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What can Indiana schools do to help prevent sex abuse?

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By DAN SPEHLER

INDIANAPOLIS (July 15, 2014) - What can Indiana schools do to help prevent sex abuse?

That was the subject of a special workshop Tuesday in Washington Township, with school officials and experts from all across the state there to participate in the forum, called 'Adults Protecting Children: A Unified Campaign to Combat Sex Abuse.'

Among the topics – the impact of technology and what school districts can do differently to make sure crimes get reported, and make sure their own teachers aren't to blame.

“We are always vigilant about teacher conduct,” said Trish Whitcomb Sipes, a special advisor to the state superintendent.

“I’ve had to prosecute several teachers over the last 23 years and also people associated with the school environment,” said Steve DeBrota, Project Safe Childhood coordinator with the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “I will say though that I’ve prosecuted far more people in other professions.”

Sometimes the abuse happens at home, or online. So how do we keep it from happening? And what should parents do?

“Pay attention to your children. That is the most important thing people can do,” said Sipes. “What we’re trying to do here is educate people to observe children and other adults and that’s the best way we’re going to combat this problem.”

Recent studies suggest one in every six teenage girls is abused in Indiana, a disturbing statistic that places the Hoosier state second in the nation.

And that's why the state department of education held the special workshop Tuesday- to talk about  sex abuse and what schools can do to fight it, prevent it, and report it.

“There are some schools that are really good about it,” said Suzanne O’Malley, deputy director with the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council. “I think teachers in general really want to do the right thing, but I think sometimes the schools feel uncomfortable reporting because they think if they report there’s abuse going on in their community then it makes their school look bad or their community look bad.”

“We thought it would be a good idea to bring in some specialists that can talk about the root causes of some of this behavior,” said Sipes.

DeBrota talked about the role of technology, and how ‘sextortion’ cases are becoming more and more common.

“There’s the chat technology you can use on a phone that sends text messages but also pictures and videos,” said DeBrota. “The problem with that video is it gives people a false sense of security because that data on the other end can be captured and stored even if they think it isn’t being stored.”

“There is software out there that can develop a persona for someone online that is completely different,” said Sipes. “I could appear as a 17-year old boy.”

“This is not a problem just in high schools,” said DeBrota. “This is elementary schools and middle schools (too). We need to make sure we get the word about that so people can make sure they can protect their children.”