Program aims to prevent child sex abuse

NAUGATUCK — For years, sexual abusers were portrayed on TV as men lingering in the shadows randomly seeking out their next victim.

In reality, though, an overwhelming majority of sexual abuse cases against children, 93 percent, are committed by people known to the child — a relative or a friend, according to social worker Christine M. Cocchiola.

“This is not strangers on the street; this is not stranger danger,” she said. “The problem is they do a grooming process, where they entice the children by being useful to the family or useful to the child. Parents or guardians end up thinking they are the greatest person in the world: they love kids, they are good with them and they think, ‘I’ll leave my children home with them.’”

Many parents do not know the warning signs of pedophilia and do not talk to their children about how to prevent being a victim, Cocchiola said. It is the reason she holds classes statewide to educate parents. That class is being offered in Naugatuck next week.

The class, funding for which has been cut from the state budget for the upcoming fiscal year, will be offered only a couple more times. It is being held from 6 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Central Avenue Preschool building, 28 Central Ave., here.

The goal of the program, which is open to all adults, is for parents to become informed and gain knowledge on how to protect children from “the unthinkable” and how child sexual abuse offenders gain access to their victims.

Cocchiola, who has a master’s degree in social work and is a full-time faculty member at Naugatuck Valley Community College in Waterbury, calls the class “The stranger you know: a child sexual abuse prevention program.” It is sponsored by the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood and is offered at no cost to parents and agencies that service children and their caretakers.

Cocchiola has spent 25 years as a counselor for the domestic violence and sexual assault center, Safe Haven of Greater Waterbury, and is on the education committee for Jane Doe No More, a Naugatuck-based nonprofit that works to improve the way society responds to survivors.

Some of the takeaways from the program are that parents should:

  • Take responsibility for protecting children from sexual abuse;
  • Teach children when it is appropriate to hug, shake hands and wave;
  • Discuss with children how adults are not always right;
  • Monitor and supervise children’s activities, including Internet access;
  • Choose caregivers, such as day care providers and babysitters, carefully.

Space for Tuesday’s event is limited. People are asked to RSVP to 203-720-5224, ext. 231.

For information, visit the state Office of Early Childhood website at

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