Unifying voices to prevent sexual abuse

Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers
4900 S.W. Griffith Drive, Suite 274, Beaverton, OR 97005  (503) 643-1023 www.atsa.com

National Sexual Violence Resource Center
123 North Enola Drive, Enola, PA 17025  (877) 739-3895 www.nsvrc.org


June 5, 2012


All eyes are on Pennsylvania where Jerry Sandusky’s trial is underway in Bellefonte. The former Penn State football coach is charged with 52 counts of sexual abuse involving 10 boys over 15 years. As the world watches the case unfold, these allegations bring attention to what we all can do to stop and prevent child sexual abuse.

Our two organizations, working with both victims and abusers, recognize that discussions about sexual violence can be very difficult.  Oftentimes, high-profile cases are the only ones that garner this level of media coverage, but in reality sexual abuse is widespread. Sexual violence happens every day, in families, communities, workplaces and schools. Adult survivors of child sexual abuse often talk about how alone they felt and many people who have sexually abused say they count on that isolation to keep their crimes secret. In most cases, those who abuse are never arrested, because more than 80% of the cases of child sexual abuse are not reported to police.[1]

Every day, sexual violence impacts thousands of children, teens and adults. In fact in the U.S., nearly 20 percent of the population has experienced some form of sexual assault during their lives.2 In addition, this abuse can occur at a young age; one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old.3 In eight out of 10 cases, the victim knows the person who is assaulting them.4 In the majority of cases, it is someone the victim trusts and respects.  

We are committed to ensuring that adequate support systems are in place for every victim of sexual abuse, whether they report the crime or not; and that those who do are not further traumatized in their efforts to pursue justice. We are also working hard to ensure that effective treatment is available for individuals who perpetrate sexual abuse; and these individuals are held appropriately accountable to those they have harmed. As we develop programs that support people through the healing and treatment processes, we are also obligated to invest our collective efforts towards using what we have learned to prevent sexual abuse and keep our communities and children safe.    

Everyone has a role in preventing sexual violence. Every adult is in the position to protect children. It’s time to get involved. We can begin conversations with organizations working with children and youth about things they are doing to promote safety and how we can help.  We can ask whether our church, synagogue, schools or local YMCA have policies in place to protect children. We can ask if staff and volunteers at these organizations are aware of these policies.  And we can ask if everyone within the organization knows how to implement these policies on a day-to-day basis.

Most importantly, we need to learn to trust our instincts. If you see or hear something that doesn’t seem right, speak up and ask questions.  Listen to the children in your life and keep the lines of communication open. Pay attention to any behavior changes. By having honest, age-appropriate conversations with children and teens, they’ll know they can talk to you any time. Talking with the adults around us – parents, guardians, professionals working with youth and other adults in the community –  about this issue will ensure that we all are more comfortable discussing the issue, responding to someone who may have questions, or listening and knowing what to do when a child or teen discloses sexual abuse.    

Let's use the spotlight of the Sandusky trial as a rallying point to ACT.  We don’t have to wait.  Talking about sexual abuse in your community or closer to home, or ways that you have been affected by sexual abuse is a way to model that it is OK to talk about it –  it is OK to ask questions.  If you work with an organization or your child is a part of an organization, ask them what they are doing to make it a safer place.   And if you don't know much about the topic, take the time to learn more.  Together we can make a difference and make our communities safer for children and teens.  Please make your voice heard, join with us to prevent sexual violence.

For more information or resources, visit the National Sexual Violence Resource Center at www.nsvrc.org and the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers at www.atsa.com.



1 London, K., Bruck, M., Ceri, S. J., & Shuman, D. W. (2005). Disclosure of child sexual abuse: What does the research tell us about the ways that children tell? Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 11(1), 194-226. doi:10.1037/1076-8971.11.1.194

2 Tjaden, P., & Thoennes, N. (2000). Full report of the prevalence, incidence, and consequences of violence against women. Retrieved from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice: www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/183781.pdf

3 Finkelhor, D., Hotaling, G., Lewis, I. A., & Smith, C. (1990). Sexual abuse in a national survey of adult men and women: Prevalence, characteristics and risk factors. Child Abuse & Neglect 14, 19-28. doi:10.1016/0145-2134(90)90077-7

4 Miller, T. R., Cohen, M. A., & Wiersema, B. (1996). Victim costs and consequences: A new look (NCJ 155282). Retrieved from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice: https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles/victcost.pdf

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