PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — As a little boy growing up in Northeast Portland in the late 1980s, Craig Hull loved the usual things like playing with his sister and riding his Big Wheel.
His mother, Jackie Moffenbier, was single and working full-time. But she felt good about the day care she found for Craig and his sister.
“I felt safe that it was religious based,” she told KOIN 6 News.
But a letter she received from authorities about a 17-year-old male caregiver at Craig’s day care made her world stop.
“You go from feeling like a horrible parent to ‘What is this going to do to my child?'”
Craig was just 6 at the time, but she sat him down to ask if anyone had made him feel uncomfortable — and he named the teen boy.
“His routine was taking the children that he liked, that he found vulnerable and could use, he’d take them to the back area of one of the buildings and threaten them about not being their friend anymore,” she said.
Now 29 and a parent himself, Craig Hull speaks to community groups about helping victims of child abuse and protecting children from predators.
“It was all, you know, ‘I’m not going to be your friend if you tell,'” Hull said.
Teaching children that it’s OK to tell is a conversation experts say should begin with toddlers.
“A good example is when your child is bathing and you’re just giving them a bath, to start talking to them about body parts and using the correct names for the body parts,” Germaine Kollias, an outreach specialist at Children’s Center in Clackamas County. “Get away from the whole idea of it’s something we don’t want to talk about or something we don’t want to say.”
Kollias also encourages parents to have an ongoing conversation with children about safe and unsafe touching.
“You know, your swimsuit area, whatever your swimsuit covers, is an area that is not OK for others to touch.”
Children often don’t tell their parents first, research shows, so Kollias suggests designating several safe adults a child can turn to.
“People they can go to talk to about these kinds of things and making sure your child know it’s OK to talk to these other people if something happens, it’s not going to upset you.”
When she looks back at what happened to her son, Jackie Moffenbier stresses how important it is to keep an open line of communication with children.
“I got an answer very quickly,” she said, “and that’s how I knew.”
Hull refuses to let the abuse define him. He and his mother work to raise awareness about keeping kids safe.
“You have to make a big noise,” he said. “This can’t happen anymore.”