Experts say it's important for parents to talk openly, honestly and calmly to kids about cases like the Skip ReVille sexual molestation scandal, tailoring the information to the age and maturity of the child.
For young children, it might be best to describe such situations in general terms, explaining that a bad person touched someone inappropriately in a private place. Older kids might prefer to read newspaper accounts or discuss the incidents in far greater detail.
The main point is creating a safe place where children feel comfortable sharing information and feelings, knowing they won't get in trouble for doing so, said Jolie Logan, executive director of Darkness to Light, a Charleston-based agency that works to prevent child sexual abuse.
"This is an excellent opportunity to open the dialogue to talk about boundaries with their bodies, keeping secrets and being able to tell you anything and not get in trouble for it," she said.
Molestation is usually a crime that occurs in increments, with a predator slowly grooming a child for abuse by providing them with special privileges, attention or favors, such as giving them alcohol or access to pornography. The predator tries to create a special bond and uses it to gain sexual favors in return. Predators often tell victims that the abuse is just a secret between them that shouldn't be shared.
Logan said parents should encourage their children to tell them any time someone asks them to do something they feel uncomfortable with. A good benchmark is "something you think mom or dad would not be OK with you doing here," she said.
If you suspect your child has been abused, the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network and other experts recommend that you:
--Talk to your child in a place where he or she feels comfortable. Do not involve the person you suspect of abusing the children.
--Ask them in a nonjudgmental manner if someone has been touching them in ways that make them feel uncomfortable.
--Do not get angry or react in a way that might make them stop talking.
--Reassure them that they are not at fault and will not get in trouble for confiding in you.
Experts also urge parents to encourage their children to be compassionate and supportive with classmates who they suspect of being abused.
"This is not the kid's fault that this happened," Logan said. "Another person did something bad to them, and he's the only person who should be judged."
Gregg Meyers, a lawyer who represents sexual assault victims, said institutions and organizations that cater to children bear responsibility as well to watch for potential predators and adopt procedures that limit the opportunities for adults to be alone with kids. "It's not enough to do a background check and say 'Our work is done.' "