Protecting children

Local residents who work with children were given a presentation Tuesday on the signs of child sexual abuse and how to work to prevent the crime from happening.

The Stewards of Children workshop, which was held at the Fort Dodge Public Library, was a collaborative effort between several agencies in north central Iowa.

Michelle Walters, director of Building Families Early Childhood, Iowa Area, facilitated the two-hour workshop.

“The true purpose of the workshop is about how to protect children from sexual abuse,” Walters said. “We want to stop it before it starts.”

Tuesday’s workshop, which was open to the public, had an audience that included foster parents, sexual assault advocates, school officials and employees of agencies whose goal is to help children.

Walters said the workshops are held periodically throughout the year, and a number are held in April due to it being child abuse prevention month.

The workshop included question-and-answer sessions and a video that featured survivors of sexual abuse and their families talking about how they overcame what happened to them.

“Talk to your children about their bodies,” Walters said. “Explain to them about personal boundaries. It’s very important to do this.”

It’s also important for children to trust their parents and guardians so that they feel comfortable confiding in them if sexual abuse happens.

“Make sure you follow through with the guidelines you set forth,” Walters said. “Children are more apt to have confidence in us if we follow through.”

She added it’s important to report sexual abuse to the police, as well as reassuring children that the sexual abuse is not their fault. They should also be praised for coming forward with the incident.

At the same time, when trying to figure out what happened, Walters stressed that leading questions should not be asked when children report sexual abuse.

“The leading questions can be really hard, especially on the younger ones,” she said. “They may skew what they remember.”

Instead, questions such as “What happened next?” or “Tell me what happened” are more appropriate.

Elizabeth Stanek, executive director of Linking Families and Communities, was in attendance at Monday’s workshop.

She said attending workshops such as Stewards of Children are good reminders of how to work with child sexual abuse victims.

“Parents and people need to know how to talk about good touch and bad touch,” Stanek said. “I think these workshops help bring awareness and open the conversation up about sexual abuse.”

Walters said everybody should learn more about how to prevent child sexual abuse.

“Nothing happens if there’s no action,” she said. “I hope everybody leaves here encouraged and empowered to help their communities.”

Another Stewards of Children workshop will be held May 9 at the Pizza Ranch in Clarion.