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Keeping Kids Safe: More than Helmets and Sunscreen

PHOTO: Youth football practice. Photo credit: Deborah Smith
PHOTO: Youth football practice. Photo credit: Deborah Smith
June 20, 2012

SALT LAKE CITY - The Jerry Sandusky sexual-abuse case is in the headlines again - and again, parents are seeking information about how to protect their children from similar situations.

Maureen Durning, a Strengthening Families project coordinator, recently hosted a training session in Salt Lake City to help childhood experts spread the message that sexual-abuse prevention should be just as routine as making sure children wear sunscreen, helmets and life jackets.

"Being responsible about keeping our children safe from sexual abuse, in the same way that we keep them safe from all sorts of things."

That prevention focuses first on reducing the risk. In 90 percent of cases, she says, the abuser is someone the family and child knows and trusts, so minimizing one-on-one adult-child situations means fewer opportunities for abuse.

In summer, children often take music or sports lessons or attend camps. Durning advises parents to let teachers and organizers know they may drop in at any time - and then do it. She also advises watching for situations where older youths are in charge of younger ones, and requiring that multiple adults supervise.

The bottom line, Durning says, is that it's the responsibility of adults to prevent the abuse. She wants parents to imagine how hard it would be for a child to say "no" to an authority figure - and to realize that one in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before age 18. Durning calls that an inspiration to become proactive.

"Some can be very uncomfortable about it. But it's like anything else: As you practice it, as you say the words, it becomes easier and easier."

Finally, she says, if you have a suspicion - trust your instinct. Suspend the lessons or activities and report the suspected incident.

Child sex-abuse prevention tips are online at d2l.org.

Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - UT