In late November, Penn State settled with six more victims of convicted child sexual abuser Jerry Sandusky, growing the university’s total payout to an astonishing $93 million. Penn State’s financial payments should serve notice, that as a nation we are overdue for a plan for child sexual abuse prevention in youth serving organizations, educational settings, and frankly everywhere our children live, learn, and play.
Following Sandusky’s 2012 conviction, the media has prompted ongoing debate about the university’s response to the initial abuse allegations. Across the nation, people have questioned who knew that abuse was occurring, to what extent, and where the failure to protect children began. This new scrutiny challenged university legacies and legends, and forever changed the conversation surrounding Penn State. Unfortunately, the abuse at Penn State and the media furor that resulted from it has not spurred a national dialogue about what we can and must do to protect all children from sexual abuse.
At Darkness to Light we believe that any organization that works with children in any capacity is at risk for child sexual abuse. Experience demonstrates that in order to target vulnerable children, abusers like Sandusky exploit gaps in protection as well as our national denial about the realities of child sexual abuse. Without policies that provide clear physical and behavioral boundaries with children, and empower staff to recognize and report suspicious behaviors, children can be in danger.
Organizations that work with children must protect them – and work to create environments that allow all children to learn, play, compete, and worship in safety. To do this, organizations need to educate all staff, faculty and volunteers on the importance of recognizing and preventing child sexual abuse, what measures can be taken to reduce risks, and how to react if abuse is suspected or discovered.
Child sexual abuse is not a comfortable topic to discuss, and no one wants to think that a trusted friend or coworker could be violating children, especially those in our care. Yet denial is a huge factor in the rates of child sexual abuse. Ninety percent of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by someone known to the victim or family. To protect our children we must be willing to throw open the doors on this issue, and bring it out of the shadows.
The Penn State settlements demonstrate a new level of accountability for child protection – one that holds not only perpetrators but supervisors, leaders, and institutions accountable for protecting (and failing to protect) children from sexual abuse. By choosing to learn how to prevent abuse from occurring, organizations can take a proactive approach that benefits not only children, but organizational leadership, staff, and the entire community.
While the United States may not have a national agenda for child sexual abuse prevention, let’s not overlook that Centre County itself, the area where Penn State is located, should be applauded and modeled after for how communities can appropriately respond to a child sexual abuse crisis. In the aftermath of the Sandusky scandal, Centre County made a commitment to train 5% of their adult population in child sexual abuse prevention.
In an initiative collaboratively launched by Centre County United Way, the YMCA of Centre County and the county’s Youth Service Bureau and Women’s Resource Center, their goal was achieved this past August and over five percent of the county’s adult population has now been trained to prevent, recognize, and react responsibly to child sexual abuse. That is 5,800 adults more knowledgeable and better equipped to protect children from predators like Jerry Sandusky. If every community, every organization, and every individual took that responsibility, we would create a world where child sexual abuse could not thrive.
To educate and empower yourself and learn how you can bring prevention to your youth serving organizations, visit D2L.org/Stewards.