Local experts share safety tips for teens at MHS | News, Sports, Jobs


TR PHOTO BY ROBERT MAHARRY From left to right, Center Associates’ Kim Hagen, MPD Lt. Tricia Thein and adolescent sexual health educator Taylor Woebbeking hosted the Keeping Your Teen Safe event. held at Marshalltown High School on Thursday evening.

Sex is a notoriously difficult topic for parents to discuss with their children, but in light of recent developments within the Marshalltown Community School District (MCSD), it has become more important than ever to talk about it.

During a high school event Thursday night, three local experts – Child Abuse Prevention Services (CAPS) adolescent sexual health educator Taylor Woebbeking, Associates Center clinical director Kim Hagen and Lt. Tricia Thein of the Marshalltown Police Department – presented the warning signs of sexual abuse and grooming, the definition of consent, age of consent laws and a host of other topics.

Although a swim meet, a basketball game and an orchestral concert all took place at the same time, around 20 people attended the chat, which was also recorded and has since been posted on the school district social media pages.

Citing the high rates of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections in Marshall County, Woebbeking stressed the importance of ongoing conversations about sex between parents and children, as teens are increasingly likely to base their relationships on sex. decisions about the opinions of their friends as they get older. She also encouraged parents to keep an open mind and be respectful even if they don’t agree with what their children are saying.

Hagen summarized her own experiences as a mental health professional who worked with victims.

“Unfortunately by the time they come to me most of the time we are talking about very difficult conversations, mostly related to sexual abuse and sexual assault,” she said. “If you think it’s hard to talk about sexual abuse, try living with it your whole life. ”

She presented statistics showing that one in 10 children are sexually assaulted before the age of 18 and one in five children are sexually solicited on the internet. In addition, 90 percent of child victims are abused by a trusted family member or adult, and 60 percent of victims tell no one.

“We need these kids to talk. We need them to start telling. We need to start having these conversations so that they feel comfortable talking about these issues, ”Hagen said. “We know that if they harbor this as adults, it leads to a lot of different issues – unhealthy relationships, higher rates of substance abuse, higher rates of alcohol abuse, mental health issues and suicide. ”

Hagen implored parents to check their children’s online activity and be aware of the signs of grooming, which include covert social media and cell phone use, unexplained cash and gifts, changes emotional or behavioral, spending less time at home and receiving special attention from an adult. She said she has seen cases of depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation skyrocket locally in recent years, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thein, who specializes in investigating sex crimes and human trafficking at the MPD, gave a basic introduction to both the age of consent and general sexual abuse laws in Iowa. Victims aged 13 or younger cannot give consent under any circumstances, and people aged 14 to 15 cannot legally consent to sexual activity with another person aged 14 to 17. Once a person is 16, they can consent to sexual activity with someone older than them.

Anyone who is intoxicated cannot legally give consent under Iowa law, and individuals cannot consent with another person who is in a position of authority or coercion over them. Consent, she added, is always revocable.

According to Thein, sexting has become a problem for students as young as fifth and sixth grade at Lenihan Middle School, and she explained how explicit photos and videos sent through apps like Snapchat, Instagram, and TikTok can be used to humiliate and harass people who send them after a relationship has ended – or even much later in life. Predators can also search for potential victims through seemingly harmless messages that indicate their age and / or location.

“Any communications app will be potentially problematic if not used responsibly,” she said.

Above all, Thein hoped viewers would believe children who report abuse and take action to reverse a culture that too often blames victims of incidents of sexual harassment and assault. Young men, in particular, are also starting to come forward although they are even less likely to do so than women.

“Having participated in these types of investigations, there is no advantage for a victim of sexual assault to report something falsely. Their lives are turned upside down, ”Thein said. “Believe the reporter. (This is) extremely important.

In an interview at the end of the event, Hagen said more of his clients have spoken out since it was revealed that three MCSD staff had been charged with inappropriate sexual conduct towards students over the summer. Two of them – William Terry and Adam Edgington – have committed suicide over the allegations, and Mark Esquivel is currently on trial in January.

“We have seen more children come forward and disclose sexual abuse. We’ve had more parents asking about grooming behaviors and different things related to sexual abuse, ”Hagen said. “I think the goal is to normalize these kinds of conversations so that our young people come to us and talk to us about these concerns and issues.”

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