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Franklin Regional to host forum on sexual abuse

| Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, 9:54 p.m.

Franklin Regional will host a forum on the prevention of sexual abuse for parents of high school students Thursday evening.

Representatives from Greensburg-based Blackburn Center Against Domestic & Sexual Violence will give a presentation to interested parents and community members, discussing what constitutes sexual abuse, what a pedophile is, red flags and other signs of sexual abuse.

The district requested the forum, said Beth Babyak, education and outreach program manager at Blackburn. The organization partners with all 17 Westmoreland County school districts to provide information sessions in the schools, but Franklin Regional is the first in several years to host a forum geared toward parents and community members, she said.

“With everything that has been in the news with (the Jerry) Sandusky case, the Catholic Church and other incidents, we want to tell them what the Blackburn Center is and how we can help,” Babyak said. “Education is one of the most important steps to prevention.”

The threat of sex-related crimes has hit home in recent years to the Franklin Regional community. In July, high school physical education and wellness teacher Bret Thompson was charged with 45 felony sex charges, including 18 counts of having unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, after being accused of having an 11-month sexual relationship with a female student.

In 2010, Franklin Regional High School social studies teacher Terry Flaherty was charged and convicted of sending sexually explicit text messages to a male student. Both teachers resigned from the district after charges were filed.

Blackburn has hosted classroom sessions at Franklin Regional at all grade levels for several years, Babyak said. Superintendent Emery D'Arcangelo said the district is pleased to have a strong relationship with the center.

“Periodically, we review the programs and — with input from the members of our Guidance Department — make appropriate additions and adjustments,” D'Arcangelo said. “Given the nature and sensitivity of this very important topic, we believe that a parent-awareness program is appropriate at this time and does dovetail with other programs that we provide. We are pleased that the Blackburn Center is able and willing to prepare a presentation for our parents.”

Babyak said Thursday's session will specifically focus on the same topics handled during classroom presentations at the high school. Blackburn doesn't want to scare parents or students — the center simply wants them to be aware of what can happen.

“Knowledge is always power, that's the old cliché,” Babyak said. “It's about being aware of the possibilities. This can happen anywhere, anytime. You don't want to scare people, but you want to make people aware. “

For more information on the Blackburn Center, see www.blackburncenter.org. For information or to talk with someone about an issue, call the Blackburn hotline at 724-836-1122.

Daveen Rae Kurutz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8627, or dkurutz@tribweb.com.

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