Penn State scandal underlines need to better protect children
The recent child sexual abuse allegations rocking Penn State have brought to the forefront a crime that often goes undetected and is under reported. More people are now talking and asking what they can do to help keep children safe.
Child sexual abuse happens every day; it is a crime that thrives on silence, secrecy, and shame.
Sex offenders are clever about finding opportunities providing easy access to children. They befriend adults to gain their trust and lower their boundaries, allowing easier access to children while simultaneously grooming children for sexual contact. Parents can help prevent their child from becoming a potential victim by being aware and involved:
- Clear communication between parents and children is essential for effective prevention. All parents should sense a “red flag” if any adult -- friend, coach, minister, teacher, relative -- wants to spend significant time alone with your child.
- Teach your children the correct anatomical names for body parts, and the difference between safe and unsafe touches. Use concrete examples to help children understand inappropriate behavior, such as asking “what if you’re at a neighbor’s house and someone asks you to play a game that makes you feel uncomfortable, such as a game of touching or one that involves taking off your clothes?” Follow up by encouraging your child to tell mom or dad or another trusted adult when someone does something that makes them uncomfortable.
- If you observe sudden changes in your child’s behavior, such as an abrupt decline in school performance, changes in sleeping and eating habits, and/or inappropriate sexual behaviors or self harming behaviors, seek immediate help.
All adults have an ethical obligation to report suspected child abuse, regardless of whether or not they have a legal obligation to do so as a mandated reporter. Also, fulfilling one’s legal obligation is not ever a replacement for exercising your moral responsibility to personally report suspected abuse.
If you suspect, you must report. In Washtenaw County, when a report of child sexual abuse is made to local law enforcement or the Department of Human Services, the child is referred to the Washtenaw Child Advocacy Center (WCAC). The WCAC works closely with local law enforcement and the Washtenaw County Department of Human Services to ensure that the abuse stops, children have a safe place to talk about what happened, and families receive the services they need to start healing.
Cathi Kelley is program director of the Washtenaw Child Advocacy Center (WCAC), a collaboration of Catholic Social Services, law enforcement and prosecutors, health care professionals and the Michigan Department of Human Services. The WCAC was established in 2005 to provide young sexual abuse victims coordinated assistance at one site. Parents seeking counseling or prevention education may call 734.544.2925. For more information, visit the Catholic Social Services website: csswashtenaw.org.