HAMMOND — Educators must teach children that sexual predators may be posing as their internet friend.
That was the message Monday at the second annual No More Secrets symposium held in Alumni Hall at Purdue University Northwest.
It will also be the law in Indiana this summer when Senate Bill 355 goes into effect, requiring public and private schools to provide age appropriate instruction to students in kindergarten through 12th grade as well as ensure public and private school employees report suspected child abuse or neglect to state authorities without delay.
North Township Trustee Frank J. Mrvan, who organized the No More Secrets campaign last year, which is funded by Geminus Corporation, has helped organize the training of employees at Hammond public schools, the Hammond Academy of Science and Technology and Catholic schools in the Gary Archdiocese for the upcoming year on how to recognize and prevent child sexual abuse in preparation.
School administrators, children's counselors and law enforcement officials were among those Monday who spoke about what can be done to recognize and stop sexual child abuse which is estimated to affect one in six boys and one in four girls.
Educators said too many children who become disciplinary problems in school have social and emotional issues arising from sexual abuse.
Joseph Majchrowicz, superintendent of schools for the Gary Catholic Diocese, questioned how kids can focus on academic excellence or other educational goals when experiencing such turmoil in their lives.
Shana Robertson, education and outreach coordinator for Fair Haven Center, which helps women who have experienced sexual violence, said programs they have for children include how to prevent bullying and one called "My body belongs to me."
"If something doesn't feel right, say so. If anyone who makes a child feel scared, the child should tell an adult at home or school or in the community and if the first adult doesn't help go to another adult and another adult."
U.S. Attorney Thomas L. Kirsch II and Assistant U.S. Attorney John Maciejczyk, who together have about four decades of prosecutorial experience, said no crime scenes are more gruesome than those where children are victims of sex abuse. "Child pornography ... seeing a child raped ... sticks with me more than that of murder victims," Maciejczyk said.
They said such cases are hard to prosecute because child victims rarely report their abuse. "We will aggressively go after these people in human trafficking. You have my word on that. We need the help of school officials to prosecute these people," Kirsch said.
Maciejczyk said parents who give children smartphones should be asking the same questions they would if they were giving them keys to the family car. "Who are you with? What are you doing? The internet is a dangerous place," he said, adding children shouldn't be left alone in the bedrooms with their phones at night.
Ryan Holmes, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney, said parents need to know what apps their children are using, especially those that encourage anonymous sharing of information with strangers and delete any nude photographs sent by "friends."