4 steps we can take to stop the next Jerry Sandusky from happening
Last week’s conviction of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky on dozens of counts of child sex abuse – allegations of which other university officials failed to report to law enforce-ment years ago – is a stark reminder that there is still more work to be done to keep children safe from sexual abuse.
Just as that case concluded, a new series of allegations emerged from New York City’s prestigious Horace Mann school illuminating the fact that sexual child abuse is not an isolated incident and that very institutions we trust to watch our children at times fail to protect them.
We cannot continue to repeat past mistakes and continue to cover up or ignore sexual abuse of children when suspected. Ninety percent of children who have been sexually abused know their abuser – it is an epidemic born of ignorance that can be avoided.
How can we prevent a Sandusky/Penn State-like incident from happening again? Here are four steps we can take:
• Talk with children about sexual abuse, be ready to answer their questions, and believe what they tell you. Conversations should occur often and be a natural part of their dialogue with you and evolve age appropriately as they grow. Use simple yet honest language and be prepared to listen whenever your child is ready to talk. A well-educated child is less likely to be abused.
• Abuse can, should, and legally must be reported when you have reason to suspect it is taking place. Mandatory reporting laws exist to encourage the public to stay on alert.
In Maryland, every citizen who has reason to suspect abuse has a legal responsibility to report it. You as a mandatory reporter do not need to be certain or have witnessed the abuse, you only need to have reason to believe abuse occurred.
You can also report anonymously and confidentially. Once you report the abuse to 911 or your local child protective services office, they will conduct the investigation. But an investigation cannot begin unless you make the first report.
• It is never too late to report sexual abuse. Sandusky’s victims have for years hoped someone would believe them, and many lived thinking they were alone in their horror; but a jury convicting Sandusky on 45 counts of child sex abuse related charges provides hope for the millions of adult survivors and children out there today who have not reported abuse for fear of not being believed.
• Finally, be a better consumer starting today. Ask tough questions to your child’s school, summer camp, day care, or youth program: Has staff been trained in how to identify and report abuse? What is your program’s policy on reporting abuse? What is the child-faculty ratio? Will my child be left alone with staff, and if so why? Can I visit or drop in unannounced?
If you aren’t already asking these questions – why not? You have to demand the best for your child and expect that these programs live up to your high expectations. If you don’t like the answers you get, maybe it’s time to demand change or consider alternatives.
Let’s not comfortably rest knowing that one pedophile has been convicted. Let’s continue to remain vigilant, supportive and ready to report and stand up against sexual child abuse so that when it is next discovered, it doesn’t take over a decade to realize justice for its victims.
Adam Rosenberg is executive director of Baltimore Child Abuse Center, a nonprofit child advocacy center. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He wrote this for the Baltimore Sun.