Jul
13
2013

Please stop saying child abuse “prevention” when describing detection and reporting

To the Editor:

Pennsylvania has taken some important steps since the Sandusky tragedy came to light but many holes still exist in our safety net for children.

One of the largest is the fact that people are still using the word ‘prevention’ of child sexual abuse when they really mean detection and reporting.   By the time there is something to report and detect, it’s too late for real prevention.    We don’t say we prevented a case of influenza when we’ve recognized the symptoms and take someone to a doctor; we say we prevented influenza with a flu shot.   We don’t say we prevented a fire when we dispatch a truck to a burning home; we say we prevented a fire when we help ensure that every home has a working smoke detector. Using the term prevention when describing detection and reporting diminishes real prevention  efforts and reduces the likelihood they will be replicated.

The last decade has seen an impressive increase in the ability to bring real prevention to communities and families.  Real prevention is ensuring that communities and families have access to the resources they need to raise healthy, productive, and successful children.  Resources might be material, social or educational.  Such resources include ensuing that parents understand child development so they have realistic expectation of children’s capabilities at different ages.   Resources for ensuing sexual health and safety also include helping parents understand psychosexual development, and helping them develop  the comfort and knowledge to open the lines of communication with their children.  In the past year, I have seen organizations in State College take huge steps in towards this type of real prevention and they need continued support and encouragement to continue.

As we look back at lessons learned in the past year, none is more important than the fact that real prevention is possible.  Now is the time to systematically coordinate and support prevention efforts, not just in State College but throughout Pennsylvania.    Let’s ask our legislators to support legislation designed to prevent abuse before it ever  occurs.

This letter was unpublished at:  http://www.pennlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2013/07/child_sexual_abuse_real_prevention_looks_like.html#incart_river

Dr. Janet Rosenzweig has been working with child sexual abuse for three decades. She currently is the national consultant for child sexual abuse prevention programs for Prevent Child Abuse America  and  is  the author of The Sex-Wise Parent (Skyhorse 2012) She is an alumnus of Penn State and has returned to that community multiple times  to support efforts at prevention.

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