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Bruised bodies, broken spirits

July 21, 2008 - Betsy Bethel
In Cleveland, a Catholic priest who was reinstated after a sexual abuse claim resigns after another abuse victim comes forward.

In Australia, the Pope celebrates Mass before "a representative sample" of two men and two women who were sexually abused by priests.

And here in the Ohio Valley, a former Martins Ferry pastor is accused of raping a female family member over a period of six years, while a Neffs priest remains on leave as the Guernsey County prosecutor's office investigates allegations of sexual abuse against a young girl.

Once again, I find myself asking why and wondering if anyone is safe in this messed-up world.

What lessons can parents learn from these cases? Do we trash religion and denounce our faith? Do we forbid our children from participating in youth groups and other church activities? Do we distrust everyone who professes to be Christian? Do we live in constant fear?

I can't speak for the victims and families of victims. How they deal with their anger, hatred, pain and grief is their life-long personal struggle, and I can only pray they will be surrounded by a loving support network and counselors who are trained in healing bruised bodies and broken spirits.

For the rest of us -- parents, grandparents, teachers, caregivers, aunts and uncles -- we can arm ourselves with knowledge and trust our instincts. We can realize not everyone is out to harm our children but that there are warning signs we can heed. We can understand there are some things we can do TODAY to help prevent sexual abuse against the children we love. And we can know what to do if a child tells you he or she has been sexually abused.

The following information was provided by the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. (See links for more info.)

How Can I Protect my Child?

* Tell your children that you are always there to talk about anything. Tell them that you are there to help them solve problems and to protect them.

* Teach your children that it is against the “rules” for adults to act in a sexual way with children and use examples.

* Teach your children that their bodies are their own and that it is OK if they don't want a hug or other contact that might make them uncomfortable.

* Speak to your children about using the proper names for their body parts. Armed with information, children are better able to report abuse to you.

* Try to be relaxed when talking about these issues. If you are not tense while talking about these issues, then they are less likely to be worried about talking.

* Talk to your children about sex when they show interest or curiosity.

* Teach your children it’s OK to say no and it’s OK to leave the situation.

* Tell them that if someone does something to make them uncomfortable, they should tell that person they are uncomfortable. Emphasize to them that if the person doesn't listen, doesn't stop or continues to make them feel uncomfortable, they should tell someone— a parent, teacher, priest or other trusted adult.

* Tell them if anyone touches them on the body parts that are covered by a bathing suit, then they should tell an adult they trust. Tell them it is OK to say no and to leave the situation. Tell them you can later figure out together if the person was trying to be helpful or not.

What Should I Do if a Child Discloses Abuse?

* Don't overreact.

* Believe the child and communicate that belief to him or her.

* Thank the child for telling you and praise his or her courage for speaking up.

* Emphasize that what happened to the child was not his or her fault and that the child did not deserve to be treated like that.

* Encourage the child to talk but don't push for or imply details. Ask questions such as, "what happened next?"

* Get professional help for the child.

* Tell the child that it is your responsibility to keep the child safe and that you will do the best you can to protect him or her.

* Report your suspicions of abuse to the local police or child protective services agency.

-- -- --

The YWCA Wheeling Family Violence Prevention Program has a 24-hour hotline for victims of all types of abuse, 304-232-2748.

The Sexual Assault Help Center in Wheeling also has a hotline, 800-884-7242, for any type of sexual abuse or assault.

Parents in both Ohio and West Virginia can call the above agencies to help guide them through the process if they suspect their child has been abused.


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