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In the Wake of the Sandusky Case: Lessons Learned and Hope for Victims of Child Abuse

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The Jerry Sandusky case, and the Penn State handling of the disclosures of sexual abuse, have opened a national conversation around child sexual abuse in some unique ways. In the wake of the verdict, we have all been presented with lessons for victims, organizations, and society as a whole.

First and foremost, because the abuse involved young boys, this case shed light on an under-reported aspect of child sexual abuse. Children's Advocacy Centers around the country report that 35 percent of child victims of sexual abuse interviewed in the course of criminal investigations are boys under the age of 18. However, boys (especially teens) are less likely to report abuse than girls.

Abuse victims of both genders often erroneously carry feelings of shame and embarrassment about the abuse that are truly only the offenders' to bear. These feelings can be exacerbated in boys because of cultural and societal messages young men should be "strong;" as a result, unrealistic expectations persist regarding male victims' ability to protect themselves from offenders. We should take this teachable moment to be clear as a society that no child is expected to protect him or herself from the predatory sexual behavior of adults. It is the individual and collective responsibility of every adult to protect children from harm. The lesson to previously silent male victims of child sexual abuse is: Come forward to be believed, and seek justice and healing.

The second lesson learned is that all organizations with children on-site are potentially vulnerable to the inappropriate and criminal actions of a staff person or volunteer. These individuals may use the organization or facility as a place to identify children to victimize. Because of this, policies and procedures must be enacted to ensure proper background screening, reduce or eliminate one-adult/one-child contact, establish appropriate boundaries between staff/volunteers and youth, and ensure any one-adult/one-child contact is observable and interruptible. Moreover, all staff/volunteers must be trained in the recognition of abuse and how to report abuse directly to authorities. We can learn from the failures of the Second Mile charity and Penn State to better safeguard children by enacting common-sense policies and procedures around their care.

Finally, child sexual abuse creates immense suffering in its victims. The victims of Jerry Sandusky who bravely testified at his trial demonstrated tremendous courage. These individuals were undoubtedly further traumatized by both the intense media spotlight and an investigative process that did not have the benefit of a Children's Advocacy Center.

We can do better for victims. In 750 communities, serving more than 2,000 counties across the country, we do.

Children's Advocacy Centers provide a child-friendly setting in which victims can be professionally interviewed, receive medical care, and mental health treatment. The foundation of every Children's Advocacy Center is its multidisciplinary team comprised of law enforcement, child protective services, victim advocates, prosecutors, medical providers, and mental health professionals who coordinate interventions, thus reducing trauma to victims.

Research demonstrates that child abuse investigations handled through a Children's Advocacy Center have a shorter length of time to disposition, better prosecution outcomes, higher rates of caregiver and child satisfaction, more referrals to mental health services, and better access to medical care than those in non-Children's Advocacy Center communities. Efforts are now underway to establish a Children's Advocacy Center in Happy Valley -- but the lessons learned from this scandal should be the establishment of Children's Advocacy Centers in the remaining 1,000 counties across the country that lack them. Let's ensure that the legacy of this terrible case is one that gives hope and help to all victims of child sexual abuse.