Do you know what the number-one indicator of child sexual abuse is?
Answer: the child will say that he or she is being abused.
Seriously. That’s the major indicator of child sexual abuse, says Adam Rosenberg, executive director of the Baltimore Child Abuse Center. He’s a former prosecutor who pressed countless cases of child sexual abuse as an assistant State’s Attorney, and it has given him a unique and poignant perspective on a monstrous crime.
We talked about the abomination at Penn State University, how so many people at the university, in and out of the athletic department, knew that Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant football coach, was molesting young boys. But none of those people reported it, and they actually supported The Second Mile, Sandusky’s charity, which worked with troubled young boys.
All of the victims who have come forward so far met Sandusky through The Second Mile.
“One of the biggest shames about it is that nobody did anything,” said Rosenberg.
Rosenberg aims a special fury at Mike McQueary, the graduate assistant who saw Jerry Sandusky molesting a ten-year-old boy in the locker room showers at Penn State.
“He observed a 10-year-old boy being raped by an adult but did nothing,” said Rosenberg, disbelief and disgust evident in his voice. “It’s almost a larger disappointment than the crime itself.”
One of the factors that allowed Sandusky to continue to abuse boys over the decades was the football mania at Penn State.
“Football is a revered culture in college, an important part of campus life,” Rosenberg said. “[The football staff] certainly knew abuse had occurred. I would hate to think nothing was done in order to protect football.”
Which brings us to the main question.
What should people do who see, or suspect, that an adult is molesting a child?
Simple. Call 911.
It’s the very least you can do legally. Here in Maryland, anyone who sees or suspects abuse is required to report it.
“In Maryland you must report it to 911. You can report abuse anonymously but you have to report it. If you don’t report it you implicitly say that you support it.”
And don’t assume that because a program is “good,” that there isn’t a sex-abuse problem there. “The Second Mile was a ‘good’ program,” said Rosenberg. “Be vigilant.”
And learn more about signs, symptoms, prevention and more at www.bcaci.org.
Which kids are at risk for sex abuse?
All of them, says Rosenberg. The majority of children that he sees at the Baltimore Child Abuse Center are under the age of six.
“Children under nine are at greater risk because they have less ability to defend themselves and don’t have the capacity to know what’s happening is wrong,” he said. “We have to help and protect them.”
Parents should start being suspicious when their child starts to act differently from the way he or she did before. “It means something has happened. It’s worth investigating further,” says Rosenberg. “It could be the child’s being bullied, could be something else, but it’s worth having a conversation about.”
Other signs: parents should get very suspicious if their young children start showing a fear for a particular place, or start incorporating sexual subject matter in their drawings or play.
“But often, the child will say he’s being abused, and when kids are telling us this is happening we have to believe them.”
And call 911.
“There is a general fear of getting involved, which is a real problem,” he says. “If you see a sexual assault happening, you have to jump in and try to stop it,” he said. “If there is any lesson to learn from this, it’s that people have to take action. Get involved, stop abuse from happening, call 911. These kids can’t defend themselves. We have to help them.”
Want to learn more about what you can do to help prevent child abuse? Visit www.bcaci.org.
—by Jacqueline Watts