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April 1, 2011

Promoting body safety

Program aims to empower children and prevent molestation

LOGANSPORT — An Indianapolis Police Officer who was molested when he was eight years old delivered a message to Logansport children Thursday in hopes they won’t suffer the same fate.

IPD officer Terry Hall presented the Body Safety program to kindergarten through fifth grade students at Landis and Columbia elementary schools. His goal, he said, is to educate kids on what is acceptable touching and what is not.

“I asked the kids if they would let someone touch their privates for $20,” Hall said. “Eighty percent raised their hands.”

Marsha Austin, a parent who attended the program, said she was disheartened and shocked because her child was among those with raised hands.

Hall told the children that that wasn’t acceptable. He made them look at their teachers who he said were saddened that the kids raised their hands.

“I want them to know that if an adult or teenager crosses that line and touches them in a way that makes them uncomfortable, then they don’t have to put up with that,” he said.

 He stressed to the kids that if it ever happened to them, they need to remember that it’s not their fault.

“Can it ever be your fault if someone touches your privates?” Hall asked the students.

He responded with a resounding “no.”

He told the kids that people might trick them.

Hall talked about a case where a man invited some neighbor boys over to help him work on a go-cart. The man told the boys they could be the first to drive it around the neighborhood. He let them watch R-rated movies and drink beer and smoke cigarettes — and then he touched them inappropriately.

Hall told the students that if they are being molested or knew someone who was being molested, they should tell someone. He said they could tell a teacher, a bus driver, a police officer, a relative or a friend. If the first person doesn’t believe you, he said, then tell someone else.

“If you don’t tell, that person is going to touch another person,” he said.

Hall told the kids that it took him years to talk about what happened to him.

“When I was eight years old, someone I knew and trusted touched my private parts,” Hall said.

He went from an A and B honor roll student to one who got Ds and Fs on his report card, he said.

“I was a teacher’s nightmare,” he said. “I didn’t tell until I was 19.”

When he told his family, he said, a number of them came forward and said they had thought they were the only ones being molested.

Hall said some parents feel uncomfortable about his program and don’t think their kids should be exposed to such information, but he said it’s critical for the students.

“Child molest is the largest crime done against children yet the least reported,” Hall said. “We call it the deadly secret.”

If parents don’t talk to their children about it, someone else will, he noted. Hall said he once talked to a convicted child molester while the man was in prison. Something the man said sent chills up Hall’s spine.

“He told me, ‘Don’t talk to your kids about child molest. I’ll be glad to talk to them when I get out of prison,’” Hall said.

The police officer said the man confessed that in his 30 years, he had molested between 200 and 300 children. Austin, the mother, described the Body Safety program as “wonderful.”

“Not talking about it won’t keep it from happening,” Austin said.

She said she wished more parents would have attended Thursday’s program or even the one held for adults only on Wednesday night.

Columbia Elementary School principal Elizabeth Loposser agreed.

“We had a good crowd Wednesday night,” she said. “It would have been better if every parent could have come.”

She said the school was fortunate to be able to have Hall deliver an important message.

“It’s about empowering kids and letting them know that no one has the right to their body,” Loposser said.

She said she hoped the program would help someone who is being molested now and prevent someone else from being molested in the future.

Department of Child Service workers were on hand after the presentations to speak in confidence to any youngsters who came forward to report any incidents of abuse.

• Lindsey Ziliak is a staff writer at the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at 574-732-5148 or lindsey.ziliak@pharostribune.com.

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