Tough topic: New event talks child abuse, sex assault with kids 3 and up

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - Every parent wants to keep their children safe and protect them, especially from abuse.

That's why prevention and education about child abuse and sexual assault is starting young.

Very young. Now as young as three years old.

A new event this weekend will help parents and young kids understand how to prevent abuse and who can help if something does happen.

"I'll be the ones talking to kids, talking about the rules about how to keep your body safe," says Becca Wilbershide.

Wilbershide is the energetic and bubbly prevention specialist at Willow Tree Cornerstone Child Advocacy Center with a passion for keeping kids safe, now also tasked with the tough job of teaching 3- to 5-year olds about their bodies and preventing abuse.

"We use Sarah and Rusty here to help teach the kids, what are their body part names, as well as where they're located on their body," she says, pointing to two dolls she uses during presentations. "What really I just want to make sure the kids take out of it is that they're saying stop, they're running away and they tell a trusted adult."

As part of child abuse prevention and sexual assault awareness month, Family Services of Northeast Wisconsin is expanding a program called Kids Can Be Safe, currently offered in schools, day cares and Head Start programs, to the entire community.

"It's never too early to start having these conversations. There's things kids can do to keep themselves safe, and because perpetrators are usually someone known to the victim, we need to start having these conversations early," says Samantha Bouressa, program supervisor at the Sexual Assault Center.

Kids learn the difference between good and bad secrets, safe and unsafe touches, and who they can trust to tell if something happens.

Coordinators say targeting this young age is critical, citing national statistics showing 1 in 10 kids are sexually abused before age 18.

"I think last year our average age was a 6- or 7-year-old female," says Wilbershide. "We see 3-year-olds sometimes with this allegation, and we see older."

"It's really powerful because you just think of their little minds taking in this information that as adults is so serious, but to kids it's simple rules that they can learn," adds Bouressa.

"Kids Can Be Safe" is Saturday, April 13, at the YWCA in Green Bay, 230 S. Madison St., from 10:00-11:30 a.m.

It's free and open to the public, and offered in English and Spanish. Child care is available, but 3- to 5-year-olds are encouraged to attend the age-appropriate presentation and activities alongside parents or adults.

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