Child Safety—It Takes a Community

My hometown is abuzz with concern about child sexual abuse.  A man who has taught second grade here for twelve years has been arrested in connection with a federal investigation of child pornography.  The prosecutors say they have found a video of him molesting a twelve year old girl.  The man is being held on $100,000 cash bond.  There have been no reports of abuse from among the children he has taught.

We often imagine that child abusers are strangers.  Yet most sexual abuse is perpetrated by people known to the victims.  This man grew up in town and is reportedly well liked and respected in the school where he taught.   A school or agency’s first line of defense against child sexual abuse is to require a criminal background check.  I know of one church that successfully screened someone out on this basis and another that could have avoided an incident had they screened (this was nearly 30 years ago).  In this week’s case, the teacher passed because he had no prior arrests.

That brings me to the most effective way to protect children:  good practices.  Good practices involve a whole school community and perhaps beyond in keeping children safe.  There need to be very clear definitions of appropriate ways to interact with children and definitions of where and when it might be appropriate to be alone with a child, if ever.  There also needs to be clear accountability.  Someone needs to be working with staff to know what they are doing and how.  This is someone who can approve or disapprove off-site activities or after school hours activities.

Good practice is not about being paranoid.  It is about being clear about proper behavior with children and good supervision.

As far as I can tell at this point, there is no question about the performance of the school system.  Many perpetrators have not had prior arrests.  Thus, good practice is essential to  keeping children safe and possibly preventing potential abusers from becoming perpetrators.

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