In light of the recent Penn State scandal, many individuals are wondering how such a well-known, trusted public figure could have gone undetected for so long while preying on young children. Moreover, countless parents, in the midst of shock and anger, may be wondering if there were warning signs that might have indicated something was not right.
Unfortunately, the majority of children who experience sexual abuse, more than 90 percent, are familiar with and trust their abusers. Still not all sexual predators fit the preconceived profile that many individuals might expect. Many of the most serious predators work in trusted positions within churches, schools and athletic organizations. This makes it much more difficult to teach children how to avoid the dangerous situations in which they might be victimized.
The first line of defense for children is to explain things that would be considered inappropriate behavior in terms they can understand. Encourage them to speak privately with a parent or other adult when something or someone has made them feel uncomfortable in any way. Children are naturally very trusting and desire approval from the teachers, coaches, clergy, and other people in their lives. Therefore, it is understandable that they might remain silent about a someone whom they think they can trust. But if they understand that certain things are not okay, no matter who the aggressor is and that they will not be blamed, judged or punished for speaking up, they are more likely to confide in someone about such a situation.
However, this does not mean that children are solely responsible for alerting parents of a potential threat. In order to protect children, parents, as well as other members of the community, must be more vigilant and act on instincts. While it is important not to falsely accuse an individual without justifiable evidence, genuine concerns should always be investigated, regardless of someone’s personality, lifestyle or position in the community.
As a society, we tend to look away rather than confront someone or something that seems immoral or unethical, simply because we may not know all of the details and we do not want to jump to the wrong conclusion. People need to remember that apologies can always be made in the event an assumption is incorrect. However, if harm comes to a child simply because someone did not intervene on his behalf, it is too late for apologies. The scars left by sexual abuse run deep and never entirely go away. Traumatic events that happen during childhood will forever haunt the victim. So when an individual thinks
a situation does not seem right, before he simply shrugs it off and assumes he is overreacting, he needs to ask himself, “Am I willing to take that chance?”