To the editor:
The tragedy that has unfolded at Pennsylvania State University should make us all stop and question how so many adults allegedly failed to protect an innocent 10-year-old boy and others. What has happened to our collective consciousness that we value the reputations of institutions at the cost of human suffering? It is time we as a society wake up and take action against those who would harm our children.
The story is all too familiar. A child is abused. Witnesses don’t take the action to rescue said child or ensure the perpetrator no longer has access to potential victims. Perhaps witnesses are unsure how to react. Supervisors, coaches, clergy and presidents of institutions seem to fear more for their reputations than for a child who has been devastated and forever traumatized.
Sweeping incidents like those at Penn State under the rug is no anomaly. Child abuse happens across our country daily, and the statistics are staggering. One in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before their 18th birthdays. This means that in most any classroom or neighborhood, there are children who are silently bearing the burden of sexual abuse.
Each of us has a responsibility to protect our society’s most vulnerable. We can and must learn the signs of abuse and remain vigilant in protecting our children. The Center for Alexandria’s Children is dedicated not only to serving children who have suffered from abuse, but also to eradicating this devastation from our culture. How do we do that? Education.
Not coincidentally, the center is implementing Darkness 2 Light’s Stewards of Children training program in Alexandria to teach the core principles for preventing, recognizing and reacting responsibly to child sexual abuse. Our goal is to raise awareness of the prevalence and consequences of child sexual abuse by educating adults about the steps they can take to prevent, recognize and react responsibly to the reality of child abuse.
Those who sexually abuse children are drawn to settings where they gain easy access to children, such as athletic leagues, faith centers, clubs and schools. Sex offenders are clever in finding opportunities providing access to children. They groom adults to lower their boundaries about contact with their children in the same way that they groom children for sexual contact. All parents should see a red flag if any adult seeks to spend significant amounts of time alone with their child.
Children are not responsible for their own protection. However, it is important to teach all children about safe and unsafe touches and who to ask for help if they are made uncomfortable by a touch.
The burden falls on all adults who have the moral and ethical obligation to report suspected child abuse, irrespective of whether or not they have a legal obligation to do so as a mandated reporter. And fulfilling one’s legal obligation, which varies by state, is not a replacement for exercising one’s moral responsibility to personally report suspected abuse.
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. Let’s not allow this incidence to be in vain. Each of us plays an important role in putting a halt to child abuse by actively educating ourselves about the signs and stepping up to report any suspicious incidents. Together, we can make a difference and help keep the children of our community safe.
– Giselle L. Pelaez, Executive director of the Center for Alexandria’s Children