What Penn State Means to Schools
& Youth-Serving Organizations
Once again, our nation finds itself in the midst of a national child sexual abuse scandal. Let us send caring thoughts to the children and families reportedly victimized by the incidents at Penn State University, and hope that healing can begin. Let us also acknowledge the students attending Penn State, who surely must be pondering how such assaults and cover-ups could take place at their institution, an esteemed university which is in the business of shaping young minds and directing moral compasses.
As we move forward, this unfolding tragedy can serve as a reminder of how vulnerable children are to sexual exploitation, especially by those in positions of authority who are trusted by parents. In light of the alleged incidents at Penn State, the following topics are worthy of re-examination by those of us dedicated to providing safe environments for children:
Policies and Procedures: Are they being followed?
Just as we change the batteries in our smoke detectors annually, so should we revisit our organizational policies and procedures related to preventing child sexual abuse. It is vital that schools and youth-serving organizations create a culture where child sexual abuse is discussed, addressed, and prevented.
Breaking the Silence of the
Code of Honor/Code of Silence
"We keep pretending that there's nothing wrong; But there's a code of silence and it can't go on," sings Bruce Springsteen in his song Code of Silence.
The Code of Silence and Code of Honor are detrimental when used to deny or conceal acts of sexual violence. The organization, A Call to Men (www.acalltomen.org), outlines barriers to reporting, which are constructed by collusion to such codes of silence. These social and cultural norms need to change. "We must be willing to break the code of silence, which continues to restrict us and compromise our humanity..." states A Call To Men in the following article, Breaking the Silence. Click here for Article
In light of the alleged crimes against at-risk boys at Penn State by yet another VIP serial predator, may society finally resolve to override the Culture of Silence when it comes to confronting sexual exploitation, especially that against children and teens.
How can CLP's Think First & Stay Safe School Program and TLP's Teen Lures TV Newscast School Program help prevent child sexual abuse?
The Pennsylvania Grand Jury Indictment Findings of Fact alleged against Gerald A. Sandusky, (both while a football coach for Penn State University and while running The Second Mile charity devoted to helping troubled young boys) document that the following Child Lures were effectively used in the reported incidents of child sexual abuse:
Affection Lure: Victims 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8
Authority Lure: Victims 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8
Bribery Lure: Victims 1, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7
Games Lure: Victims 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8
Hero Lure: Victims 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8
Job Lure: Victim 1
Threats & Weapons Lure: Victim 4
Drugs Lure: Victim 4
Sleepovers: Victims 1, 3, 4 (hotels) and 7
Schools and youth-serving organizations provide an ideal environment for reaching every child with positive messages and prevention strategies. While it's primarily the responsibility of adults to protect children, the reality is that adults cannot be with youngsters every minute of every day.
By talking openly with students about what constitutes healthy and respectful social relationships, we help them better recognize all forms of mistreatment, beginning in Grade PreK and continuing through Grade 6. The Think First & Stay Safe School Program helps prevent bullying, harassment, cyber exploitation and sexual abuse by role playing with youngsters about what to do when they recognize a Lure(s) being used and who they can tell.
It is imperative for schools and parishes to continue their Safe Environment Training through Grades 7-12. Further examination of the Grand Jury Indictment identifies the ages of the alleged victims as 11-12, 10, 12-13, 8-10, 11, 10 and 11-13 when the sexual assaults occurred. Half of the reported abuse occurred to victims in Grades 4-6, half of the abuse occurred to victims in Grades 7-8.
The Teen Lures TV Newscast allows students in Grades 7-12 to openly discuss relational and sexual violence with peers, teachers and parents. It also identifies where youngsters can obtain help locally or nationally through anonymous help hotlines. For more information, click here.
The environments in which grooming can occur:
Most kids are slowly lured into abuse with grooming behaviors, so it's important for parents, caregivers and other adults who are part of a child's support system to be familiar with them.
