Winnetka, Community

Community discussion on teenage sexual violence coming to Winnetka on April 12

A nonprofit group wants to enable local parents to combat teenage sexual assault in New Trier Township.

KidsToo CEO Tania Haigh said the organization scheduled the local event in response to a “concerned parent” and will facilitate a parent town hall from 7-9 p.m. Tuesday, April 12, at the Winnetka Community House.

“We have learned from personal experience that parents are often left out of the conversation when it comes to the topic of child sex abuse,” Haigh said. “… This is not the first time we have responded to a community need.”

KidsToo is a by-product of the #MeToo movement that captivated culture over the last five years to bring awareness to the prevalence of sexual assault and to empower its survivors. KidsToo — an effort from Parents Against Child Sex Abuse — narrows the focus to children and hopes to enable “legislation, safeguards and accountability” to fight child sex abuse, according to the KidsToo website

The CDC calls child sex abuse a “significant but preventable public health problem” and estimates that one in four girls and one in 13 boys are sexually abused during their childhood. Victims of child sex abuse are significantly more at-risk than their peers for everything from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder to substance abuse and suicide, the CDC says.

The event April 12 in Winnetka will feature special guests, including the New Trier High School student group New Trier Students Demand Change

In November 2021, the group planned a student walkout to protest the high school’s response to claims of sexual violence and harassment involving students. 

The plan developed in the wake of the October 2021 arrest of a 17-year-old Winnetka resident who was charged with two counts of aggravated sexual assault. The Record is choosing not to identify the alleged offender but has confirmed he was a recent student of New Trier High School. 

The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting the case, did not respond to The Record’s request for an update.

The walkout was avoided when New Trier Students Demand Change and the school’s administration agreed to a series of changes to how the school addresses and combats sexual violence on campus. 

Joining the student group April 12 will be Faith Colson, the namesake behind Faith’s Law, which expanded the definition of grooming in Illinois to include a variety of written, spoken and digital activity. Tom Hampson will also appear. Hampson is the president of the Truth Alliance Foundation, which investigates and educates communities about child sexual predators. 

Tania Haigh, CEO of KidsToo, will lead the April 12 program.

Haigh said the program will use a panel format to initiate discussion on the topic, and Haigh and panelists will take and answer questions from guests.

The point, she said, is to empower parents to speak up about child and teenage sexual abuse and how it is handled within their communities.

“We are here for the survivors and the parents,” Haigh said. “Part of the education to parents is holding institutions accountable. We are not here to work with the school. That is a line we had to really be clear about. We are not anti-schools, but let’s be honest, a lot of them are being dishonest. We have a problem with that.”

That dishonesty, she added, can manifest in silence across a community.

“What baffles me is how it doesn’t seem these issues are really being talked about or taken more seriously,” Haigh said. “School districts and parents need to look around and see they are not immune to these problems. The more silent they are, the more painful it is for students affected by teen-on-teen assault.

“Predators thrive in a culture of silence.”

The event is free to attend, but organizers ask guests to register online for planning purposes.

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joe coughlin
Joe Coughlin

Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319

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