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Experts offer five steps to protect kids from abuse


There has been an outcry of community concern since Richard Gustafson, a well-known Bend gymnastics coach, was accused of sexually abusing four little girls at his gym. Now, parents across the High Desert are talking to their children about body safety.

Sometimes, talking about sex abuse can be scary for kids and for parents. That’s why KIDS Center in Bend and the Darkness to Light program offer five steps to help.

The first is to understand the facts. The fact is that one in 10 kids are abused in some way. In Central Oregon; 1,200 kids reported sexual abuse in the last year and a half. So abuse does happen, even here.

The second step is to minimize opportunities for abuse to occur. That would be instances where there is any chance a child could be alone with an adult.

“Have the opportunity to pop in as parents,” Shelly Smith, executive director of KIDS Center, said Friday.

The next step is to talk about it with your kids. Be open and understanding, and make sure they learn about their body. The KIDS Center has a workbook you can purchase called “It’s My Body” that can aid in doing that.

The fourth step is to recognize the signs. Pay close attention to your child. If something seems off, or they are acting out of character, it could be a sign of something else happening.

“Like if they’re kids who haven’t wet the bed for many years and they start wetting the bed,” Smith said.

The last step: If your child does come to you, react responsibly.

“React in a way that supports your child,” Smith said.

Smith said if you act alarmed, children are likely to think they’ve done something wrong and shut down.

Once they do confide in you, Smith said not to make them divulge every detail then and there. Wait and seek professional help.

While abuse might scar a childhood, Smith said that it does not have to ruin a child.

“Kids are very resilient,” Smith said.

Youngsters who recover the best have parents who believe them, get them into therapy — and get themselves into therapy as well.

For more information on how you can help your child or yourself, KIDS Center has a new tab on their website at

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