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Sandusky Case: Safer Environments Still Needed for Our Children

Michele Booth Cole | 10/9/2012, 6:02 p.m.

The sentencing of Jerry Sandusky for his sexual abuse of 10 boys over 15 years - and it's conceivable there could be more we'll never know about - is a moment of reckoning for not only Sandusky, but the rest of us as well.

Sandusky's abusive behavior and Penn State's initial response have been shocking illustrations of ways in which adults and organizations fail to protect children. The unprecedented NCAA sanctions against Penn State and the broader condemnation of its "over the top, win at any cost" culture that idolizes sports and sports figures, have been an eye opener for many. The surprise has not been that this culture exists, but the fact that it can so dramatically compromise the safety and wellbeing of our children.

For all that is disturbing about this case, and all the pain caused to those Sandusky preyed upon, there is the potential for good to come from this shameful and painful episode. I'm wondering whether we'll seize this moment.

Estimates suggest that each day tens of millions of youth participate in activities that could be made safer by systematic prevention activities. While many organizations already incorporate prevention efforts, all organizations working with children or teens would benefit from stronger screening policies, regular self-assessment, and greater training and education efforts to empower staff to keep youth safety in the forefront of their work.

The Sandusky case also reminds us that we need to do more to educate parents and the public about the every day role that we can all play in creating safer environments for children.

Once this chapter of the Sandusky case is closed, our conversations, awareness and vigilance mustn't end. When we know better, we're obligated to do better. This case has been a study in learning what to do and not to do. So, let's look at this as another chance, one we get every day, to make things better, safer for children.

Michele Booth Cole, J.D. is executive director of Safe Shores - The DC Children's Advocacy Center. The nonprofit serves child victims of abuse in the District of Columbia.