Penn State University. Joe Paterno. Cover-up. Those are captivating names and images – but this is not about them. This is about children, and about the fact that we are not protecting them.
We are not protecting children very well at all. When Darkness to Light: Stewards for Children – a leading child abuse prevention organization – reported last year that there are 39 million adult survivors of child sexual abuse, I was stunned. The Penn State “scandal” is captivating, yet it is not at all significant in the whole picture of child abuse.
It is more common for child abuse and child sexual abuse to not be reported. Children are threatened by perpetrators of abuse to not tell anyone. It takes tremendous courage on the part of child victims to make disclosures about their abuse. Adults owe it to children to be courageous, too.
The “scandals” of authorities going to great efforts to cover up child abuse and child sexual abuse within their organizations are common. Protecting alleged perpetrators – often predators who torture children – is common. We see this every week in our work at Child Enrichment.
PERSONALLY, I HAVE failed to gain any community or societal momentum in confronting the epidemic of child abuse. I do not know why our society has not risen up and crushed this insidious epidemic that is ruining the lives of millions of children and their families in the United States each year.
The two most important things about the Penn State story:
• The graduate assistant. Even though he is the only one who acted and reported, albeit one day later, he is being set up to be the bad guy now, 10 years later. This graduate assistant reported the sexual abuse of that innocent child to his superiors. That is more than most adults ever do in our society. He could have done it better and more effectively, but, he reported it.
• The words and sentiment of Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan: “I think you have the moral responsibility, anyone. Not whether you’re a football coach, or a university president, or the guy sweeping the building. I think you have a moral responsibility to call us.” That is the truth – irrefutable, simple, total and fully functional.
YOUR FEARS – OR whatever you may be thinking that keeps you from calling law enforcement if you know or suspect that a child is being mistreated – is mostly cowardice. If you fail to report, you are helping protect perpetrators of abuse and enabling more child victims to be tortured.
Sex offenders, some of whom have dozens of victims, are very careful and clever about finding opportunities to have access to children, and all parents should be very concerned if any adult – friend, family member, teacher, coach, clergy or other – seeks to spend significant amounts of time alone with your child.
All that matters in this simple decision about reporting is this: Do you suspect that a child is being abused, severely neglected or put at serious risk? If the answer is yes, make the call to the law enforcement office where the child abuse is happening, or to the local office.
Besides reporting suspected abuse and neglect, anyone can help abused children by supporting your local Child Advocacy Center, and Court Appointed Special Advocates. In Richmond, Columbia and Burke counties, you know us as Child Enrichment, and for our work to help child victims recover from abuse, trauma and torture. We work with law enforcement and the district attorney on many cases of child abuse or child sexual abuse. Last year, 695 child abuse victims received the specialized services of Child Enrichment.
CHILD ENRICHMENT is a 501(c)(3), nonprofit charity, and we need donations. We need volunteers, too. You can become a CASA and work with abused children until a safe permanent home can be found. You can also attend a Darkness to Light child abuse prevention program.
Look for a January 2012 presentation at www.ChildEnrichment.org . Also, support the fund-raisers Cookin’ for Kids in March, and Art of Chocolate in the fall.
I beg you to summon the courage to report any suspected child maltreatment, and help save the emotional or physical life of a child today.
(The writer is executive director of Child Enrichment, the Child Advocacy Center and Court-Appointed Special Advocates.)