Teaching about Sexual Abuse

By Rachel Kane
Burbank Leader
February 2, 2007

The projector was set to go in Holy Cross Hall at St. Francis Xavier School on Tuesday night as a crowd of 30 or so parents trickled in.

They had come to watch video, listen and talk about one of the most taboo subjects in American life — and, more recently, in the Catholic Church — child molestation.

"This is a very important meeting," said Mary Ann Madden, one of the designated teachers of a new, Archdiocese of Los Angeles-mandated sexual abuse class.

Mary Ann Madden gives an introduction to the film that will be shown in students classrooms, "Teaching Touching Safety," Tuesday at St. Francis Xavier School.

"Teaching Touching Safety," the program children in kindergarten to 12th grade will undergo, is part of a larger archdiocese program to educate their teachers, students, parents and anyone else involved with the religious organization about sexual abuse.

In the face of multiple, ongoing child-molestation criminal trials and accusations of abuse against members of the Catholic clergy, the Archdiocese approved programs for "protecting young people," in 2002 at a meeting of U.S. bishops, said Tod Tamberg, director of media relations for the archdiocese.In October, St. Xavier received written notification of instruction for Catholic schools all over L.A. County to introduce the training and program, Madden said.

"I know at the parish level we have been very concerned since the Amish school incident and we have been concerned about the protection and safety of the children," Madden said.

The school must give two classes to their kindergarten through 12th-graders by June of this year, and the program encourages parents to become involved in their children's education about sexual abuse, Madden said.

"All the lessons are designed to open up dialogue," she said.

The lessons in "Teaching Touching Safety" are broken up into four age groups — kindergarten to second grade, third to fifth grade, sixth to eighth grade and ninth to 12th grade.

The parents on Tuesday were shown three videos that will be shown to three age groups and given pamphlets on the program.

The school has had four of its female teachers undergo special training from the archdiocese on the subject of sexual abuse and those four women will conduct the classes.

"We all have that strong background and know what to do in the event that someone tells us something," Madden said.

After viewing the 6-minute films, most of the parents asked basic questions about the program like dates and times the lessons would be shown and how often.

The program is optional and parents must sign a form that stipulates their child's non-involvement if they wish to opt-out, to be given to the archdiocese as proof of enrollment numbers, Madden said.

Karen Rodriguez, of Burbank, was at the meeting. She has a 9-year-old and 5-year-old who both attend St. Xavier.

"I'm encouraged by the fact that I think it's going to generate a lot of discussion," Rodriguez said, but added that she worried about the ramifications of children making false claims of abuse.

Sean Mannion, of Burbank, has a 9-year-old daughter at St. Xavier and expressed the same concern, although they were in the minority.

Most of the parents at the meeting were receptive to the program and no one has yet to opt out of the program, Madden said.

St. Xavier and other Catholic schools in Burbank are not alone in their efforts to educate children and staff about sexual abuse.

The Burbank Unified School District has been incorporating curriculum and staff training on the topic for years, school board President Ted Bunch said.

"It's just one of the things that you have to deal with," Bunch said. "It's just there and we work hard to try to keep it from happening. Our charge is to protect our students and also to protect our employees from sexual predators."

Madden and the other three teachers will begin "Teaching Touching Safety" on Feb. 13 in the school's Holy Cross Hall


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