Parents best defense when it comes to child sex abuse prevention
Posted March 26, 2012 6:11 p.m. EDT
Updated March 26, 2012 6:56 p.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — It's not uncommon to see news reports about adults being accused of sex crimes involving children, teenagers or even their students.
The circumstances of recent cases vary – a Johnston County teacher facing dozens of charges that he molested six boys, a Wake County 4-H volunteer accused of targeting three boys and a Cary man portraying Santa Claus who allegedly solicited a girl on Facebook – but they all have one common factor.
Each involves a person with authority or influence over his alleged child victims.
Although organizations, like 4-H, and the state have training and practices in place to help prevent child sex abuse, child safety advocates say parents are the best line of defense when it comes to protecting their children.
Over the past 20 years, there were more than 250 teachers in North Carolina who had their licenses revoked for sexually related misconduct with children and students.
In 2010, there were 10. Last year, the number increased to 18.
"What may seem as a higher rate of abuse could be a reflection of better reporting," said Cristin Deronja, director of SAFEchild of North Carolina, a child abuse prevention advocacy group based in Raleigh.
Deronja says parents should not to be distracted by the statistics. Instead, she urges parents to know everything they can about other adults who might be spending time with their children.
"We hope that parents are vigilant about asking questions about people that their children are spending time with when they are not in their care," Deronja said.
She said, however, that approximately 80 to 90 percent of children who are victimized know their abusers.
“No matter how many people report, no matter how many number of cases that are investigated each year, we still know that it’s still under-reported," Deronja said. "So, we know that awareness needs to increase. We know that we need people to be courageous, to step forward and reach out for help, to pay attention to what’s going on with their own children and other’s children."
Organizations such as the Boy Scouts of America and the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction have been stepping up training and awareness to help prevent children from being victimized.
Since 2010, DPI has started looking further into potential employees' pasts and asking more questions.
The state also expanded ethics training for teachers and implemented tougher license regulation for teachers suspected of inappropriate conduct.
For example, employees cannot quit in the middle of an investigation as a way to keep their license and go to another teaching job.
Volunteers of the 4-H Youth Development Program must undergo background checks and training. They must also sign a "standards of behavior" document that addresses inappropriate behavior with children.
The Boy Scouts provides ongoing training to employees and volunteers to recognize signs of sexual abuse, as well as to identify what constitutes improper conduct with a child.
All adults are required to pass an exam and then pass a background check before becoming a volunteer.
John Akerman, the chief executive officer of the Boy Scouts' Occoneechee Council, says the rules are clear that volunteers should never be alone with a child.
"By having at least two adult leaders in each activity and outing, by never having them work one-on-one, it just keeps it from becoming a problem," Akerman said.
The Scouts also require parents to talk with their children about signs of sexual abuse, scout master Bill Fleming says.
"That ensures that the boys can recognize (issues) other boys may be having, signals that might be a problem," he said. "That type of preventative measure among the youth is also a key factor."