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Last modified: Friday, December 9, 2011

IU professor: 'Parents should talk to their kids about sexual assault'

Dec. 9, 2011

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- With former Penn State University defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky facing charges of sexually assaulting 10 boys, it is natural for parents to want to talk to their kids about sexual abuse.

"Parents should talk to their kids about sexual assault and use this crisis as an example," said Maria Schmidt, assistant professor of Human Development and Family Studies, in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation.

She says it is important to help kids understand there are "bad" people in the world, but they are small in number and most people are "good." Noting that using crisis situations to start the conversation about sexual abuse can instill fear in young children, Schmidt encourages parents to talk early and often with their children about boundaries and expectations.

She offered the following suggestions:

  • Be careful not to scare kids. Use everyday conversations to discuss how your kids might handle uncomfortable or unsafe situations. By starting the conversation while they are in their everyday routine, children will not only be more comfortable about conversations after a crisis, but they will understand how these threats relate to their own lives.
  • Keep in mind that you cannot always be with your children, and sometimes overly protecting them may actually hurt them in a crisis situation. Instead, take opportunities to empower them to be able to make judgments about appropriate interaction and contact.
  • Make sure kids understand that "bad" people come in all forms, including people they may feel are trusted adults. Share your expectations, values and beliefs about what is appropriate behavior with others so children can understand how adults and children interact. Ensure that they know who they can talk to, and encourage them to speak up if they find themselves in a situation that violates those expectations.
  • Observe the situations yourself. Make sure you know who your children are with and the situations they will be in so you can put your kids in the safest situation possible.

Schmidt can be reached at 812-855-9892 or

More experts

Indiana University faculty members can speak to various aspects of this issue. They include:

  • Pediatrician Antoinette Laskey, M.D., and her colleagues involved with the Child Protection Program in the IU School of Medicine's Department of Pediatrics. The Child Protection Program provides medical evaluations for suspected abuse and neglect victims, and promotes community collaboration in the evaluation process. Contact information for the pediatricians and information about the program are available at
  • Lisa McGuire, associate professor in the School of Social Work at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, is interested in issues facing children and families, both in Indiana and across the nation. She is the principal investigator for the School of Social Work's Title IV-E collaboration with public child welfare and teaches in the child welfare concentration, in the area of community. Title IV-E is the partnership between the School of Social Work and the Department of Child Services and oversees the training of existing staff at DCS as well as students who are earning a degree and plan to work in the child protective area. McGuire can be reached at 317-274-6736 and

For additional assistance, contact Tracy James at 812-855-0084 or; Mary Hardin at or 317-274-5456; or Rich Schneider at 317-278-4564 or