From SheWrites: 10 Reasons Not to Discuss Child Sexual Abuse in 2012

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10 Reasons Not to Discuss Child Sexual Abuse in 2012

I have heard them all.  I have heard all the reasons why parents don’t discuss child sexual abuse prevention with their children.  I have heard them so often that I can recite them by heart.  As the new year approaches, I decided it would be a good idea to memorialize the top 10 reasons for not discussing the subject.  I invite you to add any that may have been omitted.

  1. Children are seldom victims of sexual abuse. Actually, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, in the United States, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys is sexually abused by the time they are 18.  Consider those numbers for a moment.  They are shocking and devastating.  Those figures alone should motivate parents to seek out prevention strategies.
  2. This kind of thing doesn’t happen where we live.  Actually, child sexual abuse has no socio-economic boundaries.  It doesn’t care if you are black or white, rich or poor or what religion you practice.  It can creep in when you least expect it.
  3. We don’t let our children go near strangers. Actually, 93% of all child sexual abuse occurs at the hands of someone known to the child and trusted by the parents.  Even if a child is never around strangers, he or she could be victimized by a neighbor, a coach, a religious official or family member.  Parents who teach only stranger danger are doing a disservice to their child.
  4. My child is not old enough for this discussion. Actually, the appropriate age to discuss child sexual abuse prevention is when a child is three years old.  The conversation can start as simply as “Did you know that the parts of your body covered by a bathing suit are private and are for no one else to see or touch?”  Continue the conversation by explaining to the child that he should tell Mommy, Daddy or a teacher if someone touches him on those private parts.  Be sure to include any necessary exceptions for potty training, hygiene and doctor visits.
  5. I don’t want to scare my child. Actually, when handled properly, children find the message empowering and are not frightened at all.  Parents do not refrain from teaching traffic safety for fear that their child will be afraid to cross the street.  So too should we address the subject of body safety.
  6. I would know if something happened to my child. Actually, child sexual abuse is difficult to detect because frequently there are no physical signs of abuse.   The emotional and behavioral signs that may accompany sexual abuse can be caused by a variety of triggers.
  7. My child would tell me if something happened to him. Actually, most children do not immediately disclose when they have been sexually abused.  Contrary to a child who falls down and runs over to tell his parents, a child who has been sexually abused is likely being told not to tell anyone because no one will believe him, that people will say it is his fault, that the disclosure will cause great sadness in the family and that the behavior is their little secret.
  8. We never leave our child alone with adults. Actually, children can be sexually abused by other children.  The very same lessons that can help prevent children from being sexually abused by adults, can keep them safe from other children.  Teach children what touch is appropriate and what is inappropriate, teach them the proper terminology for their private parts and teach them who they can talk to if anyone touches them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable.
  9. I don’t want to put thoughts in her head. Actually, there is no data to indicate that a child who has been taught about child sexual abuse prevention is more likely to fabricate that they have been sexually abused.  According to Victor Vieth, director of the National Child Protection Training Center at Winona State University, “Children do lie, but seldom about being abused.  All human beings can and do lie, but it’s hard for kids to do it about sex.  They can’t lie about something they have no knowledge of,” he said, “and children don’t learn about oral sex on Sesame Street.”
  10. It’s not going to happen to my child. Actually, as the statistics reveal, child sexual abuse is so pervasive that it could happen to any child.  This reason is the catch-all. Educated, loving parents have actually said this to me.  If one were to ask any parent whose child has been sexually abused if they thought their child would ever be sexually abused, I can guarantee each one would say no.  No one wants to believe this could happen to their child.  We need to stop denying that it could happen and recognize that there are ways to prevent it from happening.  Make the decision to talk to your child about sexual abuse prevention in 2012.  It could be the greatest gift you ever give them.  Have a safe and healthy New Year.

Jill Starishevsky is an Assistant District Attorney in New York City, where she has prosecuted hundreds of sex offenders and dedicated her career to seeking justice for victims of child abuse and sex crimes.  Outside the courtroom, Jill’s fondness for writing led her to create The Poem Lady, where she pens personalized pieces.  Her mission to protect children, along with her penchant for poetry, inspired My Body Belongs to Me, a children’s book intended to prevent child sexual abuse by teaching 3-8 year-olds their bodies are private.  A mother of three, Jill is also founder of, a service that enables parents to purchase a license plate for their child’s stroller so the public can report positive or negative nanny observations.

