Education, Communication Keys to Preventing More “Perversion Files”

SEATTLE – In the wake of the Boy Scouts of America’s release of the so-called “perversion files” last week, many adults are wondering how—and even if—we can keep our children safe from sexual abuse.

Seattle nonprofit Committee for Children, a pioneer of child sexual abuse (CSA) prevention curricula, has been working to answer that question for 35 years. Executive Director Joan Cole Duffell says, “If we were to look only at organizations like Penn State and the Boy Scouts of America, it would be easy to believe that our society values the reputations of institutions over the safety of our children. But it doesn’t have to be that way, and we’re working alongside countless educators, researchers and caregivers in creating safe environments for all children.”

It’s a tall order, as so many organizations entrusted with our society’s young people realize. “Everyone needs to become educated about CSA prevention,” says Committee for Children senior curriculum developer and CSA prevention expert Bridgid Normand. “Organizations that serve children need to learn what policies and procedures to put in place to create a safe environment for children which in turn helps prevent abuse; parents, caregivers and educators need to learn about the dynamics of CSA, and how to recognize and report abuse, including recognizing warning signs that someone might be abusing a child. Parents need to talk frankly and openly to children about healthy sexuality and teach their children personal safety skills including how to recognize that someone might be abusing them and to tell an adult about it immediately

Committee for Children’s research-based Talking About Touching curriculum, which teaches such personal safety skills to children from preschool through third grade, has reached an estimated 3.5 million children throughout the country in the past decade. Among other important skills (such as bike safety and traffic safety), the program teaches touching safety. Children then practice using their new skills through skill-practice scenarios, stories, songs and games.

It may be hard to believe, but CSA prevention is working. Renowned child sexual abuse researcher David Finkelhor, Ph.D., Director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, said at a recent Committee for Children event, “It’s impressive to think about all that’s changed on this topic in the last 40 years. I don’t think the child sexual abuse crisis is over, but I do think we’ve made progress.” We can derive hope from that fact and, most importantly, keep talking.

In finally telling the truth about child abuse scandals and getting the victims the help they need, institutions like the Boy Scouts of America and Penn State are finding ways to be part of the solution. But the hope is never to have scandals like these again: to stop abuse before it starts. And education and communication are the keys.