Jerry Sandusky’s recent verdict isn’t the whole story. Skip Reville’s sentencing isn’t the whole story. Horace Mann (“Prep School Predators,” June 6 New York Times) isn’t the whole story. Adam Sandler’s new movie, “That’s My Boy,” isn’t the whole story. The Catholic Church isn’t the whole story.
These high-profile national stories may appear to create a perfect storm of child sexual abuse. But they are merely a “Foreword” in a much deeper, troubling saga of one of the most heinous crimes in our society.
The whole story is that if we don’t each demand that something change, 20 years from now there will be tens of millions of adults added to the ranks of sexual abuse survivors. Tomorrow’s adults are, of course, today’s children. My children. Your children. Our future. This is a nasty business, so how could we not protect their innocence by intervening?
Child sexual abuse is, in fact, an adult problem. What changes do we need to demand? It starts with demanding a change of ourselves as parents, caretakers and responsible adults. Get the facts. Understand the risks. Do not fall into the trap of thinking it can’t happen to your child, at your school, at your church. It’s a difficult subject — get used to it and don’t pretend that the need to talk openly about it does not exist. That’s how abusers are successful; through the shameful silence they are able to create and foster, not only from their victims, but from victims’ families and the institutions where they are employed. That shameful silence is put simply, a shame.
It will keep you from putting the measures in place that you think aren’t necessary because, for example, you don’t let your child spend time with people you don’t know. In fact, 90 percent of children are abused by someone that you do know. Someone that you trust.
We spend much of our lives dealing with the things that we can’t control. While we can’t control a perpetrator’s actions, we can arm ourselves with as much information as possible in a continuous effort to build the best barrier we can between our children and those who want to harm them. Prevention training, such as Darkness to Light’s “Stewards of Children” program, is the answer.
It’s a small investment of time that could make a lifetime of difference to children, those around them and their very own children, not to mention others who can be saved through these very same measures.
We need to demand that youth-serving organizations do their part to keep our children safe. Perpetrators are drawn to environments where they can have access to children — places where they can establish relationships with children and parents, where they can build trust. Unfortunately, these places are the same places we think that our children are the safest — our schools, our faith centers, our music programs, our sports programs. We need organizations to help protect our children, and protect themselves.
They can do this by conducting thorough background checks for all adults who interact with children; by not allowing one-on-one interaction between an adult and a child unless it is out in the open where it can be observed or interrupted; and lastly by training staff and volunteers who work with children. This training needs to include best practices in preventing abuse, seeing warning signs from a child, and reacting quickly and responsibly to any of the signs.
We need to demand that our state and federal lawmakers put policy and funding into place that will help us stop the abuse before it happens. We spend billions of dollars on efforts to deal with the repercussions of abuse but very few dollars are invested in prevention. Let’s start by insisting that any organization that receives state or federal funds must use prevention best practices — background checks, policy and training staff.
Who is at the center of the whole story on child sexual abuse? You are; every adult who is concerned about children. Do your part to rewrite the story for the future.
We cannot wait until there is another Jerry Sandusky story, another Horace Mann story. Are you going to wait until it happens at your alma mater, at your church, or to your child? This is not an issue we can afford to have hit close to home before we get involved and demand change. The innocence of childhood is not something that can be taken for granted or taken back.
The time for prevention is now. Child sexual abuse affects everyone.
That’s the whole story.
Jolie Logan is CEO of Darkness to Light (D2L), a Charleston-based national non-profit organization dedicated to the prevention of child sexual abuse.