From the Prevention Institute: Reporters can do better: Media coverage of Sandusky trial amplifies shame/silence of sexual abuse


Reporters can do better: Media coverage of Sandusky trial amplifies shame/silence of sexual abuse

Read the original article on the Huffington Post. 2012-01-11-images-pamelapic2.jpgThis article was co-authored with Pamela Mejia. Mejia is a Research Associate at the Berkeley Media Studies Group, where she analyzes how the media talks about public health and social issues. She was a lead author on “Breaking News on Child Sexual Abuse.”

People are still talking about Penn State. This week, a judge released the timeframe for the events leading up to the trial of former defensive coach Jerry Sandusky. His arrest last November triggered a wave of news coverage. But what is the media coverage saying, and how might it affect the public conversation as Sandusky’s trial moves forward?

A new study, Breaking news on child sexual abuse: Early coverage of Penn State by the Berkeley Media Studies Group, commissioned by the Ms. Foundation for Women analyzed the first nine days of coverage. The study found gaps in reporting that should be fixed so that news coverage reaches past a single case to investigate how to prevent child sexual abuse, including what institutions can do.

The Bad News
There is room for journalists to improve their coverage. For one thing, though more than half of the news and general coverage introduced the idea that Penn State University bore institutional responsibility for the abuse, the great majority of the coverage focused on Sandusky’s culpability. As we discussed in an earlier Huffington Post column, coverage that focuses on the ‘bad guy’ misses the point that institutions were using their power to silence the scandal and were in large part responsible for the sexual abuse continuing and the large number of victims.

Where are the survivors? The survivors themselves were almost entirely absent from the coverage. Instead, former head football coach Joe Paterno dominated- the news talked about him more than any other figure, and the coverage was overwhelmingly laudatory. In fact, the coverage was over three times as likely to discuss the consequences of the allegations for Paterno, as it was to talk about the consequences for the survivors.

Where was prevention? Finally, and perhaps most critically, solutions to child sexual abuse and discussion of prevention were virtually non-existent in the coverage. Stories like this are important for opening up the issue, but news coverage is still are not yet talking about ways to prevent children from being abused, and how institutions themselves bear responsibility for perpetuating–or reducing–incidents of child sexual abuse.

The Good News
Sports reporters get the story.
The news coverage of the Sandusky case attracted many sports writers to the issue, some of whom were likely covering the topic for the first time. Almost one half (48%) of the initial coverage appeared in the sports sections. Child sexual abuse shouldn’t just be relegated to the crime section – especially when coaches and other sports professionals are involved.

Much reporting calls a rape a rape. Though Sandusky and his lawyer notoriously tried to downplay the allegations with phrases like “horsing around,” most of the news avoided repeating this minimizing language, and instead used phrases like “rape,” “sexual abuse,” and “sexual assault.” In cases of child sex abuse, when the news media doesn’t “soft pedal the enormity of the abuse perpetrated,” readers have a clearer picture of what the survivors experienced, and may better understand why prevention is critical.

Reporters–and their sources, advocates for prevention–can do better. The media spotlight won’t shift from Sandusky and Penn State anytime soon: journalists and advocates can take advantage of this opportunity to work to improve the coverage of child sexual abuse, and expand it to push for policies that will institute prevention.

Reporters can keep the issue on the sports pages and elsewhere in the news. The Penn State scandal is just the most recent and public instance of a crime that happens every day, one that, according to the Philadelphia Children’s Alliance, “flourishes in secrecy.” To help end that secrecy, keep the spotlight on the issue beyond the current news cycle. Explore other sports stories on child sexual abuse: Investigate what coaches, teams, and schools are doing to make sure it doesn’t happen in their institution. Reporters need to shine a light on our accepting environment, expose the norm that child sexual abuse is an every day occurrence, and cover institutional and policy changes that would better support victims and penalize cover ups. Their stories need to show that young people are more important than sports heroes.

Advocates can release their comments to the media quickly. Many of the statements released by advocacy groups did not appear in the media until well after the first week of coverage and therefore could not be quoted by journalists as the story broke. If prevention advocates want to contribute to breaking news, they will need to respond faster and let reporters know what sorts of information and insights they can bring to a story.

