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Taking Responsible Action

By Community Relations Director Robert Pini

The scandal at Penn State is a vivid illustration of how people remain unclear about their roles and responsibilities in witnessing abuse.

First, here’s the background. According to police indictments and media reports, a former coach is accused of sexually assaulting very young boys. And some individuals who apparently knew about the abuse did nothing on behalf of the victims even though they had the power and opportunity to intervene.

Clearly people need to know what to do when they witness child rape, and how bystanders can support vulnerable children and keep them safe from predators.

The short answer is that bystanders, witnesses, or people who discover abuse need to report it to the police. It’s the law, plain and simple. And it’s the best way to support the victim and stop the abuse.

In recent years, we’ve seen repeatedly how people fail to respond appropriately when they witness or become aware of child sexual abuse. They overlook the abuse, find excuses for it, or imagine they can stop the abuse by being sympathetic with the abuser.

This is especially true when the abuser has an influential position or positive reputation. While we don’t want to see our heroes fail, we clearly cannot overlook child sexual abuse, even when the perpetrator is a greatly admired figure.

Yet in scandal after scandal, people who witness or discover abusive behavior are confused about how to handle it properly and all too often fail to uphold their responsibility to the victim.

Child sexual abuse is a common problem in Bennington County. Abusers are almost always people who know the child well and have the chance to establish trust. And child sexual abuse happens in all socioeconomic classes.

When the abuser is a family member or close relative, it is especially difficult for other family members to hold the guilty person responsible. It may feel like a betrayal to call police on a family member, but contacting police can stop behavior that is extremely damaging to all family members.

An individual who becomes aware of child abuse carries a terrible burden of knowledge that can only be removed by reporting to police. It does not go away with the passing of time.

Sexual abuse can be terribly damaging to children, but quick disclosure to police in Bennington County brings a highly trained team of professionals into action.

Police, child protection, and mental and physical health professionals all work closely together to maximize support to the victim. This rapid, coordinated, and supportive response has the potential to be highly therapeutic to the abused children and their families.

Some even find it possible to move ahead quickly and put the betrayal and hurt behind them.

Discovering or witnessing child sexual abuse can be a very confusing and complicated situation. But the bottom line is a “no brainer.” Reporting it to police is the right thing to do. It helps the victim and gives everyone a chance to move forward with their lives.

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