Lessons learned from molestation cases

Published 11:40 am Monday, October 3, 2011

Good touch or bad touch?

Each year, second graders throughout Mower County learn the difference between good and bad touch during a presentation organized by the Crime Victim’s Resource Center (CVRC) of Mayo Clinic Health System in Austin. According to Tori Miller, director of the CVRC, the presentations help children understand personal boundaries, and what to do if someone crosses that boundary with a “bad touch.”

“It empowers (children) to take control of their own bodies … and encourages them to speak up to an adult they trust.”

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According to Miller, one in three girls and one in six boys, on average, will be sexually abused by age 18. Although not all cases of molestation can be prevented, there are some things parents can do to prepare their child for such a situation. Detective Pat Retterath of the Austin Police Department said good communication between parents and children is key to teaching kids about sexual touch.

“Talk with your kids,” Retterath said. “Always have that open communication. Nothing is off limits, even though it might be a little uncomfortable.”

Retterath said kids can be apprehensive to report sexual abuse. Having open communication will likely help parents see warning signs of abuse if their son or daughter seems off kilter, Retterath said. In his experience investigating child sexual abuse, Retterath said many victims of sexual abuse become closed off to activities they may have previously enjoyed, particularly if the abuser is facilitating those activities.

Victims being abused by a family member may have an even more difficult time reporting their abuse for fear of breaking up the family.

“If it’s a family member, this victim has a huge burden,” Retterath said.

Miller agreed that those being abused by family members are more fearful of the consequences of their allegations.

“Typically kids are more fearful to report family members because they don’t want to break up their family,” Miller said. “Children look at that as, ‘If I tell, I’m going to be the reason the family is splitting up.’”

Miller and Retterath said it’s always better to report suspected abuse than to brush it under the rug. Even if the allegations turn out to be false, Retterath said, it’s best to investigate than to overlook something so serious.

“People need to get involved,” Retterath said. “Teachers have to be extremely diligent about this. If they think there’s abuse going on and they’re wrong, so be it.

“School staff needs to be really in tune with this,” he added.

School employees are considered mandated reporters in the state of Minnesota. They must report abuse if it is reported to them or if they witness it. While parents aren’t mandated reporters under law, they should file a police report if their child tells them someone is acting oddly or touching them inappropriately, Retterath said.

Miller said many child sexual abusers are not strangers to their victims. Although it’s good to be cautious of strangers, Miller said many sexual predators groom their victims and spoil them with outings or gifts.

“Children are groomed by offenders, so it’s not the stranger in the bushes,” Miller said. “It’s usually someone who’s established a relationship with them and has groomed them to be a victim – just befriending them and gaining their trust.”