Tuesday, November 08, 2011

What Penn State Reminds Us About Abuse-Proofing Your Child

The high profile Penn State case of associate football coach Jerry Sandusky abusing children in his care over a ten year period should be shocking, but sounds all too familiar to those of us who work on sexual abuse prevention. Children are primarily abused by adults who know them well; people who abuse children look for opportunities to be with children and groom them as trusted adults getting to know them, as Sandusky did at his center; too many times other adults look the other way.

What is shocking though is to think that when reported, officials perhaps all the way up to Coach Patierno and even perhaps the President looked the other way rather than hurt the football program. I hope that isn't true, but it certainly reminds us of the Roman Catholic Bishops and Cardinals who did just that when faced with allegations against priests.

So, what does this remind us to do? First, to report any adult we suspect of child abuse.

And second, to use this as a teachable moment to 'abuse-proof' your children. Make sure that the programs your children attend -- scouts, soccer, school, church or synagogue -- have a strong policy on keeping children safe, including screening and background checks for volunteers and employees and never being alone with children. Make sure that your child knows that most people would never hurt children, but that an older, bigger, stronger person should never touch a child's genitals. Make sure your child knows that adults don't ask children to be their friends or keep secrets, and that if someone makes them feel bad, funny, or uncomfortable with their touch or their words, they should tell you. Tell them that their body is wonderful, it belongs to them, and that they can say no to unwanted touch. And finally, tell them to come and tell you if someone does touch them. You may not be able to prevent the first case of abuse, but if your child is equipped with language and this information, you can prevent the second.

It's been a week of teachable moments in the news, with Herman Cain and Penn State. I hope you are using them.

(For more ideas on preventing sexual abuse of children, you might want to read my books "From Diapers to Dating" or "What Every 21st Century Parent Needs to Know."

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