FAQs for Sandusky Trial Opening
Another high profile case involving alleged child sexual abuse opens today, June 5, with the beginning of jury selection in the trial of Jerry Sandusky. Below are some questions that we anticipate will surface for many adults in response to media coverage of the Sandusky trial. We hope these Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) will be helpful for anyone who may be reading or writing about the trial, or reacting to it and the issues it raises for all of us.
- I experienced sexual abuse in childhood. What should I do and where can I get help?
- I know someone whose behavior around children concerns me. How can I find out more and know if I should do anything about it?
- How can I protect my children from sexual abuse?
- How important is mandatory reporting for keeping kids safe?
- What can we do differently to prevent another child from experiencing sexual abuse?
- Why don’t people do more when they think someone has sexually abused a child?
- Why don’t children tell if they’ve been abused?
Adults who have had experiences of sexual abuse as children need and deserve a chance to speak about their experiences with those who understand and can help. Survivors of child sexual abuse can also play a critical role in the prevention of further abuse to other children. If you or someone you love needs support to recover, now is the time to reach out for help.
If you are a survivor of sexual abuse as a child, it is very important to seek professional support and guidance for your recovery. The impact of sexual abuse by another child, teen or adult can change over time and unfold as a young person grows into adulthood. Reaching out for specialized counseling and support can greatly increase your ability to integrate this experience and move forward towards a safe, healthy and productive life.
Even if you received support and resources earlier in life, if you are feeling the need for support at this time, we encourage you to seek the help you need and deserve. Contact the Stop It Now! Helpline for help finding support and resources for yourself or a loved one.
- Read a Story of Hope from a Survivor
- Get Involved in Prevention
- Adult Survivor Guidance from the Online Help Center
2. I know someone whose behavior around children concerns me. How can I find out more and know if I should do anything about it?
All adults, especially parents and professionals who work with children, should be knowledgeable about “warning sign” behaviors that should elicit concern and prompt more questions. Use our free Warning Sign tip sheets as a guide for identifying behaviors and patterns that are concerning so you can speak up and set appropriate boundariesi.
If you have a question or concern about possible child sexual abuse, contact our Help Services. Stop It Now! operates the only telephone and email Helpline dedicated to preventing child sexual abuse. In the first two weeks after the sexual abuse allegations at Penn State last November, our Help Services experienced a 130% increase in contacts.
- We hear from callers who are worried about someone’s behavior and don’t know what to do.
- We hear from people who have reported their concerns to authorities but no case is opened or it falls to the wayside because there is a lack of evidence.
- We hear from people who were worried about someone’s behavior but didn’t speak up because they didn’t want to offend anyone or they thought the person was too nice, too married, or too upstanding to also sexually abuse children. And then they found they were wrong.
- We hear from survivors of childhood sexual abuse who don’t understand why no one ever stepped in – even though there were many signs and people knew there was something wrong—no one ever said anything.
- We hear from parents who have reported child sexual abuse and feel stuck in the criminal justice system, struggling to find help to keep their children safe, even after there’s been a disclosure.
- We hear from people worried about their own sexualized thoughts or fantasies about children who want to get help so they don’t hurt a child.
- Behaviors to Watch For When Adults are With Children
- Signs that an Adult May Be At-Risk to Harm a Child
- Signs that a Child or Teen May Be At-Risk to Harm Another Child&
- Help Services
The most effective prevention happens before a child is harmed. Kids are immediately safer when parents and caregivers take the time to learn about sexual abuse and its warning signs.
Parents and caregivers who make a commitment to speak up as soon as they have a concern, instead of waiting for certain evidence of harm, play an even more crucial role in a child's safety.
Mandatory reporting focuses on abuse that has already happened. Expanding the responsibility of adults to report suspected and known incidents of abuse may have a positive impact by potentially shortening the length of time a child experiences abuse or preventing one abuser from abusing another child.
This is very important, but is it enough? Although it is important to intervene and stop abuse that has happened, it is even more important that adults do everything we can to ensure that no child ever experiences sexual abuse.