Advocates and reporters can push for solutions. Advocates can suggest policies and programs that can shift the focus to prevention. Reporters can talk to advocates, researchers, policy makers and others in authority and push them for answers to these and other important questions about how to prevent future abuse. Reporters should ask: “What can we do to prevent another Penn State?” “What are communities already doing?” Media coverage of the tragedies that occurred at Penn State has helped open unprecedented and vital conversations about child sexual abuse. As the story continues to unfold, journalists and advocates have a unique opportunity to shift the conversation to what can be done to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Documentary Feature “Invisible Scars” Begins Production in San Diego on Sunday January 22, 2012



Documentary Feature “Invisible Scars” Begins Production in San Diego on Sunday January 22, 2012

“Invisible Scars” is based on the life of Johnna Janis (A PAVE Ambassador), a survivor of child sexual abuse. Award winning filmmaker Sergio Myers and his 7Ponies Productions, signed on to direct and co-produce.

SAN DIEGO, CA – January 21, 2012 – This is a woman’s story of hope, healing, and resiliency. During this inspirational journey, she reveals the invisible scars that have negatively impacted her throughout her life. Like many other women and men, she was sexually abused by people she trusted. On the outside she is a mother, daughter, wife, and friend who appears strong and confident. She is a full time student who spends most of her free time competing in triathlon competitions, and trains for hours, days, weeks and months to prove to herself she is as good as the rest of her competitors. However, on the inside she has struggled with acknowledging and accepting the ugly and shameful truths of her past that have haunted her for most of her life.


In August of 2010, Johnna’s strong exterior was crushed by a car accident that left her permanently damaged and unable to compete as a triathlete. In order to heal herself physically she also needed to come to terms with healing herself emotionally.  In this story we witness her journey of self-discovery through therapy, meeting other survivors, as an ambassador of PAVE, as a wife and mother, and as a self-proclaimed athlete.


I am beating the odds, and changing the statistics. I know who I am now, and I love that person. I felt that now was the time to come forward and tell my story.” -Johnna Janis




“This is a very difficult topic to discuss and Johnna is extremely brave for publicly sharing her story. I am honored to be a part of it.” Sergio Myers, director and co-producer of “Invisible Scars”, likes to explore diverse topics. He is best known for his award-winning feature documentary on the Heaven’s Gate suicide cult and his hit reality TV series MTV’s Sorority Life.


In recent years Sergio Myers has directed-produced a variety of projects with various subject matter: “L.A. Love Story Part 1” and “L.A. Love Story Part 2” (two short dramas loosely based on real events in his own life); “Jordon Saffron Taste This” (a whimsical mockumentary about a chef who loses his taste buds); most recently “The Zombinator” starring Patrick Kilpatrick and Joseph Aviel (an indie Zombie feature filmed in only four and a half days); and feature documentary “Blog Me Fashion: FrockOn” (based on a group of women who started the indie fashion website


Johnna Janis will be co-producing this film with award winning director and producer Sergio Myers.

Oregon moves forward on Healthy Teen Relationships Act

Teen dating violence image

One third of high school students have been or will be involved in an abusive relationship.

Spearheaded by by ally Representative Jules Bailey, The Oregon legislature is moving forward on ground-breaking initiative, The Healthy Teen Relationships Act (HTRA – OR HB 4077). Nationally, 1 in 10 adolescents report being a victim of physical dating abuse. Learning about healthy relationships is a long-term investment that can shape healthy adult relationships and families. Teaching teens about healthy relationships can help to prevent future domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, promote their future career/educational development, and more. This bill is a bipartisan effort to address the issue of teen dating violence, especially in our schools. The bill directs school districts to have a response policy to the issues of dating violence among teens. It also creates a fund, separate from the state’s General Fund, that can accept private moneys to do a longitudinal study on teen violence and the effectiveness of healthy relationship education.

As HTRA moves through the House Human Services Committee on its way to Ways and Means to get funding for its survey component, the bill has garnered enthusiastic support from the Oregon community as well as from prevention advocates across the country (including PAVE) who are hoping HTRA sets a precedent that other states and perhaps even the feds will follow. If you are reading from Oregon, please contact your representative and let them know how important HTRA is to you!

You can read the most recent draft of HTRA here.

