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Starting the conversation about sexual assault

While accusations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh are prompting debate, some local organizations say that shouldn’t take away from the fact that sexual assault is a topic that needs to be addressed.

Specifically, they’re reminding parents to talk to their children about what’s okay and what isn’t, adding that the questions nowadays isn’t if sexual assault should be addressed, rather how and how soon?

Gabe Cripe, Director of Community Outreach for the Bloomington YWCA ‘Stepping Stones’ program says they work with area school districts, educating students as young as 3-years-old, all the way through high school, about how to address the topic openly.

“We address ways to report if somebody does touch you in a way that makes you feel unsafe or uncomfortable.” Cripe highlighted.

But he acknowledges the way the topic is introduced, makes a legitimate difference and offered suggestions that are age appropriate.

“We talk about consent with the high school students and how to intervene in a situation where a sexual assault might be occurring.” he included.

Experts add, technology increases children’s access to mature content and parent’s should make the effort to introduce sexual assault education before anyone else.

Heidi Van Heuklon, a Clinical Director with the Center for Prevention of Abuse in Peoria credits the overwhelming amount of options youth have, exposing them to sexual content through multiple platforms.

“Social media now and the online gaming…there’s all sorts of exposure potentially for sexual situations. Kids who are young… teaching the appropriate words for body parts is helpful.”

Center for Prevention of Abuse also encourage parents remind children to always speak up if they’re uncomfortable in any situation.

“If a child knows, this is a secret that’s not a comfortable secret to keep, that’s usually a great red flag for them.” Van Heuklon outlined.

They referenced role playing as a useful too as well, suggesting parents review boundaries before their child leaves to go to a friend’s house or sleepover.

As children grow into adolescents and begin to process news and current events, like the Kavanaugh-Ford hearings that outline explicit scenarios where sexual misconduct allegedly took place, both agencies  reiterate making youth aware of their local resources a priority.

Center for Prevention of Abuse reports they typically receive around 1-2 therapy referrals a day, but this week they’ve seen as many as five a day and that doesn’t include the increase in calls they’re seeing from alleged victims.

Van Heuklon believes media coverage can trigger victims and survivors of sexual assault. The Center for Prevention of Abuse in Peoria is located on 720 W. Joan Court and their Crisis Hotline is staffed 24-hours. Please dial 1-800-559-SAFE (7233) for free and confidential assistance.

If parents would like to reach the Bloomington YWCA (1201 N. Hershey Rod, Bloomington, IL) for more tips on how to facilitate a conversation with family, dial 2-1-1 and ask for the ‘Stepping Stones’ program or visit their website directly.




Lauren Melendez

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