To the editor:
In light of recent news about the alleged possession of child pornography by a John Adams Elementary School teacher, I find myself saddened and disheartened, but sadly, not surprised.
According to national statistics, one in four girls and one in six boys in the United States will be sexually abused before they turn 18. These staggering numbers should tell us that it is not just disadvantaged kids or “other people’s children” that are targets of this heinous crime. Child sexual abuse doesn’t discriminate on the basis of socioeconomic status or race.
Further, most child victims are hurt by people they know, not strangers. Child sexual abuse is a crime of opportunity that thrives when there is silence and an erroneous sense that it can’t happen to your child or in your school, community, faith institution, camp, sports team or anywhere else.
Good parenting requires that we take time from our busy lives to look and listen to our children and pay attention to their surroundings. We strap our children into car seats, hold their hands while they cross the street; place covers over our outlets; put our household cleaners behind child proof locked cabinets. Parents who leave the job of preventing child sexual abuse solely to children are asking for trouble. We teach our children to respect adults, so imagine how difficult it is for a child to say “No!” to an authority figure.
Unfortunately, the adults to whom we entrust our children cannot always be counted on to protect our children. A large percentage of child sexual abuse is perpetuated by teachers, coaches, clergy and caregivers. These are adults who have the opportunity to “groom” children with affection and attention, making it extraordinarily difficult for children to identify certain behaviors as abuse.
Abusers rely on a childs malleability, innocence and their socialization to heed adult commands without question. This is why programs that focus on adult responsibility are essential. It is imperative that communities provide parents and caregivers with the skills to protect their children and to recognize and prevent abuse. We must work together to build a community where child sexual abuse is brought out of the darkness of denial and where secrets can’t thrive.
Each of us must demand accountability from the adults who care for our children, and ask the tough questions that help ensure their security. Questions like:
Who will be with my child?
What activities are planned? And where will they take place?
Does your agency conduct background checks?
Has your staff been trained in child sexual abuse prevention?
Child sexual abuse is a complex problem, but awareness, education and support can provide parents and caregivers with the tools necessary to protect our children. April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. I invite you to pause today to consider how you can help to keep the children of our community safe.
The writer is executive director of the Center for Alexandrias Children.