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Penn State Case a Teachable Moment

November 21, 2011

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - One thing that should come out of the Penn State situation, where an assistant coach is accused of sexually abusing children, is more understanding of how to prevent such incidents from happening, according to Indiana child advocates. They say not only should the alleged child abuse have been reported earlier, it could well have been prevented in the first place.

Sandy Runkle DeLorme, director of programs with Prevent Child Abuse Indiana, says there are proven ways to stop child sexual abuse from happening, such as organizations having policies designed to keep kids safe.

"What are the policies about coaches or staff being one-on-one with kids? More than 80 percent of child abuse - especially child sexual abuse - occurs one-on-one."

Runkle DeLorme says says sex abusers in over 90 percent of cases are not strangers - they have a previous relationship with the victim or the child's family. The effects of maltreatment can damage a child for life, cause physical or mental problems and result in drug abuse or other criminal behavior, she adds, noting that the U.S. spends more than $100 billion annually treating the effects of child abuse.

Making sure adults are not alone with kids has been proven effective, and parents need to ask questions, she says.

"Ask if another adult be along or would they mind having another adult accompany them. Again, it's for everybody's protection, but especially, of course, to protect the children."

Parents should ask if an organization has been thorough in its hiring process, Runkle DeLorme adds.

"Ask them if they do background checks. Not just criminal background checks, but child protective services checks. Do they get references? What kind of background things do they monitor?"

She says Indiana law clearly requires people like educators and doctors to report possible cases of abuse.

"You are still responsible for that report. It's not enough just to tell your superior and to walk away. You must make sure the report was made."

Leigh DeNoon, Public News Service - IN