As individuals and communities, we are all impacted by the horrible allegations of child sexual abuse by a former assistant football coach at Penn Sate. These reports leave us wondering how such atrocities could happen when so many well-minded adults were around –– yet none took the necessary action steps to end the abuse and the offender’s access to children. Further, parents are left wondering how they can best protect their children.
Shock, disbelief and outrage are often the first reactions to such news. However, this incident can serve as a teachable moment to empower adults to recognize the signs, have the courage to react responsibly and, ultimately, prevent child sexual abuse before it happens in the first place.
The accused did not wear a trench coat and lure a child into a dark alley. Rather, he was a talented man who was revered by the public as a coach and trusted mentor. He allegedly used that trust to obtain access to children. Tragically, this scenario plays out all around us every day. Hundreds of thousands of children are sexually violated by adults every year, and shockingly, more than 90% of the time, the child is abused by someone the family knows and trusts.
At Darkness to Light, we have spent the last decade educating adults — those who are in a position to protect children — how to prevent abuse and recognize warning signs so communities can react responsibly and with confidence.
Penn State could have benefited from having its staff trained so that witnesses would come forward. Having policies and procedures in place, and staff empowered to hold others accountable to the policies, would have made all the difference in the lives of the children involved and the reputation of the institution.
There are more than 42 million adults in America who were sexually abused as children. Research shows that between eight to 20 percent of our children are abused every year. The immediate impact to a child is devastating and the long-term impact costs society more than $35 billion annually. Child sexual abuse is linked to personal dysfunction, mental health issues, teen pregnancy, violent crime, substance abuse, and sex trafficking – among other issues.
Now is the time to finally shine a spotlight on the much avoided subject of child sexual abuse. We must talk to our kids and our communities about prevention. Public dialogue about child sexual abuse helps shape better societal beliefs and responsible actions. The more we can talk openly about child sexual abuse signs or perpetrator patterns, the better we are able to recognize behavioral red flags and have the courage to take action.
We should expect our youth-serving organizations to have policies that govern how adults may interact with youth. Further, these organizations must offer regular trainings, so that no one is left wondering what their legal or moral obligation is when discovering that a child has been sexually abused. The youth-serving organizations should hold staff and volunteers accountable, while our communities, parents and students, in turn, should hold the organizations accountable.
We encourage the public to continue the dialogue that has been started and find hope in the fact that there are things we all can do to reduce the risks in our own homes and organizations. Get involved in your local school, church, youth service organization, youth camp or sports league to ensure that prevention is being addressed and comprehensive policies and training are in place to identify potential problems.
If you believe that your child has been victimized in any way please get immediate help through your local child advocacy center. In addition, Darkness to Light is here as a resource to any parent or organization who wants to get involved in making their community a safer place for children.
7 responses to “Penn State Incident Should Empower All Adults To Better Protect Children”
This afternoon I was watching CNN. They invited responses to a blog question: How can Penn State restore its reputation? Unfortunately, the time to respond to the blog question expired before I finished my answer. Perhaps I need to work on my 30-second answer. Upon reading many of the answers people offered on the blog, I noticed that almost all were out for identifying and punishing the transgressors; I saw only one writer who mentioned the prevention of child sexual abuse and that writer admitted she didn’t know what to do. I must say that saving Penn State’s reputation did not prompt my answer, but if my suggestion about what to do helps to save some children from sexual abuse, then good.
Penn State should make every effort to become a leading advocate for the prevention of child sexual abuse. Over 20 years ago, Harry Edwards, a sociologist at USC, stated that Al Campanis, president of the Los Angeles Dodgers who had earlier made some racist comments on Nightline, should not be pilloried for his racism, but instead should be the starting point for educating him and the entire community of MLB about racial relations. An enlightened Campanis then became a spokesperson for better racial relations in MLB and broader communities. Penn State has a similar opportunity at this time to establish for itself a reputation as an educational institution that responded to the great pain and suffering of some of its community’s children by taking aim on the scourge of child sexual abuse to help prevent its recurrence in communities across our country. While educating itself about the prevention of child sexual abuse, it should use its leading role within the NCAA to inspire that institution to go to all of its member institutions of higher learning and all of their sponsors to conduct educational seminars on the prevention of child sexual abuse. There is an excellent national organization called Darkness to Light (D2L.org) that provides a Stewards of Children workshop which educates adults on how to recognize and react to child sexual abuse. Adults who have professional contact with children–teachers, coaches, youth ministers, park district workers and moms and dads everywhere can contact D2L to organize an educational workshop. The current case at Penn State features a suspect who fits a common profile of child sexual abuse: someone with access to children who works to gain the families and victim’s trust and commits the crime of child sexual abuse, often repeatedly over a long period of time. Adults who have attended the Stewards of Children workshop know they should report anything suspicious to law enforcement or their state’s division of family services. Statistics tell us that only 1 in 10 incidents of child sexual abuse are reported to authorities. Thus, in the current case at Penn State it may be statistically extrapolated that over 80 offenses occurred! Serial child sexual abusers who have been incarcerated have admitted to hundreds of offenses they have committed. Statistics also tell us that 1 in 4 girls will be sexually abused before age 18 and that 1 in 6 boys will be abused before age 18. Sadly, victims sometimes become offenders themselves. This crime occurs among all income and social groups. Penn State should try to create something positive out of this tragedy by educating their coaches, teachers, staff and students on how to recognize and respond to child sexual abuse. Darkness to Light and other organizations have taken on the mission of providing education to adults about how to deal with this difficult subject. Contact them. It’s time to get over the discomfort and unwillingness to look this crime in the face. It’s time to act as responsible adults by doing what we can to protect our children against sexual predators. We inoculate our children against disease; tell them not to play in the street and hundreds of other things to protect them throughout childhood so they can grow into healthy adults. Could you look a child in the face if you turn away from an opportunity to protect them against child sexual abuse?
