Child sexual abuse is all sexual activity between an adult and child. Certain sexual activity between children is also sexual abuse.
In light of recent revelations surrounding the Penn State and now Syracuse University sex scandals, parents are rightly concerned about the safety of their own children. After all, if we cannot trust institutions of higher learning to protect and not exploit our children, then who can we trust? Unfortunately, child sexual abuse has existed in the seamy underbelly of society forever. Usually, we try to ignore it, but sometimes, and this is one of those times, the revelations are so gross and disturbing that we must engage the debate. What is child sexual abuse, what is being done to prevent it, are my kids being abused, and how can I personally engage this issue?
The widespread institutional abuse of children has been common knowledge ever since the Catholic sex abuse scandal started receiving broad public attention in 2001. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that individuals that want to abuse and exploit our children will seek positions that will provide them with unsupervised access to children. We see it in the non-profit world, schools, pre-schools, churches, fraternal organizations and the athletic field. This is why President Clinton signed the Volunteers for Children Act of 1998. Now organizations and businesses dealing with children, elderly, and the disabled may use national fingerprint-based criminal history checks to screen out volunteers and employees with relevant criminal records. The Internet has provided a new virtual playground that needs to be the topic of its own story.
We should be aware of the warning signs in children and adolescents of possible child sexual abuse. If very young children have knowledge about specific sex acts it is not age appropriate sexual behavior and warrants further investigation. The same goes with young children behaving sexually in public places.
Behaviors to watch for when adults are with children include: inappropriate touching, hugging, or kissing, particularly when the child resists. Secret interactions with children also raise a red flag. When the adult seems ‘too good to be true’ and offers to babysit, take your children on unsupervised outings, lavishes gifts or inappropriate praise, you have reason for concern. Signs that an adult may be at-risk to harm a child include spending most of their free time with kids, and having a ‘special’ child friend that may change from year to year.
Signs that a child or teen may be at-risk to harm another child include spending inordinate time with younger children rather than peers, or forced sexual interaction on other children. Also, children may be at-risk of harming other children if they have not received appropriate counseling for their own abuse issues.
So, how do we as responsible adults combat the insidious onslaught of child sexual abuse in our own communities? Insist that groups and organizations that you interact with to have written and transparent policy guiding adult/child behavior. Support local non-profit organizations that deal with child abuse issues and report instances of suspected abuse.
Society needs to look upon this as a learning opportunity. The Catholic Church has not yet recovered from their ongoing sex scandal because they did not respond appropriately. Instead of facing the situation head on, they tried to cover up, dismiss and deny sexual abuse in their own ranks. To that end, their standing in the world and the faith based community remains tainted. Were it not for their ubiquitous position and unprecedented wealth the Catholic Church would not have survived their shame.
Any individual involved in the cover-up of child sexual abuse at Penn State or any other institution of higher learning needs to be removed from their position of trust and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Society demands that the safety of children is the highest priority and those that abuse that trust must be held accountable. To do less is simply another form of child abuse.
In light of these new charges and allegations every school in America now has the opportunity to evaluate their own internal policies. They can get ahead of the situation by sweeping their own records. How have they handled sex abuse situations in the past? Take a look at current allegations and decide whether they have made the correct choices. If they take that step then the Penn State and Syracuse victims will at least have a legacy.