Thursday, January 06, 2000

Children shown way to escape abuse


School visitors say 'Tell an adult'

BY KAREN SAMPLES
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NEWPORT — They call it the “uh-oh” feeling. Wobbly knees, hot face, butterflies in the stomach. When kids have it, they should tell someone. It means something is wrong.

        A little girl in Newport endured her uh-oh feeling for three years. From 1997 to 1999, she was raped “numerous times” by a 28-year-old man, court records show. When she finally told her secret to a teacher, police were immediately notified. Within days, the man confessed.

        On Dec. 9, he pleaded guilty to second-degree rape and faces at least 10 years in prison, records show.

        Thank goodness for the partnership between Northern Kentucky schools and the Women's Crisis Center. For 22 years, center staff members have visited elementary schools with a presentation about the “uh-oh” feeling.

        They talk about all the stuff we wish kids didn't have to know: the difference between good and bad touches, the meaning of “private parts,” the rights of all children to safety and privacy.

Fund-raisers for Crisis Center
  The uh-oh program is one of many services provided by the Women's Crisis Center. The center is in the midst of raising $1.5 million for a new shelter. Call 655-2649 for information, or send checks to the Women's Crisis Center, 835 Madison Ave., Covington 41011.
  On Feb. 26 at the Syndicate in Newport, the Charities Guild of Northern Kentucky will throw a party to raise money for the shelter. Tickets are $40 per person and include dinner and live band music. The theme is “Dancing through the Decades.” Party-goers are encouraged to wear costumes from their favorite time period.
  Tickets available in advance but not at the door. They can be ordered from Joann Clarke, 781-9214.
        The Newport 10-year-old spoke up after hearing the presentation at her school. Years earlier, she had told her mother about the assaults, but her mother didn't believe her. The presentation addresses this problem: If one adult won't lis ten, find another who will.

        Every week, as many as 15 youngsters from elementary to high school disclose abuse to the crisis center as a result of its education program, says

        Joyce McNeely, development director. The program reaches 32,000 children a year with presentations tailored to the elementary, middle and high-school levels.

        In high school, the presenters focus on date rape. When they arrive, some teen-agers say, “Here come the uh-oh people!” says Maureen Rich, education coordinator for the crisis center.

        It took one little girl three years of hearing the uh-oh program before she told Ms. Rich about sexual abuse she had suffered.

        I stopped by A.J. Lindeman Elementary School in Erlanger to hear more about the uh-oh feeling. Hollis Miller and Tracy Denham, who work at the crisis center, were talking to second-graders.

        They started with a question: What rights do children have?

        Hands shot into the air.

        “The right to take a bath!” said Ronnie Ifft.

        “The right to eat healthy stuff,” said Ashton Benton.

        “The right to praise the Lord,” said Brittney Dobe.

        “The right to eat macaroni and pizza and cheese!” said Zach Magner.

        Ms. Miller explained: Children have to follow rules, but they all have the right to be safe, strong and free.

        Susie Ziegler, a student, offered her definition of safe: “When someone tries to get you into their car, you can say, "No, I can't get in there,' and just walk away and say, "No way, Jose.'”

        Zach showed signs of exposure to health education.

        “If someone tries to ask you if you want to smoke, just say no,” he said.

        The best way to be strong is to use your brain instead of your fists, Ms. Miller said. She gave the class three steps for escaping an uncomfortable situation: Say no, get away fast and tell someone.

        The students watched a video about a boy named Andrew, whose slimy neighbor is abusing him. Without showing the actual assault, the video captures Andrew's anguish as he debates what to do and tries to avoid another encounter with the neighbor. After hearing a class presentation on the three steps, he finally tells his mother.

        What an important message for kids to hear. Still, I kept thinking how complicated school has become. Must schools take time from academics to address such issues?

        “They interfere whether we talk about them or not,” says Loraine Rainer, the guidance counselor at Lindeman. “It's part of their lives. We educate the whole person.”

        “I think we're just a reflection of society,” says Principal Benita Lowe.

        In that case, the uh-oh program reflects both the good and the bad.

        Some sickos will try to torment kids. That's the terrible reality.

        But thanks to schools and agencies like the crisis center, some of those kids will get away.

        Karen Samples is Kentucky columnist for the Enquirer. Her column appears Thursdays and Sundays. She can be reached at 578-5584, or by e-mail at ksamples@enquirer.com.