‘This is an epidemic’: School program aims to stop sexual abuse before it happens

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WESTLAKE, Ohio -- Terrifying statistics have recently come out on the amount of children molested. Approximately one in four girls, and one in six boys has been sexually abused by the age of 18. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, only 12 percent of child abuse is reported.

That’s why one woman in Westlake has made it her mission to make sure all kids learn right from wrong at a young age. Cathy DuBois, an Intervention Specialist in the Westlake School District created something called Project S.T.O.P. It stands for Stop The Oppressive Predator. She runs it out of her non-profit organization, ReInventing The Cycle.

“This is a problem that is an epidemic and we need to help keep our kids safe,” DuBois said. “We need to do something and we know education is the number one form of prevention so we need to start educating our kids and not ignoring it because the problem is not going away.”

Through the program Project S.T.O.P., children learn about sex abuse in an age-appropriate way. They class is taught by using a video, a book and a doll.

“By having the doll they can role play and they feel comfortable and can practice the skills we want them to use,” DuBois said. “They can also use the doll to help them maybe act out what they wouldn’t feel comfortable doing without the doll.”

Mallorie Haworth, a school counselor for Dover Elementary School, says the program is extremely beneficial and easy to teach.

”What I like about it is it’s very easy to implement and its effective and direct,” Haworth said. “It’s a sensitive subject that may be hard to talk about so the fact there is a video and a doll really keeps the kids engaged throughout the process.”

Studies show children are most vulnerable to sex abuse between the ages of 7 and 13. That’s why teaching them at a young age is ideal.

“This is the perfect age to talk about it because as we know our predators are grooming kids at this age,” DuBois said. “So if we can get them to recognize their inner alarm and tell someone when something doesn’t feel quite right we can prevent them from having a lifetime of problems.”

The principal of Dover Elementary School, Tim Barrett, says they feel very fortunate to have the program at their school because it is their obligation to keep kids safe.

“A lot of times these incidents occur when they’re young and they don’t realize it,” Barrett said. “Something might put them in danger so giving them at least a little bit of information for them to identify a situation that might be uncomfortable or unsafe for them I think is our total call.” Barrett said since so much happens when they’re young you can’t wait until after the fact.

Because of the growing number of children molested by strangers or even people they know, Project S.T.O.P. wants to make sure more school districts get involved in this.

“We’re getting close to being in 100 schools but I`m not going to stop until we’re in every elementary school,” DuBois said.

Right now the program is in schools across Ohio and surrounding states. The program is simple. Any teacher or counselor can facilitate it. It’s only once a day, once a year to the third grade class. Some schools can get the kits for free with the right grants and funding, but if not, it’s only $125 for a kit that the schools will keep. Then the schools can reuse those kits every year.

So it’s simple, but beneficial. Just ask the kids.

“I like using the doll and saying no to it and it’s fun to learn how to keep myself safe from strangers or people that I know,” fourth grader Renee Leveck said.

DuBois says program has already been very successful.

"We have had schools coming back to let us know they’ve identified problems,” she said. “They’ve identified students who are either getting sexually abused or getting groomed to get sexually abused and because of Project S.T.O.P. they were able to help prevent or stop it from happening.”

The non-profit organization, ReInventing The Cycle, also has a student advisory board working to promote awareness. The president of the board is a senior at Westlake High School, Jennifer Wagner.

“It’s really important to keep kids safe especially in a school environment and at home,” Wagner said. “Kids are very important to our future so we have to keep them safe.”

Wagner is currently working on a big event coming up in April, which is National Child Sex Abuse Awareness Month. They are holding a campaign called Pinwheels for Prevention. The event will be Saturday, April 13, 2019 from 1:30 -3:00pm at the Westlake Rec Center hill. They are asking everyone to come out and plant pinwheels on the hill with them.

For more information about the event or about the program, Project S.T.O.P., you can visit www.ReInventingTheCycle.org or contact Cathy DuBois at: Cathy.DuBois@ReInventingTheCycle.org.

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