Sexual predators have been at the center of national conversations this fall, with #MeToo going viral on social networks in the wake of Hollywood scandals. With 12 million comments, posts and reactions in less than 24 hours, #MeToo shed light on the numbers of those victimized by sexual harassment and assault.1
The issue is especially relevant for educators and administrators working with children, as there’s no higher priority than keeping kids safe.
Bringing abuse into the light
In 2009, incidents of sexual assault were exposed at Kanakuk Kamps, and camp administrators have since taken vigilant steps to eradicate the problem, leading the way for others in the industry and beyond.
In 2013, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on Kanakuk’s journey, quoting Marissa Gunther with Missouri Kids First: “They really are a great example of stepping up to the issue of child sexual assault. Unfortunately, we see a lot of institutions do the opposite because I think they are afraid of how they are going to look and how they are going to look to parents.”2
While there’s no way to address this topic exhaustively, it’s always a good idea to reexamine it. Here are some ideas from experts that are worthy of continued conversation.
Do more than background checks—a lot more
For years, schools, camps and youth organizations have tried to protect children by requiring employee background checks, instituting mandatory reporting policies and conducting in-depth job interviews. “And yet, while screening companies have advanced in technology and services, they are still bound by one challenging reality—the successful reporting and conviction of offenders,” says Rick Braschler, director of risk management at Kanakuk. “Unfortunately, the national criminal conviction rate of less than 10 percent for reported sex offenders leaves many without a criminal record to report.”3
That means most predators don’t get caught, so they won’t be flagged on a background check. Other issues also seem to complicate the potency of background checks. Often, kids don’t tell, and sadly, “stranger danger” is closer to home than we often want to admit. According to kanakukchildprotection.org4:
- An average of 117 children will be abused before an abuser is charged and convicted.
- Strangers account for only 10% of all abuse cases, while acquaintances 90%.
In addition, 15% of perpetrators are 17 years old or younger which means they would be campers—therefore, not subject to a background check.5
Actively teach kids how to stay safe
In addition to staff training, Kanakuk equips campers to report inappropriate behavior and clearly defines those boundaries. For example, high-fives are appropriate; hugs are not. Kids also learn how to safely disclose inappropriate behavior at “confidential reporting areas.”6
Staff member training includes “Touch, Talk, Territory,” outlining the appropriate ways to touch a child and talk to a child, while also emphasizing the importance of public interaction.7
“Perpetrators are looking for those camps where kids are not equipped to talk about it and the camps are not equipped to respond to it,” Gunther says in the Post-Dispatch. “Every person that is employed by these camps needs to be trained to prevent sexual abuse … counselors, nurses, the cooks, everybody. Even the janitorial staff.”8
Encourage parents to have ongoing conversations
Parents also need to be educated about how to talk to their children about abuse. There’s lots of information on this topic, but here’s an interesting nugget from a friend who’s a former child abuse prosecutor: He says it’s important not only to teach kids about inappropriate touch and what to do if something happens, but also to make sure parents continue the conversation.
Parents should look for opportunities to remind kids, without scaring them, about appropriate guidelines. Prior to dropping off kids at camp, at a new friend’s house, or even a large family gathering could be good times for revisiting the conversation. When you’re reminding your kids to mind their manners, for example, also remind them to avoid being alone with an adult or an older child they don’t know very well.
Parents also should stay attentive in discussing with their kids the day-to-day details of their lives. They should always be inquiring about interactions on the playground and with teachers, parents or coaches. At these times, parents are not necessarily talking directly about assault, but they’re taking note of their kids’ surroundings and how they’re experiencing and interpreting them.
Co-author of “Child Protection Plan,” Braschler is an expert on child abuse prevention for youth organizations, and he offers training seminars. Here are some additional guidelines from the Post-Dispatch:
To learn more about Braschler’s complete “Child Protection Plan” and training opportunities, visit kanakukchildprotection.org.