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Guest Post: Shining More Light on Child Sexual Abuse

by William L. Bainbridge, Ph.D., FACFE

The potential for sexual harassment and abuse is not a new phenomenon.  The Grand Jury Findings of Fact into the alleged actions of former Penn State University football coach Gerald Sandusky and the alleged inactions of Penn State coaches and administrators has brought child sexual abuse back into national focus.
The accepted standard of care for children is they have a right to a safe and friendly environment free from abuse. Society places trust in coaches, teachers, priests and others who work with children by allowing them to have power and authority over young lives.  Professionals who work with children are capable of abusing this power by pursuing, grooming, manipulating, and controlling students.  When inappropriate acts occur, the cause can be traced to an imbalance of power.

Government agencies have published valuable information and guidelines. The U.S. Department of Education (USDOE), currently investigating the Penn State situation, widely distributed Sexual Harassment: It's Not Academic and Educator Sexual Misconduct: A Synthesis of Existing Literature.  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mailed out Preventing Child Sexual Abuse Within Youth-Serving Organizations, the U.S. Government Accountability Office provided Selected Cases of Public and Private Schools That Hired or Retained Individuals with Histories of Sexual Misconduct and the U.S. Department of Justice and USDOE sent a detailed letter, this past April, to all local school and higher education institutions across the country, urging them to enforce legal provisions for the prevention of sexual assault of students.

From reviewing professional journals, media accounts, attending conferences and my personal experience serving as a school system administrator, university professor and testifying expert in many school and church related sexual harassment cases, it is possible to develop a profile of persons who sexually abuse students.
While the accused represent a small percentage of our nation’s educators, those that do abuse often abuse multiple children.  The abuser is often one of the best-liked, highly decorated/honored and most popular adults who work with children.  When confronted about their abuse, the accused almost always responds by initially lying about his or her involvement.  According to a major USDOE study, abusers: lie to students, isolate them, make them feel complicit and manipulate them into sexual contact. Documentation reveals pedophiles are often among the people parents trust most.  

Sexual abuse is a significant issue that demands knowledgeability on the part of all boards, administration, faculty, and staff if they intend to demonstrate they care about child safety.
When an adult will be working closely with children, it is imperative a thorough background investigation be conducted before they are hired, assuring there are no unknown sexual allegations against the applicant.

People who work with children should be properly trained, supervised and evaluated to be aware of what their responsibilities are for maintaining a safe and caring environment for children, free from abuse. Professionals should not be permitted to regularly single out a particular child for attention, offer to mentor a child in an isolated location, engage in frequent effusive compliments directed toward a particular child or tease with sexual innuendo.
States impose upon professionals who work with children a statutory duty to report known or suspected incidents of sexual molestation or abuse of minors to a child services agency that protects children and do so expeditiously.  
Boundary violations often involve marginally inappropriate behavior that may or may not constitute sexual abuse. When children are victims of sexual abuse by an adult they trust, often the result is poor self-esteem, lack of assertiveness, inability to stand up for one’s rights, inability to speak in public, acting out, anger, displaced anger management, depression, a sense of helplessness and even substance abuse. Trust is a major issue with minors, particularly when they are betrayed by an adult in power who is expected to serve as a role model and be trustworthy.

There are far too many cases of school, university, church, camp and youth activity leaders abdicating their duty and failing to exercise their legal responsibility on behalf of the minors they serve.  As a result, the very minors adults are hired to protect are exposed to sexual abuse.  

All children must be provided maximum personal safety and be free from the pains of sexual abuse.  Our society should demand no less.

William L. Bainbridge, Ph.D., is a Distinguished Research Professor for the University of Dayton’s SchoolMatch Institute.
Posted By Meg Carnes | 11/11/2011 8:44:21 AM

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