Children's reports prompted by a play about sexual abuse that is touring elementary schools in Prince William County have led to one arrest and at least five police investigations, according to local authorities. Police said further arrests stemming from reports by children who have seen the play are likely.
The play, "Hugs and Kisses," is written for elementary school-age children and stresses the difference between "good touching" and "bad touching." At the end of the 35-minute drama, children are encouraged to speak with the five-member cast, as well as a social worker and police officer who attend all performances, if they have questions about their own experiences.
Although some Prince William County parents were initially wary of the play, it has been well received since it opened last month, school officials said. There is no depiction of sexual abuse in the play, and the language used by the actors is tame.
Other Northern Virginia jurisdictions have been less enthusiastic about the play. Officials in Fairfax County, apparently concerned about the sensitive nature of the play, canceled some performances last year. The play is not scheduled to be put on in the county this year, according to Fairfax school officials.
Prince William police say the play has led to an exceptional number of leads in cases of sexual abuse of children.
They said yesterday that nine children with serious allegations have approached authorities after seeing the play.
The production has played to date at 10 schools in the county and is scheduled to be performed at 10 others. An additional 50 schools around Virginia have booked the play through Thanksgiving.
"At this point I expect more arrests," said Sgt. Ralph F. Ahrens, head of the police juvenile unit handling the sexual abuse cases.
"The play's done a real good job," Ahrens said. "It shows kids clearly that nobody can touch you if you don't want them to."
Ahrens said that Ray Nardella, 57, of 17560 Barron Heights Rd., Dumfries, was arrested Oct. 5 after three children who saw "Hugs and Kisses" at a local elementary school complained about him. He was charged with three counts of forcible sodomy and two counts of aggravated sexual battery, according to Ahrens.
He is being held on $50,000 bond at the Prince William-Manassas Regional Adult Detention Center.
Ahrens said the children -- an 11-year-old boy, a 9-year-old boy and his 8-year-old sister -- reported that they were involved in three incidents with Nardella in his home.
"Hugs and Kisses" is produced by Theatre IV, a nonprofit children's touring dramatic group in Richmond. Officials of the production company said the play's intention is not to flush out child abusers, but to educate children of their rights and risks.
"It's a prevention program," said Managing Director Philip J. Whiteway. "We're trying to give young people some education about something they might not know about already."
Whiteway said the play, which first toured the state last year, has led to "numerous" arrests. Typically, he said, two or three children approach cast members after a performance with reports of abuse.