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In Hartford, Teaching Preschoolers That Their Bodies Belong To Them


April 19, 2013

HARTFORD The preschoolers gathered on the rug for a special storytelling Friday with Mayor Pedro Segarra, who sat in a child-sized chair and spoke slowly as he pointed to the book.

Hugs and kisses are nice, right? And snuggling with friends? Segarra asked.

But, the mayor continued, reading from a page: "Sometimes, you don't like to be touched..."

"You can say, 'No' ... your body belongs to you."

At the Heritage Child Development Center, a Head Start and preschool on Enfield Street, many of the children repeated that last phrase like a mantra.

Jill Starishevsky, a New York City assistant district attorney who has prosecuted sex offenders, wrote "My Body Belongs To Me" as a way for caregivers to teach children about inappropriate touching and what to do if someone harms them.

The Community Renewal Team invited guests to read the book Friday at more than a dozen of its preschools as part of National Child Abuse Prevention Month.

Segarra read to three different classrooms of children ages 3 to 5.

"Some places on your body should never by touched by other people, except when you need help in the bathroom, or getting dressed, or when you go to the doctor," Segarra told them. "These are places on your body covered by a bathing suit."

"If anyone tries to touch your private parts, tell your parents or another grownup that you trust," Segarra said. He put down the book. "OK? That's very important."

After one of the readings, Segarra revealed to the preschoolers that as a child, adults tried to touch him in those "private parts," but he told them "no" and informed his mother.

He experienced several molestation attempts when he was 4 and 5, Segarra said later. Law enforcement was never involved; his mother dealt with those people from his neighborhood, he said.

"It's a big problem and we don't want our kids to be crushed so early on by sexual exploitation and abuse," Segarra said. "Kids can learn, in a good way, how to protect themselves, but also try to recruit adults to their defense when issues happen."

"My mother taught me very early on to say 'No' ...The consequences of sexual abuse are too severe."

The long-term effects of such childhood trauma can include depression, feelings of worthlessness and guilt, and drug and alcohol abuse, according to mental health experts.

Tynima Toney of Hartford said she regularly talks to her two young children about the book's message.

"Kids should know that their body belongs to them," said Toney, 27. "If they touch you the wrong way ... you definitely let Mommy know or an adult, because no one should do that to you."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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