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Know, act on warning signs of sexual abuse

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012 1:15 a.m. CDT

Jerry Sandusky was convicted of 45 counts of child sexual abuse. The Freeh Report has found that Penn State leaders had a “total disregard for the safety and welfare” of those children he victimized.

We must use those events as a call to action. As parents and members of this community, we need to ask ourselves what we can do to prevent even one more child from being sexually abused.

Teaching our kids about scary strangers and just focusing on people on the sex offender registry won’t keep kids safe. Research shows that we adults already know that children are most often abused by someone they know, trust and often love and admire.

But it’s still hard for most of us to recognize when someone we know could also be sexually inappropriate or abusive toward children. After all, we don’t have “proof” that someone has harmed a child, and we don’t want to offend an adult by asking about his or her behavior.

Meanwhile, too many children are harmed by sexual abuse because we – as individuals, organizations and communities – are afraid to be wrong and don’t know what to do. But we must recognize that we have a greater responsibility to our children.

As a member of this community and a representative of a youth-serving organization, I urge each of us to arm ourselves with the knowledge of the warning signs that indicate increased risk of abuse and, most important, to speak up when we see them. Those actions are imperative for protecting our children.

As satisfying as the sentencing for Jerry Sandusky is, preventing abuse will always have a much greater positive impact on our children, families and communities, than punishment will after the fact.

Note to readers – Shelly Brantley is the executive director of Shining Star Children’s Advocacy Center.

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