Local Agency Urges Awareness of Child Sex Abuse
By Caitlin Davis
Jul 27, 2012, 14:18
The trial is over, former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky is now in jail, the statue of former head coach Joe Paterno has been removed and the National College Athletic Association has punished the Nittany Lions program. But the effects of child abuse that went unchecked and ignored for years will still remain.
Jane Clayborne, Director of Community Relations at The James House in Hopewell, said if nothing else, this case has brought to light an issue that many have swept under the rug for years.
“What we want folks to know is this is a huge issue,” Jill Clayborne said. “It impacts people across America, across Virginia and even people here in Hopewell.”
Statistics listed on the web page for the Stop It Now! child sexual abuse prevention program indicate that approximately 80,000 cases of child abuse were reported and substantiated in 2006. Estimates listed on the same page indicate that only between 12 and 30 percent of cases are reported to authorities.
Child sexual abuse is never an easy topic to discuss, Clayborne said, especially since most of the conversation done by a child is non-verbal.
“Most try to tell of the abuse in some way by their actions,” Clayborne said. “As adults, we need to become more aware of kids’ behavior.”
Often times, Clayborne said many adults become busy with their lives and do not notice a change in their child’s behavior. Also, the topic is a frightening one many avoid thinking about.
“Most kids will only tell one time, you get that one chance,” Clayborne said.
Stop It Now!, a program aimed at the prevention of child abuse and support for child abuse victims, has identified some common behaviors of children who have been or who are being sexually abused.
Some of the signs include: being distracted or distant at odd times, experiencing a sudden change in eating habits, developing a new or unusual fear of certain people or places or exhibiting adult-like sexual behaviors.
Clayborne encouraged parents to talk to their children, regardless of whether there is suspicion of abuse. She said having conversations about sex early on is healthy.
“In our culture, when we talk about sex in any way, shape of form, we blush,” Clayborne said. “We don’t talk to our kids young enough, but [sex] is part of who we are as human beings.”
Teaching children the correct names for body parts is an essential part of the topic, Clayborne explained. She said this promotes healthy talks that would encourage a child to express him or herself if something were to happen.
“Most parents don’t understand sexual development in children,” Clayborne said.
Clayborne said a perpetrator may prey on a child’s ignorance of their body or on their lack of knowledge about sex. Clayborne said there could be many reasons children are targeted.
“What Jerry Sandusky did was find kids who were vulnerable. He made them feel good, he praised them,” Clayborne said.
Sandusky ran a charity, The Second Mile, founded in 1977 to help underprivileged youth by taking them to football games and football practices at Penn State and providing them with after school care.
Clayborne said perpetrators are not usually a stranger on the street.
“It does not have to be some bum on the street. They are usually upstanding people that we, as a society, look up to,” Clayborne said.
Clayborne said abused children experience effects that go on for a lifetime. She said abused children might have trust issues, while others might become promiscuous, wanting to “give it away” before someone else takes it or not want to be sexual at all.
The effects from abuse can reach to almost everyone in the family. Clayborne has heard about the effects from the Sandusky trial, the punishment from the NCAA and the outrage, but said the biggest effects will be closer to home.
“I’m sure many, many families have been torn apart,” Clayborne said.
Clayborne said her voice belongs to the victim, the person who carries the largest weight on their shoulders.
“If you don’t do anything, who suffers?” Clayborne asked. “The child. [People] should ask themselves, ‘What if it had been my child in the program,”
Being a bystander in this case is also a large weight to bear. She said there are always two decisions that can be made, speak up or stand by and say nothing.
“We need to ask ourselves if we want to be part of the problem or part of the solution,” Clayborne said. “When a child tells us something we have to make a choice, not to say anything and live with that shame and guilt or we have to do something.”
In an official statement from The James House, CEO Chana Ramsey mentioned the roles of bystanders in cases like the Penn State abuse.
“Whenever incidences like this hit the media radar, we are reminded that bystander accountability needs to be revisited,” Ramsey stated. “We all need to make ourselves responsible and accountable. Report suspected abuse and let justice take its course.”
Clayborne said that once a victim has told or has opened up, it is important not to blame the abused, something that is often prevalent when it comes to sexual abuse cases.
“We [society] start to blame the victim,” Clayborne said. “Oh, he took down coach Joe Paterno.”
Clayborne said sexual abuse cases are some of the few where the actions of the victim are still questioned, something she hopes will change.
“When your car is broken into, do you get asked, ‘Oh where did you park it? Was it red?’” Clayborne said.
In handling the aftermath of sexual abuse, reaching out to children is imperative, Clayborne said.
“No one wants to see a child hurting. You see kids trying to be tough,” Clayborne said. “One of the biggest things to let them know is they’re not alone.”
She also encouraged those children choose to talk to to listen without judgement.
“Many say, ‘If this really happened, they would have told a long time ago,’” Clayborne said. “Don’t ever do that. They are going through shame, humiliation and not even really understanding what’s really happened to them.”
The James House is hosting a workshop on child sexual abuse on August 13 at the Appomattox Regional Library to make more information on the topic available to the community.
The free training event will be on Child Abuse and Neglect Mandated Reporting. The event is currently full, however Clayborne said if there is enough interest, The James House will hold another event at a later date.
For more information about The James House and the programs and services offered to the community, visit thejameshouse.org or call 804.458.2704.