Educating children could help protect them from sexual abuse

December 4, 2017 GMT

A West Virginia task force charged with developing a plan to combat the sexual abuse of children is expected to finalize its recommendations later this month, and one of the possible suggestions is bringing the subject into the state’s schools.

If such a recommendation indeed is included, it likely will be a sensitive issue for many parents who may not welcome the idea that the topic should be broached in the classrooms. But the problem has become so pervasive that educating children and the school staffs responsible for their well-being certainly is worthy of a close look. After all, in a large percentage of child sexual abuse cases, the offenders are parents, other close relatives or family friends that the children should be able to trust. And offenders certainly aren’t interested in protecting the children from abuse.

The task force working on the issue was a result of the legislature’s passage in 2015 of what was called Erin Merryn’s Law, named for an Illinois woman who works to pass sexual abuse prevention legislation. Specifically, she wants states to require sexual abuse prevention education in schools, but the bill passed in West Virginia didn’t go that far, according to a report by the Charleston Gazette-Mail. It instead established the task force to study the issue. Its members include representatives from the state Department of Health and Human Resources; the state school board; teachers; principals; school service personnel organizations; social worker organizations; teacher preparation programs; the legal system and law enforcement; and organizations that work with victims of child abuse, domestic violence and sexual assault.

Many of the members as well as lawmakers who sponsored the legislation and are now responsible for moving forward with its provisions are hopeful that educating children and educators about sexual abuse and preventing it will be part of the road map. They believe it would be helpful to have age-appropriate curriculum for students and more information for educators about how to detect whether a child is being sexually abused.

What’s clear is that more should be done to confront the problem. In the past year, West Virginia’s 21 children’s advocacy centers served 3,914 children, an 11 percent increase from the year before and about two-thirds more than were served five years ago. More than 60 percent of those children were victims of sex abuse.

What’s most troubling is that 40 percent of offenders in all cases handled by the centers were the children’s biological parents, while 16 percent were either a stepparent or a parent’s boyfriend/girlfriend. The abuser was known to the victim in 99 percent of cases.

Many children simply can’t trust the ones who are supposed to protect them. That’s why trying to arm children with information so that they will know inappropriate behavior when they experience it is so important.