Penn State – A mom’s perspective: Questions we should be asking

Although I am an avowed Ohio State Buckeyes fan for life, the Penn State football child sex abuse case shook me to the core. As many pundits, bloggers and avid Facebook users are finally beginning to point out, this case is not about a college football legacy – this is about a system wide failure to protect children from the lifelong damage of sexual abuse.
Beyond discussions of Penn State’s future as a football powerhouse, we as parents, caregivers and community members need to assess what went wrong at Penn State and how to prevent a similar situation from occurring in our own backyard. Numerous statistics and studies demonstrate that the perpetrators of child sexual abuse are primarily adults who know the children well – parents, caregivers, teachers, coaches and even religious leaders. Given the stature and position of these perpetrators within the community, too often, other adults who may suspect a hint of child sexual abuse look away. As a mother, the urgent question for me is how do we as responsible, ethical adults actively work to prevent this from occurring in our communities?

As an active member of a religious and cultural community that has largely been muted on the issue of child sexual abuse, I see there is a vital need to address these parental concerns. Are our children safe in our mosques/churches/temples, when they go to Sunday school classes, participate in afterschool and weekend clubs and engage in community-based activities? Do our religious and cultural institutions have formalized protocols for reporting incidents of abuse? Do our imams, clergy, religious leaders, parents and fellow community members know how to handle suspected incidences of child sexual abuse? Are community members informed about available resources?

As we address these concerns there are lessons we can learn from the mistakes made at Penn State.

First, report, report and report. As caregivers, and as ethical human beings, we have a duty to report suspected child sexual abuse. Call the authorities and contact local community resources. A few suggested resources:

HERO is a community-based, media-driven, child sexual abuse prevention program designed to educate and motivate adult community members to call the 24-hour HERO Hotline if they suspect child sexual abuse. If you suspect a child is being sexually abused and need to talk it over with someone before taking action, call the 24-hour HERO Hotline: 1-877-874-HERO.

RAINN (The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) is the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. Resources include a 24-hour hotline – 1.800.656.HOPE.

Second, we all have a role to play in the prevention of child sexual abuse. If they do not already exist, we must work to develop strong policies to keep our children safe in all of the activities that they participate in. As part of such policies, all caregivers and activity leaders should be required to pass appropriate background checks. Supervisors and community leaders must enforce policies that ensure that such individuals will never be alone with children. All community members must be informed on the protocol of reporting suspected incidents of child sexual abuse.

Finally, as parents, in addition to teaching our children their ABCs, how to read Surah Fatihah and how to ride a bike, we must engage in regular conversations that inform children that an adult or older child should never touch their genitals. We must specifically use these words. Just as they are certain of the letter that starts their name, our children should be certain that adults should not ask children to keep “secrets” and that they can say no to unwanted touches and advances. Our children should know that they can come to us and tell us if someone makes them “feel funny.” We must consider this to be a part of the education of our children and actively work to equip them with the language they need to prevent these horrific acts from occurring.

In addition to the resources already listed, other suggested resources for parents and caregivers include:

Darkness to Light
An organization dedicated to raising awareness of the prevalence and consequences of child sexual abuse by educating adults about the steps they can take to prevent, recognize and react responsibly to the reality of child sexual abuse.

National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC)
This organization has a document, Child Sexual Abuse Prevention and Risk Reduction: Literature Review for Parents and Guardians

For those who seek insight on how Muslim-based religious and culturally specific communities can work to prevent child sexual abuse, please contact:

Peaceful Families Project (PFP)
PFP is a national organization devoted to ending domestic violence in Muslim families by facilitating awareness workshops for Muslim leaders and communities, providing cultural sensitivity trainings for professionals, conducting research, and developing resources. PFP also offers resources on child sexual abuse.

(Photo Credit: Mike Pettigano)

Samar Kaukab Ahmad is an anti-sexual violence activist and Board Member of the Peaceful Families Project, a national organization dedicated to ending domestic and sexual violence in Muslim families by facilitating awareness workshops for Muslim leaders and communities, providing cultural sensitivity trainings for professionals, conducting research, and developing resources.

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