The child sexual abuse scandal at Penn State has sparked a nationwide conversation about how to recognize, report and prevent the sexual abuse of children. This is as it should be. Almost no one believes they would allow harmful sexual behavior to continue to if they knew for sure that it was going on. And many are certain they would recognize exploitive or abusive behavior if it were happening. However, if that were the case we wouldn't have statistics like these:
- 63,940 children were confirmed victims of sexual abuse in 2010.(1)
- The annual cost of personal crimes, including child abuse, is estimated to be450 billion.(2)
- Child sexual abuse is often undisclosed by the child and unreported by adults when they do become aware of it.(3)
Why is this? There are a number of reasons. First, we need to get comfortable talking about this issue. Unfortunately, abuse will continue to happen unless we provide people with accurate and balanced information, practical resources, and access to support when they do take action to keep children safe. The risk of shame or rejection should not outweigh the risk of remaining silent.
Second, we need to ask questions of the institutions and organizations that work with children about their policies and practices and how each are implemented. As a child advocacy organization, National CASA has a standardized, comprehensive training program for volunteer advocates. At every level, CASA programs have clear policies and guidelines in place for the protection of the children we serve.
Third, we cannot rely exclusively on government systems to protect our children. Each of us has a responsibility, and because we share the risk of inaction, we must jointly protect the well being of our children. We have to find ways for those with the knowledge and experience in advocating for children to collectively raise their voices and ensure that they are heard loudly and clearly across the country. What is needed now is a movement to mobilize public and private support for shaping new policies, generating new investments, and creating a common vision for protecting children against abuse.
At CASA for Children, we are privileged to work alongside creative and innovative child welfare services organizations whose leaders have firsthand knowledge of the needs of the children in their communities and have developed workable approaches to address those needs. We've known for years that investing in our children is one of the best investments we can make--public or private. Now is the time to go beyond the conversation and take action.
(1) Child Maltreatment 2010.
(2) Based on 1993 estimated costs, updated to 2010 dollars, of $186,200 per victim. Ted R. Miller, Mark A. Cohen, and Brian Wieserman, Victim Costs and Consequences; A New Look, National Institute of Justice, 1996.
(3) Loseke, Donileen R.; Gelles, Richard J. and Cavanaugh, Mary M. (2005). Current Controversies on Family Violence, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Inc.
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