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Advocates: Communication essential to help prevent child abuse

By Andrew Wittenberg | Posted - Dec 5th, 2012 @ 7:09pm

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SALT LAKE CITY — Charles Weber's confessed history of sexual abuse against children has landed him in the Wasatch County jail. His tenure as principal at Soldier Hollow Charter School ended shortly after he brutalized a then 15-year-old boy earlier this year.

The scenario that led to more than 30 years of sexual exploitation of minors by Weber is exactly what Prevent Child Abuse Utah hopes to fight.

Trina Taylor, acting executive director of PCAU, said their mission is to inform parents, students and educators about how to spot signs of abuse. Their main piece of advice? Constant communication with children.

"We can't just have that talk once and call it good," Taylor said.

Recognizing abuse:
  • Shows sudden changes in behavior or school performance
  • Has not received help for physical or medical problems brought to the parents' attention
  • Has learning problems (or difficulty concentrating) that cannot be attributed to specific physical or psychological causes
  • Is always watchful, as though preparing for something bad to happen
  • Lacks adult supervision
  • Is overly compliant, passive, or withdrawn
  • Comes to school or other activities early, stays late, and does not want to go home
Signs of sexual abuse:
  • Has difficulty walking or sitting
  • Suddenly refuses to change for gym or to participate in physical activities
  • Reports nightmares or bedwetting
  • Experiences a sudden change in appetite
  • Demonstrates bizarre, sophisticated, or unusual sexual knowledge or behavior
  • Runs away
  • Reports sexual abuse by a parent or another adult caregiver
Consider the possibility of sexual abuse when the parent or other adult caregiver:
  • Is unduly protective of the child or severely limits the child's contact with other children, especially of the opposite sex
  • Is secretive and isolated
  • Is jealous or controlling with family members

*Information provided by Child Welfare Information Gateway.

Taylor's program supervisor Carrie Jensen educates adults and teachers about many of Utah's laws. For example, there is a specific reference where adults over the age of 18 are mandated by law to report suspected child abuse to police.

"If you suspect abuse, then you need to call and report," Jensen said. "You don't have to have proof, you don't have to know for 100% sure."

But there is fear among teachers and parents that children may exaggerate the facts. And once abuse is suspected, it is hard to take back a reputation, which is why communication is so important. There are protections under the law for individuals reporting abuse.

"We have that good faith umbrella that if we're doing it in the best interest of the child, to protect them, we're not in any sort of trouble if no abuse is happening," Jensen said.

Both Taylor and Jensen said it is never too early to start talking to children about abuse. They recommend talking to children from the time they are 2 years old and into adulthood. Constant communication and reaffirmation that they won't get in trouble by telling the truth helps children open up if something happens.


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