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Sandusky trial shows need for improved awareness

Jerry Sandusky, Penn State's former assistant football coach, faces 52 criminal counts of sexual abuse against 10 boys over a 15-year period. An indictment of this magnitude would be a tragedy for any organization and these charges have been devastating to Penn State, where the football program has been known for all-American values of honor, integrity and hope.

If these allegations are true, Sandusky deeply violated those values. Additionally, Penn State may have violated those values if, as alleged, its leaders failed to report these sexual abuse allegations to authorities.

It would be easy to end the story with the firing of key university staff and a quick conviction of Sandusky. It would be easy to say that we should always report suspicions of abuse, even if we are unsure of what really happened or whether the actions were sexually abusive.

But it isn't all that simple.

Telling someone you have been abused, reporting suspicions of abuse and talking about child abuse all take great courage. In the wake of all that has appeared in the media, we must take a deeper look at our own responsibilities and have the courage to stand up.

This tragedy is a wake-up call to every parent, family and organization that works with youth. I hope that organizations will educate themselves, staff, families and children about child sexual abuse and what they must do to respond to sexual abuse.

I hope they will implement effective screening tools and put policies in place that clearly define what constitutes inappropriate touching and conduct.

I hope all of us will learn from Penn State and ask questions to help put effective policies in place before any child is harmed.

All adults need to be aware of – and talk about – the risks of child sexual abuse. Let's use the Sandusky trial as a call to action and begin conversations about the things we can do to make our communities safer for our children and teens.

The Child Advocacy Center of Niagara offers Stewards of Children, the only nationally available program scientifically proven to increase knowledge, improve attitudes and change child-protective behaviors while starting the conversation about child sexual abuse in our community.

This training is available to all community organizations, youth organizations and caregivers in Western New York that want to prevent child sexual abuse.

To schedule the Stewards of Children training for your organization, contact the Child Advocacy Center of Niagara at (716) 285-0045.

Laura Kelemen is executive director of the Child Advocacy Center of Niagara.