According to The NY Times Australia’s senior Roman Catholic prelate, and one of Pope Francis’ top advisers, has been charged with sexual assault. The prelate, Cardinal George Pell, is the highest-ranking Vatican official in recent years to be charged with accusations of sexual offenses. Throughout history child sexual abuse has been committed by priests and covered up by bishops; committed by bishops and covered up by cardinals, and on up the line, time and time again. The Catholic Church isn’t the only place where sexual abuse occurs and gets covered up – it happens in athletic communities, schools, summer camps, families and potentially anywhere that children can be found and made victims. The Catholic Church is part of the problem, for sure, and their part, while appalling, is just that, PART of the problem. One in five children will be sexually abused before reaching his or her 18th birthday, so really, the Catholic Church couldn’t possibly be the world’s sole source for perpetrators. Over 90% of child sexual abuse victims know their abuser. An overwhelming 30% of child sexual abuse victims are abused by a member of their own family.
Where and when does it end? How do we stop it? One of the first things we need to do is recognize that child sexual abuse offenders count on our silence, our shame, our secrecy and our complete and utter willingness to let them hide in the shadows because who actually wants to talk about child sexual abuse? Not me. Likely not you either. As topics go, it’s disgusting; it’s gross; it’s unsettling, and that is exactly what perpetrators depend on.
Pope Francis has said of his church, “We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards.” Why not start the new balance with shining a light on sexual abuse, being open and transparent and willing to educate, prevent, recognize and react responsibly to child sexual abuse?
Consider that nearly 80% of child sexual abuse happens in isolated, one on one situations. Making sure that every interaction with the children in our lives is observable and interruptible goes a long way in protecting our children. We can set a good example to children and to other adults and by making sure we set the precedent for safety by not doing things that make children unsure of what the rules should be. It means if we don’t want them to do something with a predator, then we shouldn’t ask them to do it with us. It means not putting ourselves in one on one isolated situations with children in our charge. It means making sure every situation can be observed and interrupted by another adult.
Create an open dialogue with your children about what’s appropriate and inappropriate, and the importance of trusting one’s instincts. Talking about sexual abuse is not a one time event; it is an open, ongoing discussion that you and your children feel comfortable with. Give your children the permission they need to talk to you by talking freely and unashamedly about protecting their bodies.
Children need to know the proper terms for body parts. Perpetrators often use “silly” names for private parts as part of the grooming process. Make sure your child knows the difference between a secret (something to be hidden) and a surprise (something to be revealed). Tell your child it is okay to say “no” if someone makes them uncomfortable in any way.
Learn the facts. Talk about it. Keep lines of communication open with your children and with other adults. Certainly, that will go a lot further in the way of preventing abuse than pointing the finger exclusively at one entity, because it’s easy to say that abuse is occurring “over there” or to “those people” and then turn our backs on the problem. But the reality is that child sexual abuse knows no boundaries. It crosses every race, creed, color, socioeconomic border and it stops only when WE stop it.
Editor, Ask Lala
Laura Fogarty writes “Ask Lala” for the Stop Abuse Campaign. She is a mother, an advocate and the author of two children’s abuse prevention books: I’M THE BOSS OF ME! and WE ARE JUST ALIKE!