Working parents must have faith in the individuals they give authority to when it comes to taking care of their children. They have to rely on the babysitter, daycare provider, teacher, summer counselor or coach, for example, to be the parental figure who will instruct, nurture and protect their loved ones in their absence. It's equally as important that their children learn to respect and obey these individuals, as well. But recent news reports of child sexual abuse serve as sad reminders that not all adults, including family members, share the same desire to protect some of the most vulnerable among us, or are concerned about what's in the best interest of children; and not all parents can see the signs when their child is being abused.
Jury selection began this week in the trial of Jerry Sandusky, who is accused of molesting 10 boys he was involved with over the past 15 years while serving as the assistant football coach at Penn State University and through a charitable program he established. Sandusky, 68, is facing 52 counts of molestation and, if found guilty, could be sentenced up to 500 years in prison. In yet another case, a New York man was arrested last month after confessing that he strangled to death a six-year old boy on the way to his first day of school in 1979. Parents and police never lost hope that the case would be solved, but they are still searching for the remains of their son.
On any given day in neighborhoods throughout D.C., Maryland and Virginia, children are left to fend for themselves on the way to school, the store or if they're just outdoors playing. It is a prime situation for bad people who prey on innocent children. And, summer presents its own set of circumstances when children may be more vulnerable.
Michele Booth Cole, executive director of Safe Shores – The DC Children's Advocacy Center – used these current events and the season at hand to issue a press release urging parents, families, and organizations to talk about what they need to do to make D.C. communities safer for children and then take action.
Safe Shores is a non-profit organization that provides services to child victims of abuse and their families, and trains the public and organizations serving youth on how to reduce the risks of abuse.
"I urge adults to find ways to get involved and learn the scope of sexual abuse. The Sandusky case offers us a horrible but valuable extended teachable moment, and there are vital lessons for adults and children," Cole said.
Cole suggests that parents start with opening the lines of communication. Parents can ask their schools, faith institutions, summer camps and other organizations if they have policies to protect children, if staff is aware of these policies, and if they know how to implement them on a day-to-day basis.
And she urges parents to talk to their children. "Have open, honest, age-appropriate conversations with your kids about protecting their bodies. And give your children the attention they need. Child predators furtively slip into the emotional gaps in a child's life to gain a child's trust," Cole said.
The D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) has hired Safe Shores to conduct eight training sessions for 240 staff members of DPR's community service and community recreation programs in preparation for the summer camp season. We commend DPR and Safe Shores for taking this necessary step to assure that our children have a safe and enjoyable summer.