Officials encourage education on early signs of abuse -- Gazette.Net


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Prince George’s County police say if parents suspect their child has been sexually abused, they should take the child to the hospital to get an evaluation and file a report with police.

“Head to a medical facility first to prevent any possible diseases. Once the child is safe and everything is under control, we’ll come to the hospital and start an investigation,” said Officer First Class Fredys Castro-Rivas.

Castro-Rivas was credited Aug. 6 with locating a missing 6-year-old girl from Lewisdale, who had been sexually assaulted, and apprehending the suspect police think is responsible for the acts.

He said he has a 3-year-old daughter and emphasizes the importance of open communication between parents and the child.

“With my daughter, I do hand motions and say, ‘No one touches,’ and have more conversations about how persons should stay away from personal spaces,” he said.

John DeGout, vice president of leadership development for the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington, said parents always must be cognizant of their children’s physical and emotional changes, adding children who have been abused can be noticeably quieter and introverted.

“Make sure that everything is OK,” he said. “If a child is acting differently, don’t just ignore it.”

Lavette Sims, a spokeswoman for the county Department of Social Services, said to determine if a child has been sexually assaulted, parents should review the list of signs and symptoms from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which states to watch for difficulty walking or sitting, nightmares or bed wetting, a change in appetite, refusing to change clothes for physical fitness, demonstration of unusual sexual knowledge or unexpected pregnancy.

The social services department investigates about 45 cases of sexual abuse involving children per month, Sims said.

The best way to protect children is to “educate children to respect their bodies and have open discussions about boundaries,” Sims said. “Parents need to understand that children need to be taught about appropriate boundaries.”

For those seeking help, social services’ 24-hour hotline can be reached by calling 301-909-2450.

A report of abuse also can be made to the Prince George's County Police Department's Sexual Assault Unit at 301-772-4908.

The Sexual Assault Center at Prince George’s Hospital Center in Cheverly provides support and educational information for families. The center can be reached at 301-618-3154.

John Erzen, spokesman for the Prince George’s County state’s attorney’s office, said parents and community members should be trained to spot early signs of sex abuse and what to do if there has been an incident.

“For a long time, there’s been a stigma — whether out of fear or another reason — people have stayed quiet about this issue,” Erzen said. “We want to blow the lid off this entire thing and get it to where people are no longer afraid.”

djgross@gazette.net