A major accomplishment of the yearlong Community Cafe for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse series was to be able to be able to speak about unspeakable topics. The topic of all nine cafes was the hidden scourge of ongoing child sexual abuse and what we can do to prevent it.
The Community Cafe arose as a grassroots effort that was adopted by several religious organizations in State College and Bellefonte that hosted the cafes from January to October 2013.
Here are key findings in a new report on the Community Cafes project.
• It is difficult and distasteful to talk about children being sexually exploited. To talk about it, we have to confront our own feelings of embarrassment, anger, fear and shame. But we recognize that by not talking about it, we allow the perpetrators to continue.
• Many people felt they were not well-informed about child sexual abuse, what signs to look for, how to warn children without scaring them, how to protect children in activities and settings with other adults, and how to spot an abuser.
• Education emerged as the key to protect children from sexual abuse. Participants saidparents are primarily responsible for educating their children about sexuality and protecting them from abuse. It was acknowledged that parents often are not sure when and how to approach their children about these sensitive topics in developmentally appropriate ways. Parents need help and support.
• Hospitals and pediatricians have an opportunity to help parents educate their children about sexuality and protection from abuse. Hospitals could offer parenting classes for parents of children of all ages, and the hospital could inform parents of newborns about these classes. Curricula should include information about how parents can teach their children about healthy sexuality.
• Schools also have a responsibility to continue the sexuality education process through age-appropriate curricula. Because 90 percent of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by someone the child knows, the classroom teacher may be the person who recognizes that a child is in trouble and in whom the child can confide.
• Religious leaders are trusted authorities on the spiritual health and development of children. Religious organizations could consider including human sexuality in religious-education classes so it can be spoken about frankly and openly. Some religious organizations have developed model curricula on human sexuality that are readily available and successful.
The key conclusion of the cafes is that in order to prevent child sexual abuse we have to be able to talk about it. We can’t afford to pretend it doesn’t happen or that it can’t happen. We have to have multiple avenues for adults and children to talk about sexuality in healthy, appropriate ways. Children need to feel it is OK to ask questions of trusted adults. We can be those trusted adults for the children in our lives, and we can urge the medical community, schools, and religious organizations to become proactive partners with parents and caregivers.
To read the full report, view photos, artistic renderings and conversation threads from the Community Cafes, visit www.cafe.defendachild.org.
Eileen Wise and Jean Wiant are co-leaders of the Community Cafes Project. This weekly column is provided by the Communities That Care Prevention Coalition of Centre County serving Bald Eagle, Bellefonte, Penns Valley, Philipsburg-Osceola and State College area school districts.