Testimony Submitted to Senate Hearing on Child Sexual Abuse


December 13, 2011

Stop It Now! joined seven other groups in submitting written testimony to the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Children and Families of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions as part of a hearing on policy responses to address child sexual abuse. The December 13, 2011 hearing, Breaking the Silence on Child Sexual Abuse: Protection, Prevention, Intervention, and Deterrence, was called for in the wake of recent high profile cases of child sexual abuse at Penn State and Syracuse Universities. Chairwoman Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Ranking Member Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) presided over oral testimony that included:

  • Mr. Sheldon Kennedy, Former NHL player and Co-Founder, Respect Group Inc., Alberta, Canada
  • Ms. Michelle K. Collins, Vice President, Exploited Children Division & Assistant to the President, National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, Alexandria, VA
  • Mr. Frank P. Cervone, Executive Director, Support Center for Child Advocates, Philadelphia, PA
  • Ms. Erin Sullivan Sutton, Assistant Commissioner for Children & Family Services, Minnesota Department of Human Services, St. Paul, MN
  • Dr. Robert Block, President, American Academy of Pediatrics, Tulsa, OK
  • Ms. Teresa Huizar, Executive Director, National Children’s Alliance, Washington, DC

Read the full testimony here.


The Speak Up to Protect Every Abused Kid Act Can Be Strengthened by Adding Proactive Prevention of Child Abuse

"As one of the nation’s leading advocates for the prevention of child sexual abuse, we support Senate Bill 1877, the Speak Up to Protect Every Abused Kid Act. We also offer our expertise in the belief that this bill can be strengthened to include proactive prevention of child sexual abuse."

Mandatory Reporting Comes Too Late to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse.

"We are concerned that an overemphasis on mandatory reporting signals that as a society, we do not believe in preventing harm in the first place and that we accept the inevitability that children will be harmed."

To Protect Children, We Need to Address the Reality that Most Children Don’t Tell Anyone About Their Abuse

"To protect children, we need to address the reality that most children don’t tell anyone about their abuse. Research and anecdotal evidence shows that many reasons impact a child’s lack of disclosure: threats, confusion, fear that someone they love will get in trouble, that they’ll be blamed, etc. Even when asked directly, many children deny experiencing abuse even when their abuse had been witnessed by others.

Adults need to be more knowledgeable about who sexually abuses, how they access children, and how adults need to set proactive boundaries with the adults who spend time with their children."

Requiring All Adults to be Mandatory Reporters Will Not Prevent Child Sexual Abuse

"Mandatory reporting is necessary, but by itself will not prevent the vast majority of child sexual abuse cases. Strategies to prevent child sexual abuse over the long-term must change societal norms so that society can talk more productively about the issue, while making appropriate help, support and accountability readily available to those who have been victimized, to those who have harmed children, and to the families of both."

Prevention Education and Training Can Reduce Barriers to Reporting

"From surveys, focus groups and the Helpline, we know that adults face the following barriers to taking action to prevent child sexual abuse:

  • Not knowing or recognizing ‘warning sign’ behaviors that should elicit concern and prompt more questions
  • Fear of being wrong about suspicions or acting on concerns that are ultimately unfounded.
  • Fear of making things worse for the child.
  • Perceiving only two options for action which are both unsatisfactory: to stay uninvolved or to report the situation to authorities.
  • Not knowing where to turn for credible information or to safely explore options."

Adults Need Help to Overcome Barriers to Taking Action.

"Stop It Now! and others have shown that providing adults and communities with accurate information and access to the non-judgmental support and guidance of professionals can produce preventive actions. By offering a confidential place to first talk about observations and concerns, adults are able to map out action steps to keep children safe."

To Change Behavior We Need More Than An Educational Campaign

"[Our] research confirms what our local market research told us: while awareness of child sexual abuse is high, there is a disconnect between individual awareness and action to prevent it."

Adults Need Help to Recognize and Report Inappropriate Behavior in People We Know and Like
"A fundamental barrier is the inability to connect a person someone knows and cares for with the stereotype of the ‘predator’ or ‘monster’ who abuses children. It is often difficult to recognize and acknowledge abusive behavior involving individuals we know and trust, especially family members. Help Services give adults language to talk about what they are observing, what their gut tells them, and how to talk to adults whose behavior concerns them."

Adults Need a Safe Place to Discuss Their Concerns

"At Stop It Now!, we’ve learned that when people have accurate and balanced information, practical resources, and access to support they do take action to keep children safe. Here’s what Helpline callers say:

  • “Stop It Now! has helped me to not only find the information I needed, but has also helped me with how to use it – how to talk with my family and how to approach this in a positive way.’
  • “After talking to you I feel like I have some control over a situation that before felt completely out of control. This conversation has helped me make some decisions.” (anonymous comments, used with permission)"

It is a Better Investment of Federal Resources to Fund Programs and Resources that Educate Adults about the Ways they can Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect

"Senate Bill 1877 includes provisions for educating adults about the ways they can respond to help children and families without reporting in situations where the child or family needs assistance to prevent such circumstances from deteriorating so as to constitute child abuse or neglecti. We support this as essential to preventing children from being sexually abused."

Education Can Reduce the Disconnect Between Awareness of Child Sexual Abuse and Action to Prevent it

"Our research shows adults are aware that the vast majority of children are sexually abused by someone they know, that people who sexually abuse children live in their communities and how to recognize signs of a child who has been sexually abused. Adults don’t know how to recognize someone who is at risk to abuse and are unclear about what action to take to keep children safe." 

Requiring a Report Without Providing Adults with Access to Accurate and Balanced Information, Practical Resources, and Access to Support is not likely to Significantly Improve Reporting Rates

"In the first two weeks after the sexual abuse allegations at Penn State, our Help Services experienced a 130% increase in contacts. Many of these were survivors or their friends and family, who were reaching out for help for the first time. We heard from parents with questions about the behaviors of adults in their children’s schools, churches and neighborhoods. Adults called with concerns about behaviors between children. Extended family members wanted to know how to talk with other family members about their concerns about interactions between children and adults. We also heard from parents who have reported child sexual abuse and feel stuck in the criminal justice system, struggling to find help to keep their children safe, even after there’s been a disclosure."

Require CSA Prevention Training as a Condition of Any Federal Grant Involving Children and Youth

"We urge Congress to support policies that would require federal grant recipients -- for those grants involving youth -- to train all adults, involved in the program, in child sexual abuse prevention. This requirement should be a special condition for all federal grants that involve children and youth programming and services."

Early Identification and Intervention Saves Money

"The sexual abuse of a child has significant financial and social costs. One of the most thorough stud¬ies to calculate the costs of sexual violence was completed in Minnesota. It found that the financial costs associated with the sexual assault of a child total $207,000.17. This does not include long-term consequences of child sexual abuse and societal costs. Investing more money in prevention will not only keep children safe, but will dramatically decrease the long-term health and welfare costs associated with child sexual abuse."

Fund demonstration projects and research to identify barriers and develop program innovations and policy changes that can help overcome or remove barriers to prevention action.
"We don’t have a “system” for prevention. We have systems for investigating reports but we don’t have systems that mobilize when we’re worried and get an icky feeling in our gut when seeing someone interact with a child."

We need widespread prevention education and training of adults to create a true tipping point that prevents child sexual abuse before children are harmed.