I believe it is imperative that we look at the big picture in this event and realize the reality of child sexual abuse and its devestating affects on so many. This incident is a reflection of how no one is immune from the disease of habitual child sexual abuse. It is not always the monster lurking in the seedy parts of the community…it is a neighbor, a friend of the family, an entrusted adult. I believe it is important to look at the reality of what happened at Penn State and use it as an example of how critically necessary it is to educate the public on the reality of child sexual abuse. We have to remain critically diligent in our perspective of what has really happened here. It could go askew quickly and spiral frantically out of control and the true lesson and opportunity to make significant changes in how we look at this disease will be lost. As devastating as this is…as significantly impactful it is in the media…it is critically important to focus on the disease. Child sexual abuse continues to thrive in a world of silence that protects it due to the ugliness of the reality of this perversion of sexual addition. It is the silence that protected Jerry Sandusky from getting treatment…it is the silence that allowed him to continue to abuse so many others. Silence is the enemy and Penn State can bring a voice to many of us that live with the destructive scars every day of our lives.
Is there a training scheduled for the Charlotte, NC area in the near future?
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I believe as well as enlihgtening the world on child sexual abuse, I think there needs to be some focus on what happens to people who tell and nothing is done. There needs to be more support for the individuals and children who take the hard steps to try and stop the abuse. They cannot do it alone. Instead it seems as though they are the ones persecuted and left with a feeling of nobody really cares or believes me. I believe this is centerstage for why abuse goes unreported.
Thirteen years ago, I fought the battle of stopping my husband of 14 years from sexually abusing our 5 children (at the time ages 5-11yrs old). I was devestated when it was revealed to me by all of the children coming forward one at a time. I spent two years in and out of civil courts and criminal courts trying to fight for their protection, while their abuser was fighting for custody. He was very prominent in the community (and es college football player) and nobody wanted to believe it. To this day, I am not sure which was more damaging; the abuse itself or the inept system in place that did not protect my children when they came forward. If you were to put the Grand Jury report of Sandusky next to my childrens reports, you would think they were abused by the same person. There is definitely a pattern to child sexual abusers and they are some of the nicest most active guys in your community who hide behind “horseplay” and “there was no sexual intent”. “Please stop playing the tickle game, Daddy.”
It is time to draw awareness and support to surround the people who are brave enough to report abuse with all the emotional and legal help they deserve and need. Although my children will have some scars forever, the sooner it is stopped, the longer we have to replace bad experiences with positive healthy experiences. My 5 children, now ages 18-25 are living proof of the good that can happen when we stop the abuse. I am begging people to get invloved in this war against our children and our future. I am in, who else is in!
Thank you for your group!! I have some points of info..(1)people close to the abuser usually know “something is wrong/inappropriate. (a man in an abuse group learned that his father ..a church group youth leader..had abused many of his class & church mates while he was in
middle school..& that his mother “had an idea something was amiss..but she did nothing”. (2)”sick” behavior..repeated often enough can “seem normal” & the abuser can “seem to be normal”…when they are in reality ..abusive. (3)pedifiles believe that the victims “like or enjoy” the molesting. Years ago a TV expose interviewed pedifiles..1 said that his sister’s infant, that he babysat ..smiled & enjoyed what he did. (I was so distraught upon hearing this …I cried hysterically & vomitted) ** I think this horrible sandusky scandal..could focus attention on this
problem (that has been around since the beginning of time..& happens all over the world) & turn
the problem into a WORLDWIDE HEALING & a firm stand..that abuse of any type will not be
tolerated. I think the officials should get sandusky off the streets..so the victims (no matter how young or old they might be now) will feel safe to speak .
Tend not to trust people. They may be competent at greatness.
Our favorite holding period is forever.