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FORT EDWARD — After learning that a surprising number of teenagers in Washington County have been victims of sex trafficking, officials are bringing in a national expert to help parents notice the warning signs.

A free program will be offered at The Queensbury Hotel in Glens Falls from 6 to 8 p.m. April 30, titled “Protecting Your Children: Advice from Child Molesters.”

The speaker, Cory Jewel Jenson, has interviewed 1,600 sex offenders who targeted and seduced children by becoming trusted family friends. Jenson often uses video clips from those interviews to illustrate each stage of the grooming behavior.

Jenson will explain how rapists picked their victims, groomed them and persuaded them not to tell.

The two-hour evening program will go over the common grooming tactics as well as explaining who offenders are and why they molest children. Most molesters are not strangers who kidnap a child — they are trusted people, ranging from relatives to coaches.

The program will also discuss how to talk to children about abusers, which can be described to them as people with “secret touching problems.”

Parents will learn practical rules for family safety and learn how to report child abuse if the worst happens.

The issue has taken on new life in Washington County after officials helped 21 sex-trafficked youths last year, which they said was just the tip of the iceberg.

County officials had not previously been on the lookout for teenagers who were being trafficked, thinking it was not a big problem in a rural county. But the state offered Washington County a grant to start a Safe Harbor program for sexually exploited youth.

As part of the program, the state pays all of the costs of getting the teens to safety. That can mean reuniting them with family, among other options. A big part of the problem is many trafficked teens ran away from home and ended up “paying with their bodies” for room and board at someone’s apartment.

Safe Harbor uses resources from probation, the youth bureau and existing programs for runaway and homeless youths. The state program specifically requires officials to treat the children as victims, even though prostitution is a crime.

Before the evening program, officials are also offering a daylong program on the topic at The Queensbury Hotel. The program, “Responding to Sex Crimes Against Children,” runs from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Attendees must register in advance by emailing Heather.Carlton@dfa.state.ny.us.

You can reach Kathleen Moore at 742-3247 or kmoore@poststar.com. Follow her on Twitter @ByKathleenMoore or at her blog on www.poststar.com.

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