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Sex Offender Information Sessions Set

DALLAS -- As promised, community leaders are offering workshops called, "Recognizing Child Molesters: A New Approach to Protecting Our Children."

DALLAS -- As promised, community leaders are offering workshops called, "Recognizing Child Molesters: A New Approach to Protecting Our Children."

The workshops are from 6 to 8:30 p.m. and are open to anyone, whether they have children or not. The first three sessions will be at Lyle Elementary on Jan. 8, at Oakdale Heights Elementary on Jan. 18, and at Whitworth Elementary on Feb. 5.

Future workshops in Independence and Monmouth will be announced soon.

Last October, organizers offered an abridged version of the curriculum to community leaders and officials. Modeled after Marion County's parent training, its aim is to give parents facts about child abuse and what to do if confronted with the worst-case scenario.

It was developed from interviews with convicted sex offenders and is based on statistical information collected from expert programs like Liberty House in Salem.

"We view this as an extraordinarily positive thing that will help the children of this community," Polk County District Attorney John Fisher, said at the October meeting.

Some of the content will be disturbing to anyone concerned about the well being of children, but it is presented concisely and sensitively.

Matt Hawkins, one of the program's organizers, said that he heard of woman who had printed pictures of all the sex offenders in her area and laid them out on a table for her daughter to memorize. The woman then told her daughter to avoid these men.

Hawkin's said that it's good to avoid known offenders, but it's also important to make it clear that they aren't the only threats. Good communication and basic ground rules are more important.

"When you are teaching your kids to cross the street do you teach them to only look for yellow cars? I hope not, because they're gonna get hit by a red one," Hawkins told the audience.

His point: Parents need to teach their kids what is inappropriate and that they must tell them if something happens. Hawkins and the other officials hope to give Polk County parents the proper tools to help their kids be alert and communicate.

Next year, organizers hope to expand their range to middle schools and high schools, as well as area private schools.

"Anything that we can do to help prevent abuse in the first place is a good idea, but it's important to remember that abused children can recover and go on to lead productive happy lives," Fisher said.

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