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"If we don't ask, then we don't know:" Tactics for talking with children about sexual assault

Experts share ways to navigate the uncomfortable conversation
"If we don't ask, then we don't know:" How to talk with children about sexual assault
Posted at 2:30 AM, Apr 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-29 04:30:23-04

SOUTHERN COLORADO — According to the Fountain Police Department (FPD), on April 23 investigators began looking into a report regarding sexual assault on a child at the New Jerusalem Missionary Church. One of the pastors, 52-year-old Kevin Troy Daniels Sr., turned himself in to police on April 27.

Daniels was arrested and charged with sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust, which is a felony. FPD is looking for any additional witnesses or victims who may have information regarding the case. People can reach Sergeant Sheyna Marshall at (719)382-6918, or can remain anonymous by calling the Crime Stoppers Tip Line at (719)634-STOP(7867).

Kevin Troy Daniels Sr. mugshot
Kevin Troy Daniels Sr. is charged with Sexual Assault on a Child by One in a Position of Trust.

While the case regarding Daniels continues, the discussion about protecting children from abuse has always been front and center for many parents.

Melanie Llana is a Colorado Springs mother with three young children. She said the arrest in Fountain is a reminder of how prevalent child sex crimes are. "It's always scary knowing something that happens like that is just right around the corner," said Llana.

Llana said she started teaching her children about their bodies at a young age. "We teach them to say the right words, so they don't have anyone telling them that they shouldn't tell anyone, or should have different nicknames for things that aren't appropriate... I have to make sure my kids are safe when I'm not around, and even if you think you can trust people, you never know," said Llana.

Dr. Juliana Deans is a licensed professional counselor, who also works at Colorado Technical University. She is a mother to a young boy, and shared her insight on how to talk with children about sexual assault. "It's very uncomfortable, and you want to admit that. Acknowledge how this conversation we're about to have may be uncomfortable, you may be embarrassed to have this conversation, but it's needed," said Dr. Deans.

Dr. Deans said the majority of children who are sexually assaulted know their perpetrators. She first began to teach her son about his body through hygiene, and then moved on to different kinds of touch. "We talk about good touch, bad touch, and secret touches. I do not like the word secret. First of all, because a lot of times the perpetrators who do sexual abuse say, 'oh, this is our little secret,'" explained Dr. Deans.

She also prepared her son for boundaries with other children, and would follow up with him after daycare. Some of Dr. Deans' questions included "I know you guys were playing, did you feel safe when you played? Did you accidentally touch anybody anywhere that maybe we need to apologize? And did that person accidentally touch you?"

Dr. Deans said the conversations have created an open line of communication between her and her son. "The more comfortable you are talking about something that's uncomfortable to the children, the more confidence actually you're building in those children," said Dr. Deans.

Safe Passage is the child advocacy center for the Pikes Peak region, coordinating child abuse investigations and responses for children and caregivers to ensure they receive the best trauma informed care throughout the process. "We recommend that the conversation is as open-ended as possible. So, is there anything that you want to talk to me about that? Is there anything that you felt uncomfortable about, or you had questions about?" said the Executive Director of Safe Passage, Maureen Basenberg, who discussed how to speak with children about sexual assault.

Basenberg said most of the conversations she has had with her own children centered around personal boundaries. She said it's important to reinforce that a child will not get in trouble for telling a parent what happened, and that it is not their fault. Basenberg also said giving the conversation complete focus is necessary, but know a child may not decide to speak up at that moment. "Let them know they're safe and supported, and then wait," said Basenberg.

She also said to watch for cues or signals from a child, which can vary depending on the person. "You know your kiddo, and you know when they're off," said Basenberg.

Basenberg asks many questions of other adults who interact with her child. She said even for playdates, she has a series of questions for other parents. "Take a good hard look, and not just assume that because they work for an organization, that they've been vetted... If we don't ask, then we don't know," said Basenberg.

Both Dr. Deans and Basenberg's children have participated in Kidpower's programs, which is a nonprofit designed to teach children about boundaries and safety skills. Basenberg said the programs are free, and a fantastic way to approach complex topics with children, like sexual assault.

CLICK HERE for more information on talking to children about sexual assault.