Experts encourage talking with kids about sexual abuse

In the past two days, News 8 reported two employees in two area school districts have been arrested for sexual assault of a child.

Health experts say it’s important to start talking with kids about the signs of sexual abuse as early as possible and keep that dialogue going.

The Stepping Stones Children’s Advocacy Center in La Crosse’s Family and Children Center has interviewed nearly 300 children so far this year, most of which reported sexual abuse.

Ninety percent of the time children are sexually abused it’s by someone they know.

Mental health counselor Jillian Niemyjski wants parents to talk with kids about sexual abuse as early as age 2 or 3, starting with OK and not OK touches.

“If they know they’re not OK they can come forward and talk about it sooner and get the help they need,” she said.

“They’re so much more likely to come to us if we’ve laid the foundation for talking about, quote, sensitive topics,” said Rhonda Bryhn, a psychotherapist in Gundersen’s sexual abuse program. “It’s not as scary as it sounds to talk to kids about this.”

Bryhn said parents don’t have to have one big sit down conversation, but rather, small frequent talks are more helpful.

As kids get older, she said that conversation should grow with them. For example, with teens, Bryhn said, “You might ask what they think about what’s happening in the news. Do they have questions about it?”

“You talk more about healthy relationships and what those may look like,” Niemyjski said, adding that if your child asks you a question you’re not sure how to answer, it’s OK to get guidance elsewhere and then answer the question.

Bryhn said with children of all ages, it’s important to “give kids permission and awareness that even if someone is a teacher, is a coach, is a guidance counselor, is a pastor, that no matter what it’s good that they say something.”

According to the Holmen School District, there is no evidence that its educational assistant’s charges involve its students.

A La Crosse School District’s part time employee faces the charge of sexual assault of a student by school staff.

The Parenting Place offers Darkness to Light training to educate adults on preventing child sexual abuse. More information can be found here. Call (608) 784-8125 for more information.