Child abuse charges raise questions of appropriate behavior, warning signs in schools

Published: Saturday, Dec. 8 2012 4:35 p.m. MST

Teachers conferencing with students should do so with open doors, Alder said. If an email or text message has an academic purpose, it should be sent to a group of students, not to individuals, she said.

Most teachers realize their actions could be misread, Alder said, but some could afford to be even more cautious.

"The truth is, I don't know if it crosses teachers' minds enough," she said.

Trina Taylor, acting executive director of Prevent Child Abuse Utah, said it's important for parents to talk with their children early and often about what is and isn't appropriate. Children as young as 2 can begin to be taught about the private parts of their body and that they shouldn't be afraid to tell their parents if someone makes them uncomfortable, she said.

"We need to have that conversation on a regular basis," Taylor said. "We can't just have the talk once and call it good. Kids are threatened, they're shamed, and as parents if we start that conversation very, very young with children, we can be assured that they'll be more likely to talk to us."

She said parents should watch out for sudden behavior changes in their children, such as an abrupt drop in grades or school performance. Parents also should be suspicious of children receiving gifts, attention or help in excess of what is normal from an adult, Taylor said.

"Oftentimes, sex offenders are not necessarily the creepy guy next door," she said. "They can be very sociable. They have to gain the child's trust. They have to gain power over the child, and it can be done in many time frames. It can be done in a one-shot thing, but it also can be years of gaining their trust and manipulating them."

Because pedophiles require access to children to commit their crimes, any youth-serving organization is at risk, Taylor said. Her organization offers seminars to schools, religious groups and other organizations about warning signs to watch for and how to screen potential personnel. It's also important, she said, for all adults to realize the importance of watching out for — and reporting — suspicious behavior.

Utah has mandatory reporting laws, requiring any adult who suspects child abuse to inform the proper authorities, Taylor said. The state also offers protection if those suspicions turn out to be false.

"The biggest thing is to teach people that it's OK to report," she said. "The prevention of child abuse is an adult's responsibility, so as adults we have to have the courage to stand up for kids, be their voice and be willing to report when we have any suspicion."

Warning signs of abuse

Children who are victims of abuse often demonstrate sudden changes in behavior, according to Trina Taylor, acting executive director of Prevent Child Abuse Utah. Some warning signs parents can watch out for include:

• Sudden decline in grades and academic performance

• Loss of appetite or other changes in eating habits

• Emotional withdrawal

• New friends and social groups

• Altered dress or appearance

Source: Prevent Child Abuse Utah

E-mail: benwood@desnews.com

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