Philadelphia Citizen: Child Sexual Abuse is Preventable

There are signs, and you can learn to see them. A Philly children’s advocate urges all of us to get trained and intervene this summer.


BY BENITA WILLIAMS, PCA EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

JUN. 13, 2022 Child sexual abuse thrives in darkness and secrecy. It often occurs at home with the abuser known to the child. And it’s pervasive: One in 10 children will experience sexual abuse before they turn 18.

The ripple effects from this insidious and underreported crime are devastating and widespread. As we head into the summer months where children are out of school and interacting more widely in their communities, we must educate Philadelphians on how they can help prevent child abuse in their own neighborhoods. The more we shine a light on this abuse and make its warning signs known to all, the better our chances to prevent it.

In 2020, the Philadelphia Children’s Alliance (PCA) and our community partners launched Neighborhood Partners in Prevention (NPIP), a child sexual abuse prevention project. Starting in PCA’s backyard (19124 zip code), which has the highest number of sexual abuse reports, we are collaborating with more than a dozen child-and-family-serving organizations to explore ways we can promote awareness and build a better network of support for children and families. Our NPIP partners include community centers, churches, and schools.

It’s easy to say it doesn’t happen in my neighborhood, but we know that every community is an at-risk community. Education is empowerment to protect children everywhere. As a leading partner in the city’s collaborative response to child sexual abuse cases, PCA works with Philadelphia’s police, child protective services, medical providers, trauma-focused therapy providers, and other systems to respond to families in crisis effectively and efficiently. Unfortunately, most systems are designed to intervene only after a disclosure of sexual abuse has been made.

Even more problematic is that experts estimate that approximately 60 percent of children never make a disclosure. We need to stop the abuse before it starts in the first place. This is why we were compelled to expand PCA’s programming to focus on prevention and education. In NPIP we have created a supportive, family-centered, community education child sexual abuse prevention model.

As part of this model, we offer Darkness to Light’s Stewards of Children trainings, an evidence-based sexual abuse prevention training for anyone who supervises children including teachers, parents, coaches, program coordinators and others to learn how to prevent, recognize and react responsibly to child sexual abuse reports. Cases of child sexual abuse and childhood assault happen every day in every zip code. PCA receives more than 3,000 child sexual abuse referrals annually.

Education is key to helping address the systemic and generational challenges that make children vulnerable to all types of abuse, including exploitation and violence. This cyclical and interconnected range of abuse is in fact the reason we have recently expanded PCA’s mission to focus on safety, healing, justice and prevention for children and families facing any type of abuse or violence in this city.

By training community members, they will know how to prevent abuse and recognize its signs, and we can stop the cycle of abuse that affects so many families. It’s easy to say it doesn’t happen in my neighborhood, but we know that every community is an at-risk community. Education is empowerment to protect children everywhere.

We need more organizations to participate in NPIP trainings so that we can cast a wider net to protect children. For any organization that works with children or their families, we encourage outreach to Genevie Brown at gbrown@philachildrensalliance.org for further information about how we can be of service. Trainings can be conducted in person or virtually.

Our goal is to stop the abuse of children before it happens. When it does occur, we at PCA stand ready with our experts in forensic interviewing, victim support services and counseling to help heal children. Our coordinated, multi-disciplinary approach helps children who have been sexually abused receive the care they need and the justice they deserve so that they can thrive.

PCA is proud of the progress that has been made to date, but the road to fully preventing child sexual abuse will require all of us to commit and share the collective responsibility for keeping kids safe in Philadelphia and beyond.


Visit the Philadelphia Citizen to read Benita's full op-ed.

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