Take the time to educate your kids.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention month. The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) , the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization, is focusing this year's awareness campaign on protecting children from sexual assault.

    With the recent release of a level three sex offender, Dean Johnson, into the Crookston community, this topic couldn't be more timely. Johnson was imprisoned on 16 felony counts involving child pornography, centered around photos of young girls. Although his crimes did not involve physical contact with young victims, let his story serve as a reminder of the importance of appropriately educating our children about sexual abuse.

    According to RAINN, 44 percent of the victims of rape, sexual abuse and incest are under the age of 18, with two-thirds of assaults committed by someone known to the victim. These numbers reflect reported cases. It is impossible to know how many others incidences have gone unreported for day, months, years, or decades. As a parent, there are ways you can protect your child from sexual abuse:

    Talk to your child about sexuality and sexual abuse in age-appropriate terms. Yes, it may be an uncomfortable subject to broach, but your embarrassment is trivial when your child's safety is on the line. Be open and direct, letting them know it is okay to talk to you when they have questions. Don't try to cram all of the information into one big speech about sex. Make talking about sexuality and abuse part of routine conversation.

    Teach your child that some parts of the body are private. Other people should not be touching or looking at these parts unless it is to provide care with you or another trusted caregiver present. Tell your child if someone tries to touch or look at their private areas or shows them their own private parts it is always okay to say no and that you want them to talk about it to a trusted adult as soon as possible.

    Talking openly about sexuality and sexual abuse teaches children that these things don't need to be a secret. It is common in child sexual abuse cases for the abuser to convince the child that the inappropriate acts are a secret they should not tell or "something bad will happen". Make certain your child knows they will not get in trouble if they tell you this kind of secret.

    Be involved in your child's life. Ask you child what they did during their day. Ask them about the people they go to school with and play with. Get to know parents, coaches, teachers and daycare staff. Kids sometimes feel they can't talk to their parents. Be sure you are comfortable with people your child may see as a trusted adult they can talk to.    

    Talk about media. If your child watches a lot of TV or plays video games, watch or play with them. Television shows, such as "CSI" and "Law and Order" often show different types of sexual violence. Some video games, such as "Grand Theft Auto" actually allow plays to engage in sexual violence via their characters.  Use examples from shows you've watched together or games you've played to start conversations of sexuality and sexual abuse.

    Be available. Make time to spend with your child. Stress that your child can come to you if they have questions about sexuality or if someone is talking or acting in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable. When you empower your child to say "no" to unwanted touch and teach him or her to come to you with questions, you are taking critical steps in preventing child sexual abuse.

    If you suspect your child has fallen victim to sexual abuse, do not hesitate to contact local authorities immediately. They would much rather investigate a case and find out it isn't a concern than allow one more child to suffer the lasting impact of sexual abuse, rape, assault or incest.