Do you know how to protect your child?

April is Child Abuse Prevention month. The story below aims to help adults protect the children in their lives from abuse.

 Often parents conclude that certain caregivers are “safe” because the caregiver is too young to present a risk, is married with children, or is a woman.  These attitudes put kids at risk, a local expert says.

Margaret Ochoa, former assistant county attorney for Jefferson County where she advised the Department of Human Services on child protection matters, now writes and lectures on the topic, including facilitating safe environment trainings for the Denver Archdiocese. She is a member of Light of the World Church in Littleton. She spoke to the Denver Catholic Register about ways parents can protect their children.

Boundaries

“Watch for red flags,” Ochoa said.  “A potential offender might violate a child’s physical, emotional and behavioral boundaries.”

Physical boundaries limit who, where, and how we allow others to touch us, she said.  Emotional boundaries limit how much personal information we share and how much time we spend with others.  Behavioral boundaries provide the rules we follow.

“Watch for people who touch too much,” Ochoa said, “who assume an intimate relationship with a child—either physical or emotional—or who don’t respect a family’s rules.”

Juveniles as perpetrators

While juveniles are often thought of as victims, they can also be perpetrators, Ochoa said.          “Minors commit about 30 percent of the total sexual abuse incidents reported to the police,” she

said. “The younger the victim, the greater the chance that her molester is a minor.”

Fox31 News recently reported that there are more than 300 registered sex offenders attending Colorado schools.  They attend school with their crimes maintained confidentially, and with safety plans in place.  These potential predators present a risk to the rest of the student population.

“Kids must be educated to keep themselves safe,” Ochoa said. “That job falls on parents and other loving adults.”

Explain to your child that any behavior that reaches a point of aggression or bullying is inappropriate and possibly criminal, she advised.

Pedophilia

Pedophilia is a condition in which an adult has primary sexual attraction toward children.  A common myth surrounding pedophiles is that they are homosexual.

“Most pedophiles (79 percent) identify as heterosexual in their adult relationships, so the belief that your child is safe in the care of a ‘family man’ puts your child at risk,” Ochoa said.  “Many children have been victimized by married fathers.  Some even exploit their own children to gain access to victims.”

“Prepare your child to be away from you by discussing personal safety rules much like you teach traffic and household safety,” Ochoa said. “Prohibit your child from entering private places in the homes of others, such as bedrooms of parents or older siblings.  Enforce those same rules when children visit your home.”

Female perpetrators

It is also important to be aware that women molest about 10 percent of female victims and about 15 percent of boys, Ochoa said.

“The belief that women can’t be offenders puts children at risk,” she said, adding that some believe that women who molest adolescent boys don’t really harm them.

“This double standard is repugnant,” Ochoa emphasized. “Along with the obvious harm to the boys’ spirits is a loss of innocence; as well as potential exposure to disease, pregnancy, disruption in future relationships, substance abuse, poor academic performance, and risky sexual behaviors.”

Victims of female offenders frequently fail to report the abuse, which complicates their recovery.   “Regardless of the gender of their perpetrator, 40 percent of male victims never report,” Ochoa said. “Thirty percent of girls never do.”

Protective measures                

Make sure your child understands guidelines regarding touch, she said.  Teach your child that no one is allowed to touch him or her any place that would be covered by a swimming suit except those few people who help keep them clean and healthy.  Reinforce this rule in the presence of their pediatrician.  Use anatomically correct language, and teach them which parts are private.

“Sexual offenders often screen for potential victims using this test,” Ochoa said. “A kid who can communicate clearly about body parts is a threatening witness and might be passed over for one who has not been empowered with this tool.  This is a good time to remind your child that their body is a blessed gift from God, and that he has a special plan for each of us.”

That message should be reinforced repeatedly and modified as your child grows and develops.

Check that the programs in which your child participates have open physical space so kids can’t be secluded from the group, Ochoa advised.

“Ensure that background checks are done, but be aware that the vast majority of sexual offenders haven’t been convicted,” she cautioned, adding that’s it important to check references.

Signs of abuse

Victims of sexual abuse show some common characteristics.  Watch for sudden changes in routines, or increases in moodiness, aggression, or depression.  Bedwetting or soiling after a child has been toilet trained can indicate emotional distress.  Decline in academic performance can also be an indicator.

“Increased sexualized behavior can point to abuse, but be aware that genital touching is a behavior that is common, even in young children,” Ochoa said. “Kids exhibiting this behavior should be educated by loving adults to value their sexuality in a private way in order to protect them.

“None of these are definitive indicators that your child has been abused,” Ochoa cautioned.

