Today’s lesson from the Sandusky trial: How to ‘groom’ an entire community

Last night, I joined a community of adult survivors of abuse as a guest on Bill Murrays blog talk radio show   sponsored by the National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse.  After presenting the point of view of the Sex-Wise Parent , I turned the tables and asked the panel of experts to share how the current and constant coverage of the Sandusky trail was affecting them.

” Watching the Sandusky case on the news is very triggering for me, many of the things he’s accused of doing to the boys was done  to me” replied one man who had been a long term victim of a pedophile as a child.  “His story is my story”.    “Do they have an instruction manual?”  asked another man only half  joking  “It’s as if they’ve studied the art of seducing a child and share the secrets of the trade with each other — the stories are just so similar!”

By now, only the most  sheltered among us have not heard about ‘grooming’ the term applied to the seduction process a pedophile uses to get close to a child, gradually moving from friendship, to affection, to physical affection to sex.  Thankfully, parents are learning to be vigilant for signs of grooming behavior from an adult directed towards their child; a special friendship, extra attention, excessive time alone without the parents or other adults present and other activities more appropriately  shared among peers rather than between adult and child.

Then, one of adult survivors made a comment that left me breathless:

“He not only groomed the kids, he groomed the whole community”

What an important insight!  How does one seduce an entire community?  Think of the attributes Americans typically apply to an upstanding citizen, and how they were allegedly bastardized by Sandusky;  charity (The Second Mile) and professional status (his position at Penn State) to name the two most obvious.  His good deeds brought  citations from a President and a US senator and  seem to have bought him enough good will that initial allegations were brushed off as impossible.

We’re all going to learn a lot of lessons as this trial progresses, and this is an important one to consider:  How does a pedophile groom an entire community?  Would we recognize the signs if we saw them?  Weigh in!

T-ball and sex-ed?? YES!

Summer means sports and baseball gloves are being oiled up in homes round the country.  Thoughts are turning to runs, hits, errors, uniforms, caps and spikes.

And cups.   It’s standard practice for leagues to require boys to wear a hard protective cup over their genitals during practice and games.  One family I know had a golden teachable moment when their 5 year old wanted know why he had to wear a cup over his penis.  “I’m not going to pee during a ballgame!”

Some parents might have answered the “why” question with a simple “Because it’s the rules”, a close cousin to “Because I said so”.   These answers have a place when disciplining a child, but in this instance would only stifle curiosity and an opportunity for a teachable family moment.

It’s fairly typical for pre-school aged boys to think of their entire genitalia as their penis.  This boys parents explained to their son and his now-curious brother that the penis is the name for the skinny part in front that boys use to pee, but behind it the sac that holds the special parts that men have that makes their Daddy seeds. And those parts, (called ballies in some families, testes in others) would hurt A LOT if they accidently got hit with a baseball!  They grabbed their copy of The Sex-Wise Parent, turned to the line drawing of male anatomy on page 59 and gave both of their sons an age appropriate lesson in sexual health  and safety.  Because of T-ball!

These little boys learned the anatomy of their genitals and  that Daddies make seeds in their testicles and mommies make seeds in their ovaries.  They learned that we take care of our genitals and keep them healthy – a precursor to a condom discussion due in about 10 years!

Before long, sex-wise parents will see how spontaneous, frank discussions with children as issues come up render THE TALK unnecessary!

 

Summer camp and safety – how relaxed is too relaxed??

It’s that time of year when we can smell summer in the air, and working parents thoughts turn to summer arrangements for their kids. Summer camps are a popular choice and can span the range from totally unstructured programs offered at local parks to seriously academic programs offered by schools and colleges. Your choice must be based on your child’s interest, the cost and convenience, and  the knowledge that the program is operated  in a way that ensures your child’s wellbeing. Limited adult supervision coupled with the joy of not being in school has been known to lead kids to act out in many ways– including exploring their sexuality —  at summer camp.

In many states, short-term summer camps are not subject to the same stringent licensing requirements as childcare centers, and some faith-based programs may be exempt from public regulation altogether, so it becomes even more important for you to do your homework before entrusting your child to a specific camp environment. To make sure your child will be sexually safe and healthy all day (and night) at camp, start with a typical day and consider all activities that your child will involve your child. Here’s some areas to consider:

The bus: If your children will be picked up by a bus or van, will there be someone other than the driver to provide supervision? Excited kids can become unruly and distract a driver. Often, an older child is assigned to lead songs and keep order on a camp-bound bus. This may be sufficient if a staff member is not available, but if the bus is carrying multiple teens, the supervising child may be unable to resist peer pressure and may join the commotion. And, huddled groups of  kids or high-backed seats  can hide  aggressive grabbing and  all  kinds of showing off !

Sports and swimming:  If the camp day includes swimming, ask camp administrators if the staff has been prepared to deal with children who get embarrassed changing clothes in front of others, and be sure you’re comfortable with the reply. If there is a focus on sports, are all children encouraged to participate? Is competition kept at a healthy level?

Moving around camp grounds: You should find out if your child will be supervised as she moves through the camp grounds and facilities. If a child needs to use a rest room will an adult accompany her? If no, is there a policy in place to carefully monitor the amount of time a child is gone? In addition, if the camp takes your child on field trips, does the camp take adequate measures to ensure the safety of your child? Tight supervision is a must for field trips; whether walking to a neighborhood park or traveling to a local tourist destination, counselors should assign buddies and perform constant head counts to make sure all children are safe and accounted for.

Staff: Camp administrators should check the background and references for all people who have access to children. This includes maintenance and food services staff as well as the counselors, teachers, or volunteers working directly with the kids. It is common for summer camps to employ adolescents; these young people should participate in pre-service training to learn the rules, values, and standards of the camp, and be assigned an experienced supervisor. Adolescent brains are still developing and lapses in judgment are expected. In fact, I’ve seen instances of young camp staff participating in bullying a targeted child!

Check with the camp director to see if safety and suypervision measures are in place before you entrust your child to their care. Likewise, you can visit the camp or talk to other parents who have sent their child in prior years to get a feel for the workings and safety of the camp environment.

Parents can find more information and a checklist to use in choosing a summer camp  in my book The Sex Wise Parent.  For a copy of the checklist, E-mail DrRosenzweig@SexWiseParent.com.

Check back  for more tips!