I wrote the following letter at the prompting of Stop it Now, a great organization that advocates for public education and action to prevent sexual abuse. As a clinician who works with sexual abuse, it has been both horrifying and all too familiar to hear the testimony that has come out of this trial. It seems clear that Sandusky’s actions were very pre-meditated and involved finding victims who would be less likely to speak out, such as the boys from The Second Mile. This should be a wake-up call for all of us to be more vigilant and attentive to children, and to find ways to ask questions when things don’t seem right. I was glad when the email came from Stop it Now, providing some samples of letters to send to the editors, and so this is mine. I hope the Providence Journal publishes it.
I’m writing to encourage our community to use the child sexual abuse trial of Jerry Sandusky as a call to action. As an individual and family therapist who provides services for those who are harmed by sexual abuse, I see this trial as an opportunity to talk about this issue and figure out what we can do to prevent even one more child from being sexually abused.
Teaching our kids about scary strangers and just focusing on people on the sex offender registry won’t keep kids safe. Research shows that children are most likely to be abused by someone they know, trust and often love and admire.
But in our own lives it is still hard for most of us to recognize when someone we know could also be sexually inappropriate or abusive towards children. So we ignore that gut feeling we get. After all, we don’t have “proof” that someone has harmed a child and we don’t want to offend an adult by asking about his or her behavior.
Meanwhile, too many children are harmed by sexual abuse because we – as individuals, organizations, and communities – are afraid to be wrong and don’t know what to do. Most of us don’t know how to even raise the issue or with whom we’d even talk about it.
As a member of this community, I urge each of us to decide for ourselves what is okay and not okay around children. Help children know that they can come to you at anytime if someone is making them feel scared, alone, yucky, afraid, or uncomfortable in any way. Then, decide what words you’ll say to protect a child’s boundaries. Reach out to community resources like Day One, the Sexual Assault and Trauma Resource Center, to ask questions and get answers.
Because when we act early, we can prevent child sexual abuse – before a child is harmed in the first place.