Child Advocacy Center experts warn parents of sexual abuse signs

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3/KSPR) - New clothes, backpacks, and notebooks are filling up the aisles in stores all over Southwest Missouri, reminding everyone a new school year is here. The beginning of the school year can be an exciting time for most children, but the Child Advocacy Center warns this can also be a time students are exposed to sexual abuse.

Starting in September, students will be subject to a new state law, one that requires students who harass teachers to be referred to disciplinary alternative education programs — outside of their regular classrooms.(Photo: PxHere)

Linda Saturno, Executive Director of Springfield's Child Advocacy Center, said parents and guardians can help prevent sexual abuse by talking with their kids about their bodies. "You want your child to understand their own body, what the names of their parts are, and to understand appropriate boundaries," began Saturno. Saturno said that way if something happens your child will know it's wrong. "That education on the front end, before anything happens, is important."

Saturno said sexual exploitation usually starts with manipulation known as grooming. Grooming is a deliberate and carefully orchestrated process when sexual offenders target, initiate, and maintain sexually abusive relationships with children and adolescents.

The National Children’s Advocacy Center provided several signs a child is being groomed.
• Obvious or inappropriate preferential treatment of a student or child.
• Excessive time spent alone with a student or child.
• Time spent with a student or child outside of class or other school functions.
• Repeated time spent in private spaces with a student or child.
• Driving a student or child to or from school.
• Befriending parents and making visits the family's home.
• Acting as a student's or child's confidante.
• Inappropriate calls, texts, or emails to a student or child.
• Overly affectionate behavior with a student or child.
• Flirtatious behavior or remarks toward a student or child.
• Schoolmates may suspect an inappropriate relationship between an educator or adult and student or child; They could even make jokes or references about it to other people.

Saturno said the best thing parents can do is ask questions to supervising adults as a new school year begins. "It's important for parents to ask what those procedures are of that organization," she said.

The National Children’s Advocacy Center reports parents and guardians can help protect their children by taking the following actions.
• Discuss body safety and teach children how to refuse inappropriate behavior and how to report such activity.
• Review school’s “Code of Conduct."
• Ask about the school’s hiring policies, which should include criminal background checks and reference checks for all school personnel and volunteers.
• Ask about the school’s prevention activities, which should include a combination of annual workshops for all school personnel, students, and parents that focus on sexual exploitation of students.
• Ask about the school’s mandatory reporting policy and stated consequences for failure to report to authorities if a student alleges educator misconduct.

The Missouri Child Abuse Hotline number is 1-800-392-3738.