“There are often physiological reasons for these behaviors.”

If you have specific questions, Ochoa advised contacting your pediatrician to learn whether your child’s conduct is within normal limits.

Church proactive

Catholic institutions have been proactive in requiring that employees and volunteers undergo safe environment training before instructing and interacting with youth, Ochoa said.

“Such training is effective in preventing child abuse by exposing warning signs which expose suspect behaviors,” she said.

COMING UP: Team Samaritan cyclist goes ‘Everesting’ for the homeless and hungry

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When it comes to the daily sufferings of those who are homeless, there’s nothing like a 29,029-foot bike ride to keep things in perspective.

That’s exactly what Corbin Clement will be doing this Saturday, June 19, with a couple of his riding buddies as they attempt an “Everesting” ride to raise money for the Samaritan House homeless shelter in Denver. Starting at Witter Gulch Road in Evergreen, the three riders will climb Squaw Pass Road to a point in Clear Creek County and ride back down the hill for over eight laps, which amounts to roughly 190 miles in distance and the equivalent of the elevation of Mt. Everest in terms of vertical climbing – hence the name “Everesting.” Their goal is to complete the feat in 20 hours or less.

Oh, and they can’t sleep. It is, indeed, just as crazy as it sounds. Those who aren’t avid cyclists might be wondering, “How in the world do you train for something like this?” 
 
“For training, it’s been just more or less ride as much as possible,” Clement told the Denver Catholic. “The training is structured around endurance, and that’s of course what Everesting is. It’s just a lot of peddling. So, a lot of my training so far has just been trying to ride as much as possible and ride longer high elevation rides.” 

In March, an Irish cyclist set the world record for Everesting when he completed the feat in six hours and 40 minutes. Clement isn’t trying to set a record, but regardless, it’s quite a feat to undertake, even for a seasoned athlete like him, whose pedigree includes snowboarding and rock climbing. 

“Our ride will be the same thing, but it’ll be pretty different,” Clement said. “We don’t have any sort of special bikes or super focused diet or a really regimented plan or a crew that’s very well-instructed on how we’re going to tackle this. I’ve read a couple of things to just kind of make it into a party — have friends come out to support you, get people to join you on certain laps…that’s kind of the approach we’re taking.” 

Clement has already raised $5,200 for Samaritan House, with a current goal of $8,000. This is Clement’s first year riding for Team Samaritan, but his dad, Kevin, has ridden for the team for several years. When his dad offered to give him an extra kit and uniform, Clement accepted, but didn’t want to take it without doing something help the cause. He could’ve simply opted for a nice ride in the countryside, but he chose to do something a bit more challenging.  

Corbin Clement used to experience the challenges that homeless people face on a daily basis when commuting through downtown Denver to work on his bike. This Saturday, he will raise money for Samaritan House homeless shelter by “Everesting,” a 190-mile bike ride that is the equivalent of the elevation of Mt. Everest in terms of vertical climbing. (Photo provided)

“For some reason, the Everesting idea popped into my head,” he explained. “I think it’s one of those things that has a little bit of shock value for people who hear about it. It’s certainly something that’s gained more popularity and visibility in the last couple of years with endurance athletes. I wanted to choose something that would actually be a challenge for myself and something that I’d have to work towards.” 

Clement currently resides in Utah, but he used to live in Denver and commute by bike to work every day. During those rides to his office, which was located near Samaritan House, he would pass many homeless people and have conversations with them. This experience was also a motivating factor for his Everesting attempt for Team Samaritan. 

“It’s very different when you’re on a bike versus in a car because you’re right there,” Clement said. “If you stop at a stoplight and a homeless person is on the corner, whether or not they’re panhandling or something like that, you hear the conversations, or you’ll have a conversation with them. There are things you smell or you hear or you see that you just never would if you were in a car. So, it kind of made sense, too, with the biking aspect. It’s part of my community that I’ve lived and worked in for a very long time.” 

Clement’s Everesting attempt is one event in a series of endurance event’s he’s doing over the summer that culminates with the Leadville 100, a single-day mountain bike race across the Colorado Rockies. In that race, he will be riding to support young adults diagnosed with cancer by raising funds for First Descents.  

Both causes are near to Clement’s heart, and he said that while his Everesting attempt will be a form of “suffering,” it pales in comparison to what the homeless face day in and day out. This is ultimately why he’s riding and raising funds for Team Samaritan. 

“Any time we see a homeless person or people who have to live on the streets,” Clement said, “That is true suffering — true endurance — with no end in sight.” 

To learn more about Corbin’s fundraising efforts or to donate, click here.