Most of us are aware of the recent events of a Penn State assistant football coach and a Syracuse University assistant basketball coach being charged with multiple counts of alleged sexual abuse of children and that a number of school administrators have also been charged with failing to properly report the allegations.
While the alleged perpetrators will be the focus of much of the discussions about these issues, we should also be asking ourselves “What could have been done to prevent these children from being harmed”?
The questions being asked by local authorities are a) who had earlier suspicions and who received reports about the assistant coaches’ behaviors, b) did those in a position of authority meet both the letter and the spirit of the law when the reports came to their attention, and c) what changes in policy must be made?
It is important to remember that about 90% of sexual abuse cases involve a person close to and known to a child (40 to 60% of cases actually happen in the home.); stranger danger is real, but it is a much smaller percentage of sexual abuse cases. Sexual abuse is much more prevalent than we realize; it is an under reported and silent crime. Research shows that about one in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before the age of 18. Experts say many people who witness sexual abuse often remain silent, too horrified to report what they have seen. People worry that if they say something they could ruin somebody’s life, not really thinking about the horrendous effects this event will have on the child involved and other children the perpetrator may abuse in the future.
These incidents at the two universities point to the facts that:
* It is the not the responsibility of the children to keep themselves safe; it is adults’ responsibility.
* Abuse can happen to any child, regardless of wealth or social status.
* We all have a role to play in the development of our children and that includes becoming involved in situations where children’s well-being is or can be jeopardized.
Situations such as these in a child’s life could result in life-long adversities including a greater potential for mental health and health issues, substance abuse, delinquency, and criminal behavior that cost our nation $104 billion to remediate when abuse and neglect are not prevented.
Children need our help to stay safe. You can take an active role in children’s lives by:
* Being involved in both the activities children are involved in and the people
* Talking to children regularly about what they’re doing can help you stay alert for possible problems.
* Knowing about sexual predators and sexual behavior problems and how they work.
* Teaching children important skills to help them protect themselves. Make sure they know they can talk to you about anything that’s bothering them or if they feel mixed-up or confused.
* Being alert for signs of sexual abuse. If you suspect or are told abuse, report it right away.
The things parents and others should look for as possible symptoms of sexual abuse are:
* Stained or torn underwear.
* Trouble walking, sitting or going to the bathroom.
* Difficulty swallowing or eating.
* Depression, anxiety, anger or mood swings.
* Fears of certain places, people or activities.
* Nightmares or sudden fear of the dark.
These children may act out sexually or show knowledge of sex that’s not appropriate for their age; show self-destructive behaviors, such as pulling their hair or cutting their skin; and act younger that their age, such as wetting the bed or sucking their thumb.
Parents usually know when something is wrong and should trust their instincts.
As parents we can:
* Believe the child – children usually don’t make up stories of sexual abuse.
* Be careful with questions – try to find out as much as you can about what happened, but avoid leading questions.
* Report it!
All children should know that they can come to you or another adult if they feel mixed-up or confused, or if someone is not listening when they set limits about play
* The right names of their body parts. Research tells us that children who know the correct name for body parts are less likely to be abused.
* When they should talk to you – for example, when any behavior confuses them and when touching or other situations make them feel uncomfortable, mixed-up or confused.
* When not to keep secrets – help children understand the difference between secrets and surprises.
* That no one has the right to touch them if they don’t want to be touched.
Much of the above information is from Prevent Child Abuse America.