Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Professional perpetrators' exploitation of youth is preventable

Summer camps, special classes, craft and art workshops, sports coaching,  are starting - Have you checked out if the program  your child is attending has safeguards in place to prevent and redress abuse?

Professional perpetrators' exploitation of youth is preventable

The trial of Joshua Carrier, former Springs cop, school resource officer, and volunteer wrestling coach has ended. Carrier has been accused of touching, and possibly photographing, the genitals of 22 boys during routine “skin checks” and drug searches. The Carrier case has striking similarities to that of another coach arrested on child sexual abuse charges — former Penn State defensive football coach Jerry Sandusky. Both Carrier and Sandusky held positions of authority and both are alleged to have taken advantage of their access to and privacy with young boys to sexually exploit them.
These are characteristics of “professional perpetrators” — adults who use youth-serving organizations (YSOs) like schools, clubs, and sports to select, groom, and sexually abuse children. Professional perpetrators — whether clergy, scout leaders, teachers, coaches — use the power inherent in their positions to sexually exploit children.
Professional perpetrators select their victims and then go through emotionally and physically “grooming” them. Grooming refers to strategies deliberately undertaken to manipulate a child into engaging in sexual behaviors. The grooming process is often so insidious that many children are unaware they’re being used. During the trial, several alleged victims said they never questioned Carrier’s actions, because “I thought Carrier was a good guy, and didn’t think he’d do anything bad,” As prosecutor Amy Fitch reminded jurors during closing arguments, “He’s a cop for crying out loud!” What child would question the actions of a cop? 
Professional perpetrators not only groom children but also parents and staff of the organization. Grooming parents or organizations has a dual purpose: first, to gain access to children; and second, to reduce the likelihood of discovery by appearing to be “above reproach.” Carrier and Sandusky were well-respected community members. Both donated time and money to youth and the organizations. Carrier purchased wrestling mats for the athletic program and volunteered over 900 hours during one school year. Carrier was given keys to the school, along with the privilege of pulling boys out of class to be examined in his office.
From outward appearances, Sandusky and Carrier were seen as children’s champions, beyond question or challenge. Professional perpetrators are, in fact, master manipulators who leave adults tormented by second guessing and riddled by guilt at not protecting children. Their alleged actions have betrayed multiple boys, their parents, and the adults who trusted them and unquestioningly allowed them to be alone with youth.
The accusations against Sandusky and Carrier are horrible, but both cases have made the public aware of a crime that happens every day; a crime often veiled in secrecy or covered up to protect an institution’s reputation. Both cases debunk the myth that child molesters wear trench coats and lurk behind bushes.
Both cases offer opportunities to shift public conversation away from “stranger-danger” warnings to what can be done to make sure professional perpetrators are stopped from harming our children.
Students in my psychology class at UCCS are exploring what YSOs are doing to protect children from professional perpetrators.
They are reviewing institutional policies and protection strategies including screening staff, training employees on how to recognize grooming behaviors, and eliminating high-risk situations (like prohibiting staff to be alone with youth).
Other prevention efforts include educating youth and parents. All YSOs should be empowering students with knowledge and skills and encouraging youth to speak up when they are being abused, as those 22 brave young men did during the Carrier trial. Parents should ask YSOs what they are doing to prevent child sexual victimization, and learn ways to make their children “off-limits” to abusers.
Sexual exploitation of youth is preventable. Parents — learn the facts, talk about it, educate yourself and your children. Youth-serving organizations — learn the facts, educate all staff and youth in your care, and implement policies and procedures to reduce the risk of youth being sexually exploited.

Sandy K. Wurtele, is a professor in the Department of Psychology at UCCS and author of parenting books on preventing child sexual abuse. The opinions expressed do not reflect the views of the University of Colorado.

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