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Learning from Teachable Moments

November 2011 brought a storm of media attention to the Pennsylvania State University as Jerry Sandusky, the former assistant football coach, was charged with sexually assaulting several of the boys who participated in his organization, The Second Mile.  Currently, Sandusky is charged with 52 counts of childhood sexual assault against 10 boys over the course of 15 years.  Jury selection for this trial began June 5th and opening arguments should start either June 11th or shortly thereafter.  As we are approaching the impending trial, media coverage is dramatically increasing.

Sexual violence against males has always been prevalent in our society, however, it rarely gets the same attention and scrutiny that sexual violence against women receives.  There are many myths and stereotypes surrounding sexual violence against males.  Often it is turned into a joke, seen as a sexual conquest, or viewed as homosexual behavior in which the male consented.  According to some of the most recent research, 1 in 6 boys will be sexually assaulted before the age of 18 and 1 in 71 men will be raped.  One thing to keep in mind though is that because of socialization and the males often experience additional barriers to reporting and therefore our statistics may not accurately reflect the number of boys and men who are impacted by sexual violence.  Socialization and societal reactions prevent many boys and men from reporting what happened and therefore, our statistics may not accurately portray the number of people impacted.

It is wonderful that some of the press coverage has focused on the prevalence of sexual violence against men, the impact it has, and the difficulty that many men experience when trying to make a report.  The attention that Penn State received may have broken some of the barriers to reporting that some men or boys had.  Increased appropriate attention to sexual violence can be critical to making appropriate social changes.  However, it is important to reflect on what is being covered, the messages that are coming across, and how the impact these will have. 

However, a lot of media attention has narrowly focused on how this violence existed within the Penn State atmosphere rather than reflecting on how similar situations exist across society.  The truth is that while Penn State has received a lot of attention, this problem exists within many different communities but it doesn’t garner the same amount of attention most of the time.  Even if we may not be aware of it happening ‘close-to-home’ does not mean that our community or organization is immune.  We can view what has happened at Penn State as an important teaching moment for all those who work within youth organizations or interact with youth on any level.  We have a responsibility to learn from these highly publicized incidents of sexual violence so that we can respond appropriately if we ever hear of a child being abused in our lives and so that we can be proactive and preventative to ensure the safety of children.  There are a variety of steps that both individuals and organizations can take.  A couple suggestions include…

  1. Educate yourself and others about what boundary-crossing and predatory behavior looks like and how to respond to it.  Information about the signs and possible responses can be found on the Stop It Now website or calling 1-888-PREVENT, a hotline which focuses on the behaviors of those who perepetrate.  Alternatively, you can request trainings from your local rape crisis center about this information.  These trainings can cover information such as the prevalence of sexual violence, how it happens, how to respond to survivors, and how to intervene.  (BARCC offers many different trainings that you can request online or via
  2. Learn the warning signs that children may present if they are being abused.  Don’t ignore or write off these signs!  Again the website Stop it Now is a great resource and so is requesting a training from your local rape crisis center.  BARCC also has a curricula you can download that can be used to train early childhood educators.  If you believe a child is at risk of being hurt then you can report it to the MA Child at Risk Hotline: 1-800-792-5200.
  3. Think about what policies exist within your organization.  First off, do any specific policies exist around how to report sexual violence?  Secondly, is there a specific policy to follow when you are concerned about someone’s boundary-crossing behavior?  If these policies do exist, are they clear and known by all involved with the organization?  If they don’t exist, how can you implement them?  It’s important to look at policies now in order to give your organization the chance to both prevent and respond appropriately to any sexual violence that may happen. 
  4. The organizations NSVRC and ATSA have created the outline of a letter that individuals can send to the editors of newspapers.  It is critical that the media covers this story both with a sensitivity to the survivors involved and with an eye that focuses on how this can change what we do in the future.  Please take a moment to visit the site, download a letter, and send it in to a newspaper(s) near you!


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Posted by stacey

Stacey formerly served BARCC as the coordinator for Community Awareness and Outreach. Prior to BARCC, she worked for the Navy as a sexual assault response coordinator and volunteered for the DC Rape Crisis Center. She got involved with anti-rape work during college and has enjoyed doing both direct services and educational work.

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