No, sadly, child sexual abuse is a societal problem. It is everywhere, in our homes, our schools, our institutions, our families and our society. I hope that the Church makes an effort to bring back the millions of Catholics that left the Catholic Church because of the sex abuse scandal. While the abuse scandal may sound like a valid excuse to leave the Church, leaving the faith results in a perilous path toward spiritual oblivion. Hopefully, fallen away Catholics will realize from the PSU scandal that no institution is immune from the scourge of predatory individuals. We especially need prayer and the grace of the Mass and the sacraments to keep evil from flourishing in our families.
Do other institutions have policies and procedures that are similar or comparable to the Dallas Charter in place?
No institutions require the rigorous adherence and comprehensive child protection policies, audits, and ongoing staff and volunteer training, like the Catholic Church. The Dallas Charter should serve as the gold standard for every organization that interacts with children. The public should demand that all child organizations adopt tough child safety and accountability policies and a zero tolerance policy, like the Dallas Charter.
The New York Times recently reported that in the first three months of 2012, over 248 complaints of sexual misconduct involved New York City public school employees. That’s an average of 2.75 sex-related complaints per day, in one city’s school system. Where is the media and public outrage? Where is the outrage that it is virtually impossible to fire union teachers who sexually abuse children in the New York public school system? Where is the barrage of media attention over the NYC school policy? Where are the editorials calling for zero tolerance for predatory teachers? Have parents removed their children and left the public school system in droves? No, the predators still remain in the classroom and parents haven’t pulled their children out of public schools. You will hear nothing but silence and complacency over union rules that protect child predators. Yet, the press continues to rail against the misnomered Catholic ‘pedophile scandal.’
What are some “best practices” that parents and those who care for children should look for in those institutions that educate and care for young people?
An involved and attentive parent is the best line of defense against child predators. Child molesters are looking for children who do not have actively engaged parents. Parents must realize that predators often groom the parents first. Predators instinctively know what buttons to push to get mothers and fathers to trust them so that they can be alone with their children. I strongly advise parents not to let their children go on overnights, whether to the next door neighbor, a summer overnight camp or any other trip without parental supervision. Countless children are sexually assaulted in the homes of so called “friends.” Parents must talk to their children about the dangers of unwanted touch. I am not talking about sex education, I am talking about predator education. Predators are everywhere. They come in all shapes and sizes, generous, kind, smart, talented and often, well-respected, like Jerry Sandusky.
What has the broader culture learned in the wake of the Catholic Church’s sex abuse crisis? Are children safer across the board from this crime?
I doubt that the culture has learned much about the dangers of child predator in the wake of the Church’s sex abuse crisis. I think the culture is suspicious of priests, but not of teachers, neighbors, and coaches. Look at Penn State as an example of how little we learned and how easily institutions protect child predators. The Internet has opened up a free turnpike for predators and society will pay a heavy toll. Children are spending up to 8 hours a day with technology and parents are clueless about the dangers of child predators lurking on their child’s cell phone.
Does the culture have a better understanding of the phenomena of sexual abuse than it did, say, a decade or two ago? What are some things that everyone should know about the phenomena?
I think the culture does have a better understanding of sexual abuse. Pedophiles cannot be cured and they rarely stop abusing children. Child predators will keep abusing children until they are incarcerated. When they are released from jail they will start up where they left off. Child molesters are only safe when they are dead and buried. They are rarely caught because children seldom disclose abuse. Sadly, the sex offender registry only represents a tiny sample of predators.
The Internet has facilitated a huge growth in the manufacture and possession of child pornography. In the past, shame and guilt prevented the proliferation of child predators trading child pornography. However, the Internet provides a meeting place for them where they normalize their perverse conduct, and share their deviant interests. Children are far more likely to meet a predator online than on the street corner. Parents must closely monitor their child’s online activities which are now largely mobile based.
The Sandusky/Penn State scandal seems another warning sign that many of our trusted institutions do not understand this issue and are not doing enough to prevent the crime and protect children. Any impressions about the Sandusky/Penn State scandal that you would be willing to share?
The PSU debacle reflects the ongoing societal disregard for children. The University officials obviously learned nothing from the Catholic Church’s abuse scandal which was happening during the exact time that PSU officials knew and covered up Sandusky’s molestations. In my opinion, every university has its Jerry Sandusky. Penn State protected its hallowed football program and covered up years of vile child abuse by Sandusky. There will be far more revelations coming from PSU, and, sadly, many other colleges.
It is tragically ironic that the still unidentified child who was raped in the shower by Sandusky toppled a major university with a stellar reputation. Like the Catholic Church, the failure to protect children may bankrupt Penn State. Will other universities and institutions pay attention? I doubt it.
Who is most vulnerable? What are signs for parents and those who work with children to look out for? What particular advice do you have for parents and those who work with or care for children?
My strong admonition to parents and others who work with children is best summed up from First Letter of Peter: “Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in faith, know that your fellow believers throughout the world undergo the same sufferings” (1 Peter 8).
Predators single out vulnerable children. They look for and instinctively target unpopular children who feel unloved, and are starved for attention.
Predators can spot children with low self-esteem and lack of confidence. Often, children from single parent homes who are often unsupervised are the primary focus of predators.
Once a vulnerable child is identified, predators exhibit an unusual interest in the child by lavishing attention, compliments and gifts on the child.
Ultimately, the perpetrator’s goal is also to make the potential child victim feel comfortable enough to be close with the offender, to be alone with the offender, and to keep the sexual abuse a secret. This pattern is very successful since children rarely tell about the sexual abuse.
Jerry Sandusky is a classic predator. Parents would be wise to study his devious tactics which provide a playbook for predatory behavior.
Can you tell me about your blog and your current initiatives to protect children and young people from sexual abuse?
My blog, YoreChildren.com, is my ongoing dialogue about the culture, its treatment of child protection issues, and current events. I post videos of my television appearances, as well as important news stories about children. I also blog for both CatholicVote and the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.
My passion is to highlight the moral erosion of the culture and its devastating impact on children and families. My experience as a child advocate hopefully illuminates the urgent need for society to focus on the best interest of the child, both unborn and born. Giving a strong and insistent voice to the voiceless is my goal and, hopefully, encouraging my readers to do the same. I try to follow this counter cultural wisdom: