Avoiding sexual assault: How parents can discuss a tough topic with kids

WASHINGTON — A disturbing investigation of sexual abuse in a Maryland school system is likely prompting some parents to have a tough conversation with their kids.

And Eileen Dombo, a trauma expert and associate professor at the Catholic University of America, suggested parents start by talking to kids about how adults can earn their trust.

“It’s important not to do anything [adults] ask you to that makes you feel uncomfortable, or [that] someone who you do trust wouldn’t ask you to do,” Dombo said.

After Carlos DeAngelo Bell — a former staffer and track coach for Charles County schools — was indicted Monday and charged with the sexual abuse of seven children, Dombo said many parents are frightened and unsure about how to approach the conversation with their children.

A bathing suit is an example of how one can help young kids understand the parts of their body that are off-limits to others, Dombo said.

“What my son calls ‘the no-no zone.’ Anytime anyone asks you to see that area or touch that area, you say ‘no.’ That area is any area that would be covered by a bathing suit,” she said.

For older children who are starting sexual education in school — around fifth through eighth grades — Dombo suggested broaching the conversation by discussing consent.

“It’s a really important time to build on that with conversations about the fact that … anybody who is in middle school cannot consent to any sexual activity. You’re a child,” she said.

She advised parents to ensure their children’s safety by being present for one-on-one meetings that their child has with adults, such as counseling or tutoring sessions.

“Have a door open. Do it in a quiet area where they can be easily seen by people walking by,” she said.

Stories of sexual abuse can bring up painful memories for children and adults alike, and Dombo said it’s never too late to reach out and talk about those experiences.

Here is a list of hotlines in the D.C. area:

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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