Curiosity sparks children’s attention whether it’s spotting a shiny toy inside a chest load of trinkets or “playing doctor,” which is a common game children partake in, hoping they will become a future nurse or doctor one day. Though, curiosity is how children learn right from wrong, it may sometimes open unwanted doors and perpetrators leach their way in. That’s when it becomes criminal.

As an educator, author and activist, Marie Pflugrad of Glen Ullin believes now is the time to uncover the dirt beneath the rug, with hopes of preventing child sexual abuse and misconduct from happening.

“Kids need to learn that curiosity is a good thing unless it’s something like that. If you’re being tricked into or coerced, I’m really strongly encouraging kids that we all have a conscience and a sense of right and wrong,” Pflugrad said. “When something doesn’t feel right, look right or smell right, listen to that voice. Because there’s a reason for it.”

With two books — one focused on sharing her own personal journey of overcoming the victim and the other detailing preventative approaches to these types of crimes — Pflugrad’s main goal is to get her message into the education system all across the state of North Dakota. By hosting short 15-20 minute presentations, she hopes to educate teachers and students on this growing issue.

“The fear (and) the concern for children right now during the COVID-19 (pandemic), is especially (urgent) because everybody is stressed right now. Parents are not only forced to become teachers, they’re now homeschool teachers and they’re also trying to maintain their own jobs. Daycares are disrupted. Schools are disrupted. So I was a product of that, I was a latch-key kid and I also was farmed out to whoever would keep me,” she said, adding, “because the folks were poor — they had six kids… The issue I have is that I want the question to be asked of our public because this book, while it is about children and to educate children, I think it’s critical our adults get educated as well.

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“I think there’s a naivety and to a degree, people don't want to admit or accept the fact that this might happen to my child. We all think that this would never happen to my child.”

Pfulgrad’s first book entitled “How EMDR Therapy Transformed My Life,” which was released in January 2020, details the healing process she had acquired nearly four years ago. At the time, Pfulgrad was teaching in Carrington and New Rockford but she started having “severe anxiety,” along with flashbacks from her childhood.

“I always knew there was something there but I didn’t really know the ins and outs of the specifics of it. The healing that took place from that gave me a new purpose,” she said.

“You Have a Voice,” a children’s book, was published October 2020. Though it is a preventative children’s book, Pflugrad encourages people that it is not solely a “birthday or Christmas present” to give to children. It’s meant to be informative for parents, teachers and children.

As an educator, Pflugrad highlights that the emphasis needs to also focus on listening to children and teaching them to speak up when something is not right.

“Kids are numbed and frozen by this fear… When this is happening, children are just not mature enough brain-wise to handle what is being done,” she said. “It’s an adult thing, and yet it is strictly for that perpetrator’s pleasure.”

In rural America such as North Dakota, everyone looks out for one another. However, when there are germ infestations such as pornography, crimes happen sometimes right under people’s noses. Pflugrad pointed out that not all perpetrators are older men, sometimes it’s older children committing these vial acts.

“... The perpetrator tends to make them feel special. That’s another word that just makes my skin crawl because ‘you’re special.’ And our kids are; they are very special but not in that way. I want to point out too that not all perpetrators are men. We tend to think that. But at the root and base of all of this, pornography is a huge part of this. It starts somewhere and we are so desensitized in a sense to pornography and (with) some people, it’s accepted,” she said, adding, “And sadly, the horror stories I hear are that some even Christian, church-going people think that pornography enhances their marriage. It is not and they are very diluted to think that it is good.”

Plfugrad paused for a moment, and continued, “… It’s almost like a drug addiction. You start with this and you go until you’ve progressed to a very hard drug. It’s the same with porn. The soft porn, it starts with something and it goes into a very bad area.”

When a child falls victim to a perpetrator, self-blame becomes the center of their focus, Pflugrad said, adding that they will feel like they deserved what was done to them. This in return leads to alcoholism, drug addiction and suicidal ideation.

“I started drinking at the age of 9. I was stealing beer and alcohol from my older brothers. I had older siblings. Alcohol was readily available. I started numbing my pain at a very early age,” she recalled.

Other times, victims turn to food and then obesity becomes a shield to battle the scars.

“Some people do not want to look beautiful so they will do anything to keep from being touched. There’s so many tentacles to child molestation and it is all bad. All of it,” Pflugrad said, shedding a long sigh. “I just want so desperately to be the voice for kids who can’t or (for those) who are afraid they can’t.

“I just see this as such a timely thing right now. It’s very needed. It’s really necessary.”

“How EMDR Therapy Transformed My Life” and “You Have a Voice” are available through AdventSource. For more information regarding Pfulgrad’s initiatives to creating change and preventing child sexual abuse, visit youhaveavoice.org.

Look for the third part of the Child Sexual Abuse series next Wednesday, which will focus on governmental efforts being undertaken and potential legislation aimed at addressing the issue.