An Epidemic of Sexual Harrassment: Our Role to Protect Children
Stories about sexual abuse and harassment are making headlines nearly every day. Due to recent media reports regarding allegations against Hollywood celebrities, elected officials and thousands of women telling their own stories through the hashtag #MeToo, there has been a lot of conversation about this problem online, in the paper, and in our workplaces.
On Sunday, April 12, Olympic Gold Medalist Aly Raisman added to that conversation when she shared her own story on 60 Minutes. In speaking out against the sexual abuse she experienced as a child at the hands of former U.S. Olympic team doctor Dr. Larry Nassar, Aly highlighted the importance of sexual abuse prevention programs and the need to teach young children about personal body safety.
“Child sexual abuse is a problem that 1 in 10 children will experience before they turn 18,” said Dan Duffy, President and CEO of Prevent Child Abuse America. “To truly address this problem, we need programs that protect children from sexual abuse alongside evidence-based treatment for children who have been victimized. In order to create communities free from child sexual abuse, we need to prioritize public awareness and adult education programs that teach the signs of child sexual abuse and the steps necessary to protect children.”
“Child sexual abuse is experienced by up to 5,000 children in New Jersey every year,” said Rush Russell, Executive Director of Prevent Child Abuse-New Jersey. In fact, programs such as the Enough Abuse Campaign are making a difference here in New Jersey. This program, adopted in six counties, educates adults and arms them with the knowledge about warning signs of grooming behavior in adults and indicators of sexual abuse in children. The program has also created customized training tools for schools, youth-serving organizations, child care centers and preschools.
In addition, the NJ Department of Children and Families has endorsed a set of “Safe-Child Standards”, developed by PCA-NJ, which consist of six steps any youth-serving organization can take to better protect children. The guide includes ideas about creating a stronger workplace code of conduct, how to strengthen recruitment and interviewing procedures, and conducting an environmental scan to identify areas of risk within each organization.
Through leadership from local agency partners, including PEI Kids, Project Self-Sufficiency, Gloucester County Department of Human Services, Bergen YWCA and Rutgers University Behavioral Healthcare, thousands of adults across New Jersey are being reached with the kind of education that Aly Raisman and others are correctly calling for.
At the same time, we can’t expect programs like the Enough Abuse Campaign to do this difficult work alone. Each of us has a role to play in the healthy development of children and the prevention of child sexual abuse.
Parents can help prevent child sexual abuse in several ways.
- Engage in direct dialogue with their children
- Ensure that their young children know the proper words for their body parts and understand that there are certain parts of their body that are private.
- Answer questions your children have about their bodies honestly, and make sure they know that they can talk to you about anything that is bothering them.
- When your children are older, have conversations about healthy sexuality and what respectful romantic relationships look like.
- Teach children about secrets
- Make sure your children understand what a secret is, and what kind of secrets are okay to keep, like birthday presents, and what kind are not.
- Ensure children know that no adult should ever tell them to keep a secret from you.
- Learn about and advocate for institutional policies
- Inquire about the policies contained in the NJ Safe-Child Standards with the care providers you use, including youth-serving organizations, schools, babysitters and childcare staff. Urge them to become involved.
All adults can play a role in child sexual abuse prevention by learning what programs are in use at your local school, church or athletic program. If no such program exists, get in touch with local advocacy organizations like Prevent Child Abuse-New Jersey to learn how you can help the educators and mentors in your community get the training they need.
Prevent Child Abuse-New Jersey, a state chapter of Prevent Child Abuse America, was founded in 1979 and is the only statewide organization dedicated to preventing child abuse and neglect in all forms for all New Jersey children. PCA-NJ promotes Great Childhoods, positive parenting and healthy child development. Annually, the charity serves tens of thousands of children and families throughout the 21 counties of New Jersey. For more information, please visit www.preventchildabusenj.org or call 732-246-8060.