BY ANNE K. ARD
For the CDT
It is hard to believe that it has been five years. Five years since one of the worst scandals ever to hit our community shattered relationships, destroyed trust, left us questioning ourselves. Five years since Jerry Sandusky was arrested and charged with child sexual abuse. A lot can change in five years.
While certainly there are those in our community who are tired of hearing about child sexual abuse, wish the issue would just go away or just want to pretend it didn’t happen, there are others who cannot and will not let it rest. They are the victims of Sandusky and others (and yes, there are many others) for whom rest doesn’t come easily. They are the adults still struggling with nightmares, guilt and shame, physical and psychological health problems. They still struggle to understand why it happened to them, why no one noticed, why no one stepped up to protect them. Victims are also, however, moving toward becoming survivors; finding the help that they need, learning new coping skills, becoming advocates for others.
There are others in our community who will not let the issue of child sexual abuse rest. They are advocates and service providers who educate the community about the reality of abuse; counselors who respond and work with children and adult victims; community members who have taken it upon themselves to learn about child sexual abuse and who speak up in their schools, organizations and neighborhoods when they see a problem. They are part of the 6,600 Centre Countians who have completed the Stewards of Children child abuse prevention program, who gave two hours of their time to learn how to keep children safer.
In the past five years, much has changed. There is a much greater awareness of the danger child sexual abuse poses. Many more people understand the dynamics, know the signs, and will called to report it. Many more professionals have completed training to be Mandated Reporters of child abuse and they know how and when to make a report to Childline (800-932-0313 or www.KeepKidsSafe.PA.gov). Centre County now has a Children’s Advocacy Center to provide state of the art care for those children who have experienced child abuse. And the Centre County Women’s Resource Center has support groups and services for adult female survivors and has begun a partnership with the Peaceful Hearts Foundation and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center to more effectively address the needs of adult male survivors of sexual abuse. A lot can change in five years — but it is not enough.
The number of people who have taken the Stewards of Children program is less than 10 percent of the Centre County population. Too many people still don’t know how to report suspected child abuse or are afraid of what might happen if they do. And too many kids still experience the devastating abuse that can leave a lifetime of scars. If you would like to be part of the solution, you can find a Stewards of Children training at the YMCA of Centre Co. website, or go to the CCWRC website to find out how to become a counselor/advocate volunteer. The work is not done, the fight is not over, and it won’t be until not one more child suffers at the hands of an abuser.