Parents advised to pay attention to findings of report on school sexual assault

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EAST HARTFORD -- A new eye-opening report has exposed tens of thousands of cases of sexual assault going on in schools across the country.  The assaults are reportedly on students, by fellow students, causing eyebrows here in Connecticut to raise.

The report is from a year-long investigation done by the Associated Press and it reveals there were roughly 17,000 cases of sexual assault reported by students across the United States in the four years between 2011 and 2015.  The report also reveals that the actual number of assaults may be far greater, as the incidents often go unreported.

Michelle Piccerillo, President of the Connecticut Youth Services Program said parents should pay attention to this report's findings as a reminder of the importance to talk to their children about sexual abuse, regardless of how challenging that conversation might be.

“Letting them know that they can demand respect from other people that they shouldn’t ever let somebody touch them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable,” Piccerillo said.

The report also shares the disturbing details of a 12-year-old boy in Maine who’s year long torment of harassment from a group of classmates ultimately lead to his rape and a legal fight over whether his school did enough to protect him.

For Piccerillo, she says here in Connecticut its important issues like this one that need to be tackled as a community.

“The reality is, is that this like many others, weather its mental health substance abuse facing our young people, they’re community issues our families our youth serving agencies our police all kind of need to work together to keep our young people safe,” Piccerillo said.

In November 2016, a new Connecticut law went into effect to support the idea that schools must also play a role.

Kaitlyn Fydenkevez, from the Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence said that new law requires all schools in Connecticut to provide education about sexual assault and abuse to students from kindergarten to 12th grade.

The mission of the law and the program put out by the alliance is to create a new culture of understanding and awareness about the issue before a student reaches college age.

“Thinking about giving children the lessons and tools at a really early age to grow up in a culture where this isn’t a problem.  We strive to use anatomically correct names for things first of all, but also, kind of starting early and helping children understand when you ask to hug a friend and they say no that’s an opportunity to learn how to accept rejection or accept someone’s boundaries they establish for themselves,” Fydenkevez said.

She and Piccerillo also remind parents sexual assault is likely unfamiliar territory for a child or teen, and must be approached in an age appropriate manner.

“A young person in particular who might not have a lot of sexual experience being able to identify something that’s assault as opposed to something that’s supposed to happen might be difficult for them,” Piccerillo said.  She added parents need to address the issue in a way that meets their own, individual child’s level of understanding and needs.  She recommend parents ask their child questions about what they do and don’t know and fill in the blanks where needed, reminding them this is an open conversation they can always ask questions about.