A sad day, but let’s talk about it

    Today marks the funeral for one of the greatest coaches ever to lead the game of football.  At the request of Governor Corbett, flags all across the keystone state will fly at half staff for the man remembered by many as a decent, honorable man.  But the death of Joe Paterno is sad on many levels.

    Paterno was a revered coach, husband, father, and icon who just days before his diagnosis of lung cancer, fell from the pedestal he’d been perched up on for decades.  It’s sad to see his lifelong legacy viewed through the lens of the last few months of his life.  But the saddest part of all is that it could have been avoided.

    The sexual abuse scandal that rocked Penn State’s world-class football program need not have brought down the great Joe Pa.  The true victims of course were not the reputations of “great” men, but the lives of the young boys so horrifically harmed by the sexual abuse that was allowed by the administration to continue for years.  Part of what contributed to this tragedy and part of what continues to confound talk around sexual abuse is that sex itself is still taboo.

    It might be 2012, but the fact is, as a country, we are still uncomfortable with talk about sex.  And while that may seem to be nothing more than innocence or prudishness, it’s really much more than that.  Our puritanical treatment of sex relegates it to things we don’t discuss in “polite company.”  And in reality, it often becomes relegated to things we don’t discuss at all.  Because of this, many of us struggle to talk about it with our kids.

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    If we can’t talk about sex, we can’t talk about all sorts of things topically related to sex, including sexual abuse.  And if we can’t talk about sexual abuse, kids don’t know it happens, which puts them at risk for the very thing we’re so afraid to name.  Not talking about it teaches kids or adults who know or suspect sexual abuse to feel insecure about stopping or reporting it.  And so, it continues.

    Words have power, so harness that power and talk about it.  Experts in child sexual abuse prevention recommend teaching children the proper anatomical terms for their body parts.  They recommend having conversations about sex and sexual abuse so that children can learn the difference between the two AND so that children know how to report things that feel uncomfortable.  They recommend listening any and every time, whether it’s to that sinking feeling you have or to actual allegations from a child or another adult.  They recommend acting upon any reports or suspicions.  When in doubt, check it out.  And yes, talk about it.

    The Philadelphia Children’s Alliance offers ten tips on keeping children safe from sexual abuse:

    Make your home a “no secrets zone.”
    Respect your child’s personal boundaries.
    Teach kids the proper names for body parts.
    Monitor one on one situations.
    Recognize that sexual offenders come in all shapes and sizes.
    Seize the moments to discuss the topic with your kids.
    Realize that not all background checks are created equal.
    Avoid good touch/bad touch.
    Be clear and cover all the bases.
    If you don’t know, ASK!

    You’ll find details about each of the tips above, along with much more on the The Philadelphia Children’s Alliance website.

    This post is the second in our series about protecting children from sexual abuse.  You can read the first part of the series here.

    NW Philly Parents is a partnership between NewsWorks.org and GermantownAvenueParents.com, a community blog covering events and issues of interest to parents and children in Northwest Philadelphia.

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