This week marks the beginning of the Jerry Sandusky trial. Soon the jurors will be selected, lawyers will posture for their respective sides, allegations and details will emerge and we will be inundated by the media. Not to be lost in all the expected reporting frenzy, now is a good time to focus on children and how to protect our children from sexual abuse.
Child sexual abuse is not a Roman Catholic clergy problem. Child sexual abuse is a pervasive societal problem. One in four girls is sexually abused before the age of 14 and one is six boys is sexually abused before the age of 16. Almost 50% of the offenders are household members and an additional 38% are already acquaintances of the victims. And according to an FBI report, like rape, child molestation is one of the most underreported crimes—only 1% to 10% are ever disclosed.
David Finkelhor, PhD, is a national expert in the area of child sexual abuse prevention. In his article Prevention of Sexual Abuse through Educational Programs Directed Toward Children, he concludes that prevention programs reduce self-blame and stigma and that they promote disclosure and reporting. Prevention programs also cause an increase in parent-child conversations on personal safety and sexual abuse.
In our diocese, Bishop Joseph Galante has directed that every parish catechetical program implement Child Lures Prevention: Think First & Stay Safe. This prevention program teaches our children the lures that predators use to harm children. Learning to recognize these lures teaches them to be safe and protected.
In a press release issued by the Child Lures Prevention: Think First & Stay Safe program based out of Vermont, Co-President Rosemary Wooden Webb notes that Sandusky allegedly used eight different lures to harm the boys he allegedly abused. These lures include the Affection Lure, the Authority Lure, the Hero Lure and the Games Lure.
Sister Denise Ware, SFCC, is the Parish Catechetical Leader at Incarnation Parish, Mantua. She has been using this prevention program for over seven years. She says, “I think it is good for the catechists to be able to talk about this issue and for the children to know it is OK to talk about it, too. We pray that we will always be safe and that those around us will keep us safe as well.”
At Saint Maximilian Kolbe Parish, Marmora, Marie Moran is the Parish Catechetical Leader. She adds, “This program reinforces what the students are presented in their public school settings. However, in our presentations we also draw upon the teachings of Christ and our call to love one another. It is very important that these presentations are Christ-centered.”
The best way to keep our children safe from sexual abuse is to talk openly with them about it. We need to talk about healthy relationships and what comprises inappropriate behavior. As parents, catechists and teachers, we need to continue to teach our children the lures that predators use and how to recognize and interrupt grooming behavior.
Prevention programs are effective. By using the Child Lures Prevention: Think First & Stay Safe program, our parishes are safe places for the children entrusted into our care. Over the next several weeks of the Sandusky trial, let us pray for victims of child sexual abuse and let us together continue to work together to protect our children.
Rod J. Herrera, LCSW is director, Office of Child and Youth Protection, Diocese of Camden.