Monday, November 21, 2011

The Penn State Scandal and Child Abuse: “Turning Reaction Into Real Action”

Everyone is talking about the Penn State scandal, as they should be.  The range of emotions expressed by citizens across the US run the gamut - some are outraged, some are supportive of Coach Paterno, which has others even more outraged, some are just in shock that this would happen and go unreported, some are just saddened that kids suffer such horrendous acts at the hands of the very adults that are supposed to care for and protect them in the first place.

But it’s time to turn all of that emotional reaction into real action to protect kids.  We can spend our time ranting about the actions (or inactions) of those individuals at Penn State (and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit as humans and as child advocates we’ve done our fair share of that privately), or we can make a conscious choice as a State and as a Nation to take this tragedy and do something, together, for once to better the lives of children in a very real, very now way!

Child sexual abuse and exploitation is a very real and dangerous problem in our world, and yes it is happening in your neighborhood too!  It happens for a variety of reasons and people turn their heads for a variety of reasons as well: denial, lack of education, fear, economic security.  The numbers vary depending on what study you are quoting, but experts tend to agree that approximately 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused by the time they turn 18.  So to put that into perspective, look at the average classroom in the US with about 20 kids and 4 kids in that class are, or will become a victim.  It’s sickening and it’s heartbreaking.  What it should be is motivating – but to most people – it just stops at sickening and heartbreaking.  But let’s change that! Let’s take this current level of awareness and motivation in the US and let’s move beyond sickness and heartbreak and let’s all make a commitment to do something to protect children!

First, all citizens should be aware of the signs and symptoms of child abuse and neglect (and not just child sexual abuse) and should know where and how to report suspicions of abuse if they suspect it. We should all think of reporting as a form of prevention. It stops the abuse for the current victim and it prevents abuse for future victims.  In Florida, every citizen is a mandatory reporter, as is every citizen in 17 other states.  But whether you are mandated to report or not, it’s just the right thing to do!  To learn the signs and symptoms of abuse or neglect or how to report abuse in Florida, visit: Monique Burr Foundation Resources.

If you are not in Florida and you want to know your state’s statute on reporting and how to report, you can visit this website hosted by The Child Welfare Information Gateway to find out more information.  If your state law does not require every citizen to be a mandatory reporter, contact your state legislators and ask them to change the law immediately.

Secondly, prevention education needs to be a priority.  The US is a reactive society and we need to become a preventive society. With over 3.2 million reports of child abuse annually (and more abuse that goes unreported) this is an issue of public health crisis proportion with long-term negative health, mental health and societal consequences that last well into adulthood. However, there is ample research that shows prevention programs targeted at both children and adults is effective for primary and secondary prevention of child abuse and child sexual abuse.

In Florida, the legislature has mandated child abuse prevention education for all of Florida’s children through Florida Statute 39.  In response to that unfunded mandate, the Monique Burr Foundation for Children is providing a curriculum, Speak Up Be Safe™ (SUBS), as the Florida Department of Education approved safety and child abuse prevention program at no cost to public schools through active fundraising.  The SUBS curriculum also includes bullying, cyberbullying and technology safety information to help avoid and prevent other tragedies as well.

According to Finkelhor (2007), arguments against prevention education for children are unfounded and “the weight of currently available evidence shows that it is worth providing children with high-quality prevention education programs”, stating that “much research has suggested that children acquire the concepts; some research has suggested the programs promote disclosure and one study found lower rates of victimization for children who were exposed to these programs.” Finkelhor goes on to say despite arguments to the contrary, “a majority of reviews have found that children at all ages do acquire the key concepts that are being taught. In fact, younger children show more learning than older children.” And since we know the majority of abuse occurs in children under the age of 11, SUBS is taught to that target audience.

Speak Up Be Safe™ also follows the empirical findings and policy suggestions set forth in previous research1 to ensure the maximum efficacy and safety benefits for children in prevention programs. 

·      Programs are more effective when they occur on multiple occasions.
·      Programs are more effective when they allow children opportunities to practice skills.
·      Programs are more effective when they involve parents.
·      Programs should devote more emphasis to bullying prevention.

To move from the reactive society toward the preventive society mentioned earlier, EVERY school in Florida needs to implement SUBS in EVERY 1st – 5th grade classroom to get this essential information to EVERY child.  And the Monique Burr Foundation for Children needs EVERY citizen’s help to accomplish this.

Parents can inquire directly with their school or district to see if they are participating in the Speak Up Be Safe™ program and if not, request the program be used in their school.  Schools and districts can request SUBS and can include the program as a part of their standardized Guidance and Health curriculum to ensure uniform implementation across their district.  Community members and organizations can assist the Monique Burr Foundation and schools and districts with financial and implementation support. 

We must all work together to be successful in protecting kids, but the key is, THE TIME IS NOW.  We MUST Speak Up now to Keep Florida’s Kids Safe!  Contact us for more information at

Finkelhor, D. (2007). Prevention of Sexual Abuse Through Educational Programs Directed Toward Children. Pediatrics, 120(3): 640-645. Downloaded from on November 15, 2011.

1Finkelhor, D. & Dziuba-Leatherman, J. (1994). Victimization Prevention Programs: A National Survey of Children’s Exposure and Reactions. Child Abuse and Neglect, 19,(2):129-139. Downloaded from on November 15, 2011. 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Child Abuse is on the Rise.... Let's do something about it!

An Ohio teacher and Penn State coach in the news, child porn sweeps in NC and FL with teachers, military, fire chiefs arrested, a US Department of State Special Agent recently arrested, a Ph.D at the CDC recently arrested… everywhere you look you see headlines related to child abuse, child pornography and child sexual exploitation. This is a public health crisis that is affecting us all, because even if it is not directly impacting you today it is going to impact you in the future. YOU are going teach these children, live next to these children, your children are going to go to school with these children and your tax dollars are going to have to pay to HEAL these children and INCARCERATE these perpetrators! If you do not think prevention is important, you are mistaken! The US needs to refocus it's efforts on PREVENTION! We need to stop the demand and EDUCATE and EMPOWER children and adults!!!! This really needs to stop. Please get involved and do something.