We are concerned that an overemphasis on mandatory reporting signals that as a society, we do not believe in preventing harm in the first place and that we accept the inevitability that children will be harmed.
While the Sandusky case raises many questions about reporting child sexual abuse, reporting comes too late to prevent a child from being sexually abused in the first place.
Parents, and all adults, need to be proactive about keeping children safe. Understand what puts children at risk to be sexually abused and take actions to counter those risks. Use the Stop It Now! Create Your Family Safety Plan tip sheet as a guide to educate everyone in your family and start talking about child sexual abuse. Learn how to set clear family boundariesi and get comfortable setting and enforcing clear guidelines for all adults who interact with children. Don’t Wait: Everyday Actions to Keep Kids Safe leads you through how to do this in your family.
Know what to look for in schools and programs for your children. Use Nine Questions Parents need to Ask When Selecting a Program for their Children as a guide to learn whether the programs you are considering have the policies and practices needed to ensure safe environments for children.
All organizations serving children and youth (from child care providers to after school programs to sports to mentoring programs) need to have proactive, comprehensive policies and practices to create safe environments for children. And, these policies need to include screening that goes well beyond criminal background checks to defining what types of touch and interaction are appropriate in your organization. Then, organizations need to train their staff to monitor interactions and respond effectively at the earliest sign of inappropriate or abusive behaviors towards children.
All adults, but especially parents and professionals who work with children, need to know and recognize “warning sign” behaviors that should elicit concern and prompt more questions. And, we need to act as soon as we see even the slightest sign that someone is behaving inappropriately towards a child. Unfortunately, most adults are more comfortable talking with children than they are with setting boundariesi with the adults who spend time with their children (whether a family member, neighbor, teacher, coach, or faith leader). Practice speaking up now, so when you are faced with a situation you are prepared to act.
Contemplating that a child you know is being sexually abused is a horrible thought. It is even more difficult to recognize and acknowledge the possibility of abusive behavior in individuals we know, trust and even, love. A fundamental barrier is the challenge of reconciling the person we know and care for with the stereotype of the ‘predator’ or ‘monster’ who abuses children.
In most cases, there seem to be only two options for action which are both unsatisfactory: to stay uninvolved or to report the situation to authorities. Our research with adults confirms what others have written about the Penn State case: none of us think we’re the person who would do nothing when faced with a situation of alleged child sexual abuse. But, as our research shows, when faced with a real situation where adults suspected a child was being sexually abused, nearly one in five did nothing.
Not knowing where to turn for credible information or to safely explore options is another real barrier to action. Whether something is reportable or merely concerning and seemingly inappropriate, all of us need practical information, resources, and support to deal with these barriers to taking action to prevent child sexual abuse
There are many understandable reasons why a child victim of sexual abuse is not likely to tell anyone about their abuse. Often, the abusive adult will convince the child that they won’t be believed or that they are somehow responsible for the abuse and will be punished for it. The child may care about or feel protective of the person who sexually abused them and may feel they’d be betraying this person by telling about the sexual contact and the abuser may use this information to help maintain the secrecy. Children frequently remain silent to protect a non-abusive parent from upsetting information.
Sometimes, a child may be confused if they experienced positive physical pleasure, arousal, or emotional intimacy from the abuse. This confusion can make it difficult for the child to speak up.
A child may feel that they permitted the abuse and should have been able to stop it. Remember that there are no situations where a child is responsible for any sexual interaction with a more powerful child or adult.
People who abuse children may offer a combination of gifts or treats and threats about what will happen if the child says 'no' or tells someone. They may scare the child with threats of being hurt physically, but more often the threat is about what will be lost if they tell e.g. the family breaking up or someone going to prison.
In order to keep the abuse secret, the abuser will often play on the child's fear, embarrassment or guilt about what is happening, perhaps convincing them that no one will believe them or that the child will be punished. Sometimes the abuser will convince the child that he or she enjoyed it and wanted it to happen.