Citadel’s disclosure of sex abuse shows Penn State ripple effect

What if every time sex abuse was discovered it got reported to police? What if people stopped reacting to it as a “private” matter? What if that reaction included other sex crimes, rape and domestic abuse? How much progress could be made towards actually making a dent in stopping these secret crimes?

On Saturday, the acclaimed military school the Citadel disclosed that it failed to report to police allegations of sex abuse against a summer camp counselor in 2007. Last month, the accused man was arrested on separate charges of abusing five other boys.

CBS News reports that Citadel President John Rosa now says that the school is bringing in an outside company to review the procedures in handling such situations with an eye toward making improvements.

“We regret we did not pursue this matter further,” Rosa said.

So the Citadel publicly discloses sex abuse charges and then takes action to make change. This is good and why the silence at Penn State was so egregious. Keeping quiet gives others permission to keep quiet; going public gives others permission to go public.

Last week, of the Penn state scandal, I blogged:

The events at Penn State– the hubris, the network “brotherhood” of powerful men who covered up, the vulnerable kids in the ‘charitable’ organization Sandusky founded– should be examined to deeply understand how conditions that allow sexual abuse are created, supported, and institutionalized. The Penn State bubble was finally punctured at least for the Trustees last night, but look what it took: an arrest, a public scandal, and the threat of losing millions. And still Paterno and the Penn State students who are rallying and rioting for him fail to prioritize the victims.

Statistics show that 1 in 6 men is sexually abused before age 18. Where do these “bubbles” exist right now that we’re not all talking about? If we don’t start working harder to stop the sexual abuse of kids, if we don’t make that a higher priority, it will continue at these high rates.

Obviously, another bubble is the Citadel which shares conditions listed above. Rosa is disclosing the sexual abuse now for the same reasons he chose to keep kept it secret before: to protect his job and the reputation of the institution. This reflects an important shift. Now Rosa knows that to go public is better for him in the long run and for the institution he runs. Hopefully, he also understands that he needs to take action in order to protect victims and potential victims.

The horrible events at Penn State provide a national platform to acknowledge and change the way we react to sex abuse. Sexual predators won’t stop on their own and kids need someone to protect them. Sex abuse is widespread. Typically, a kid has to tell multiple adults he was abused before one helps him. Those are the kids who actually tell. Until more adults stand up and protect these kids, take the risk– sadly and remarkably it is a risk– to say that sex abuse is happening and is wrong,  we give it permission to go on.

Here are some ways you can help to prevent child sex abuse. These recommendations are from Family Services. Similar lists are all over the internet, the basic message being the first step is don’t ignore that sex abuse happens; talk to your kids.

Talk openly with your children about sexual development, behavior and abuse. Include molestation or secret touching in a discussion of safety issues in general such as answering the phone, fires, injuries, getting lost.
Praise and give your child affection and develop the kind of relationship that would allow your child to come to you for help or support for any kind of problem they might need help with, for themselves or a friend.
Tell your children that touching other people’s private parts is not ok for children to do or for adults to do with children. Tell them that you do not want them to do secret touching with other people but that you will not be mad at them if they tell you it has happened.
Instruct your children to tell you or another supportive adult if anyone touches or tries to see their private parts, tries to get them to touch or look at another person’s private parts, shows them pictures of or tries to take pictures of their private parts, talks to them about sex, walks in on them in the bathroom, or does anything provocative that makes them feel uncomfortable.
Help your children understand that it is possible that they may know or meet someone with a touching problem who will try to make secret touching look accidental. Encourage your children to tell you even if it might have been an accident.
Tell your children that touching problems are wrong, like stealing or lying, and that the people who have those kinds of problems need special help.
Let your children know that molesters try to get children to keep the abuse a secret by giving them candy, money or special privileges or by making threats or making the children feel bad.
Help identify and encourage your children to have support people they can talk to at home, at school, in their extended family, neighborhood or church. Have them pick out three people and tell you who they are. Put the phone numbers next to your phone and let them know that, if for any reason, they cannot talk to you that they should call or go see one of these people.
Don’t let young male children go into a men’s public restroom by themselves.
Be cautious about who you allow to baby-sit or spend time alone with your children. Try to bathe and dress your children before you leave. Routinely quiz your children about what happens while you are gone. Ask questions like,”What did you do that was fun?” Was there anything that happened while I was gone that worried you or that I should know about? Don’t always tell your children to mind the babysitter.
Get to know the people and homes where your children play.
Periodically check on your children, especially when they are playing with other kids in your home. If you know that one of your children’s friends has been sexually abused, be more attentive to their playtime.
Know your neighbors.
Supervise all Internet activities closely. Consider subscribing to an ISP that screens for obscenity and pornography. Instruct your children to never give out their phone number, address or school name to anyone they meet over the Internet. Periodically, ask your children to see the kinds of chat room conversations that take place.
Demonstrate loving, respectful intimate relationships in your home. Children should not observe direct sexual contact or any type of pornography.
Be aware that forms of sexual play or experimentation are normal and developmentally appropriate in young children; but if your child engages in any type of sexually inappropriate behavior, especially with a younger, smaller or less mature child, get professional help right away. Try to overcome denial and defensiveness. If your child does have a problem that goes untreated, it may become worse and create many more problems for your child, family, school and community. This includes date rape or sexual assault between preteens and teenagers. Boys who sexually assault girls frequently grow up to molest their own children or engage in domestic violence.
If another child engages your child in sexually inappropriate behavior or talk, tell their parents what happened so that they can get help. If you do not think that the family is seeking professional help, contact your local child abuse hotline.