Holmay said, adults will be able to decide what is appropriate and what is not.

Experts also suggest adults should remember child sexual abuse is something that can happen to anyone or any child, and if a child does say something is wrong, take it seriously.

For more information on what signs to look for or how to talk to children head to the Parenting Place's website  or the Family and Children's Center website .