Princeton Times

Letters to Editor

January 27, 2012

Unsafe touches: Adults must take action against abuse on children's behalf

PRINCETON — With the recent death of Penn State's Joe Paterno, many folks around the country are once again talking about the embattled university's recent child abuse “scandal.”  People are shaking their heads in disbelief and asking questions like “How did this happen?” and “How did it go unreported for so long?”  “Stranger danger” has often been overemphasized by those who would keep children safe from predators.  While studies show that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused by the age of 18, the sad truth is that 90 percent of victims know the offenders well. They are relatives, friends, neighbors, and, as alleged in the Penn State case, coaches.  

Understanding what keeps child victims silent is easy. They fear that revealing the abuse will bring harm to them or those they love, loss of affection, and punishment.  Child sexual abuse is a crime that thrives in a climate of silence, secrecy, and shame.  Fear is what offenders count on as they groom their victims.  

What is not so easy to explain is the silence of adult witnesses to such crimes.  All adults have a responsibility to learn the signs of child abuse and to be vigilant in protecting children.  A listing of some of the signs can be found online at onewithcourage.org or D2L.org.  All adults have a moral and ethical obligation to report suspected child abuse, regardless of whether or not they have a legal obligation to do so as a mandated reporter.  You don't have to be able to prove the abuse is happening.  If you suspect, you must report.  In West Virginia, the Child Abuse Hotline (1-800-352-6513) is available around the clock.   

While we do good to teach children body safety and about safe and unsafe touches, it should also be emphasized that children are not responsible for their own protection.  We must recognize that offenders are manipulative.  They groom parents to allow increasing and unsupervised contact with their children in precisely the same way they groom their victims.  Any adult seeking to spend significant time alone with a child should raise a red flag.   

In closing, we expect tremendous courage on the part of victims to make disclosures about their abuse, and as adults, we can do no less in believing them and reporting this to alleviate their suffering.  Child Protect of Mercer County, Inc., Mercer County's nonprofit Child Advocacy Center, is a local resource for information on recognizing and responding to child abuse.  We at Child Protect challenge the community to be ones with courage to ensure that no child in Mercer County be failed by our lack of action on their behalf.  (For additional information on child abuse prevention, mandating reporting and West Virginia's laws regarding child protection, contact Child Protect at 425-2710).

— Shiloh Woodard                                                                                                                                           Child Protect of Mercer County, Inc.

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