Trauma therapist discusses molestation prevention and awareness

WWSB ABC7 News at 11pm
Published: Nov. 18, 2023 at 9:44 PM EST
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SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - Manatee County Schools paraprofessional Angel Rodriguez Mercado was arrested earlier this week after a third grade student at Abel Elementary School came forward with allegations of being molested.

Rodriguez Mercado, who taught English to Spanish-speaking students, confessed to the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office to molesting the student on two different occasions.

Lieutenant Mark Morie works in MCSO Crimes Against Children division, and says many schools bring in professionals to talk about what is and isn’t appropriate touching.

“I don’t know that this was done in this case. It may have been. I don’t know if maybe language was a barrier and it wasn’t done as regularly as it normally is,” Morie says.

Johanna Cedillo is a trauma therapist for Manatee Children’s Services who works with many Spanish-speaking children and she adds, “A kid to be sharing this even without the cultural barriers is a big thing.”

Cedillo, a former ESOL student herself, says these teachers play a big role in helping kids get acclimated to a new environment.

“It gives a lot of security. They think, ‘Oh, they know my culture, they know my language. They are here to help me in this area of need. This is supposed to be a safe space for me,’” says Cedillo, but adds this dynamic can lead to a relationship that potentially endangers the child. “It is more vulnerable because there is a language barrier. They can’t always come out and say exactly how it is. Sometimes there is a lack of knowledge and education so it is easier to groom. It’s an easier process.”

She also says it is so important for parents to be having open and transparent conversations with their kids at home to establish what is and isn’t appropriate behavior from authority figures.