The following are grooming behaviors, which on the surface, can appear innocent. A potential offender may:
- Spend time befriending the youngster and doing things busy parents may neglect or be unable to do.
- Give gifts, money, trips, and/or performs special favors for youngster.
- Promote the notion that their relationship with the child is unique and special.
- Slowly gain the trust of the youngster and his/her family.
- Encourage harmless secrets, laying the foundation for future sexual secrets.
- Take pictures/video of your child.
- Desensitizes the child through "accidental" touching to test their resistance and engage them in abuse, or blurs the boundaries of ordinary affection around bathing and dressing.
- Tell dirty jokes or use inappropriate language
- Play body contact games/sports with children; tickling, backrubs or wrestling.
- Makes alcohol/drugs available for the child to "choose" to use.
- Introduce pornography to initiate sexual interest or normalize the behavior.
- Offer to take the child overnight.
- Cross the line from affection to abuse
Secrets typically play a significant role in the grooming process and often lay the groundwork for future abuse. Children need to understand that keeping secrets - even seemingly innocent ones - from parents/guardians can be unhealthy and unsafe.
Most sexual offenders are someone known and trusted to the child and their family. They are notoriously friendly, kind, engaging and likeable. They often target victims, insinuating themselves into the child's life, their family, school, house of worship, sports, and hobbies. Sexual offenders are professional con artists and are expert at getting children and families to trust them. They will smile at you, look you right in the eye and make you believe they are trustworthy.
Too, keep in mind that as much as 30% of all childhood sexual abuse is perpetrated by juveniles, on other children. It is illegal for anyone - even a peer - to cross over the line from affection to sexual abuse.
All school and youth-serving activities (Field trips, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Faith-Based, travel sports) involving overnight stays or sleepovers should be closely monitored to ensure the Two-Deep Rule for Instruction is being employed. (Two-Deep Rule: At least two adults should be present with children at all times. The idea of "two-deep" instruction is designed to protect children from any inappropriate behavior and to protect instructor(s) from false accusations.)
Parents and caregivers are the first line of defense, and it is of critical importance they are aware of the lures and grooming behaviors used in the vast majority of childhood sexual abuse cases. The Think First & Stay Safe Parent Guide and Let's Talk Teens parent handbook fulfill these educational needs, and encourage parents and guardians to be watchful of grooming/luring behaviors.
To obtain TF&SS Parent Guides and Let's Talk Teens Parent Handbooks, visit Click Here to Order.
How difficult it is for bystanders to get involved?
Understanding the role of bystanders, and the psychology behind their decisions, is important for institutions.
Consider adding the topic of Bystanders to future in-service or professional training within your school or organization, as well as to bullying/cyberbullying prevention presentations.
As so poignantly expressed during the 1996 remembrance ceremony in Brussels for Julie LeJeune and Melissa Russo (both age 8, who were lured, held captive and murdered), one little girl held up a sign that read, "The world is dangerous not because of those who do harm, but because of those who look at it without doing anything."
Who are mandated reporters, and how can their responsibility to report be enforced?
For many of us working directly with children, as mandated reporters we are called upon by law to report any knowledge of child abuse and neglect.
In school and organizational settings, a decision regarding whether or not to report an incident(s) may be made by a team. If someone is part of a team who chooses not to report, and they still feel the incident has merit, they can report as an individual, anonymously if necessary. While a single incident may not seem significant enough to report, when aggregated with other related reports, it may be the tipping point for an investigation to be opened.
|Do new laws and legislation protect our children?
It's important to support laws and legislation dedicated to helping protect children and prosecuting offenders. However, there are now over 20,000 laws to uphold our nation's 10 commandments. Who will enforce all 20,000+ laws? What oversight is in place to ensure enforcement?
A more effective way of protecting children and youth is through awareness and education of professionals, parents, children and the community at large. Thank you for your continued commitment to teaching the Think First & Stay Safe School Program and the Teen Lures TV Newscast School Program. Together, we can help keep kids of all ages healthy and safe.
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