National Sexual Violence Resource Center Releases Resources for SAAM 2012

SAAM LogoHello PAVE Community,Chapters and Affiliates,

As we gear up for Sexual Assault Awareness month this April, please check out The National Sexual Violence Resource Center who has recently released its resources for Sexual Assault Awareness Month 2012.  This year’s resources focus on healthy sexuality and provide a wonderful discussion of gender norms and are useful far beyond SAAM. Please click the link above to visit their resources site and utilize this wonderful information in your school, community or even in your own home.

Report Alleges University Of Wisconsin Athletic Official Sexually Assaulted Student

Please read the following AP news article about a sexual assault in PAVE’s home town.

From the Associated Press:

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A University of Wisconsin student alleged that an athletic department official grabbed his crotch at an alcohol-fueled party during the football team’s trip to the Rose Bowl, according to an independent report released by the school on Tuesday night.

The report says the student alleges former senior associate athletic director John Chadima put his hand down the student’s pants at the end of a party in Chadima’s suite at a Los Angeles hotel on Dec. 31.

The student — identified only as John Doe in the report — said he was “shocked and frightened” and slapped Chadima’s hand away.

Chadima was put on administrative leave on Jan. 6 and resigned the same day. He previously had issued an apology for a “lapse in judgment,” and issued another statement through his attorney Tuesday.

“I make no excuses and have come to the realization that over the past few months, alcohol had controlled and consumed my life,” Chadima said. “I am taking steps to correct that problem in my life at this time. I will take full responsibility for my lack of judgment and actions that evening.”

The report said its findings were based on interviews with 23 people, including students and professional staff — but they were “unable to arrange an interview” with Badgers football coach Bret Bielema.

Three student employees of the athletic department declined to be interviewed.

The report also reviewed information from Chadima’s office computer and school-issued cell phone.

Chadima declined to speak with the panel.

The report said Chadima hosted a bowl game party for staff and student employees for at least the past four years. The most recent party began Dec. 30 and lasted into the early morning hours of Dec. 31, at Chadima’s hotel suite. According to the report, Chadima provided “alcohol, beer and mixers” and guests were invited to serve themselves. Some of the guests were under age 21.

Somewhere between 1:30 and 2 a.m., the alleged victim was leaving along with the last few people left at the party when he said Chadima asked him to “stay here and have a drink with me.” The alleged victim said he and Chadima both had several more drinks and “probably were intoxicated,” but were coherent and in control of their physical movements.

According to the report, Chadima then said he thought the student was gay, and said some of the other student employees thought he was gay. The student said it made him “uncomfortable and defensive.”

The student then said Chadima reached over and removed the student’s belt, putting his hands inside the student’s pants and touching his genitals. The student said he slapped Chadima’s hand away and swore at him.

At that point, the student said Chadima said he thought the student liked it, asking “What are you going to do about it?” and saying “I could have you fired.”

The student said he quickly left the room, and Chadima seemed to want to gloss over the incident as “just joking around.”

Copyright 2012 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press.

PAVE Featured in Psychology Today

Check out this Psychology Today article about Joe Paterno and Penn State. PAVE has a great shout out.

Click here to see original post at

Did Joe Paterno Really Break His Silence?

How shattering the silence stops abuse

By Robin Sax

Joe Paterno “broke his silence on the Sandusky case since being fired from Penn State University.” Clearly not a tell-all nor a hard ball interview, Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post portrayed Paterno as a sympathetic, sick, frail old man who simply did the best he could.  Do you feel sorry for him?  Do you think he deserves a pass? Do you think his age, notoriety and illness is justification to the many victims who would not have been abused had Joe-Pa cared about him as much as he cared about himself, his team, and the school.Denial, minimization, blame are the tenets of sexual abuse cover-ups and misunderstanding.  While Joe-Pa may not have known what to do then, he should be able to say I know what to do now.  The missing parts of the interview were the noticeably absent questions of: 

  1. Did you ever confront Sandusky? If so, what did he say?  What did you say?
  2. What would you do if this happened today?
  3. When you saw Sandusky as recently as September 2011 did you think it was strange that he was still courting kids on campus?

A hundred more questions come to mind.

The value of Paterno’s silence breaker is that this gives us an opportunity to talk about sexual abuse– a subject that despite how progressed people think we are– is one that many would prefer to remain a silent subject.

On Tuesday, January 17 on Fox 11 KTTV’s Good Day LA, Angela Rose shattered the silence of sexual violence by sharing her own story of overcoming being kidnapped when she was 17 years old and sexually assaulted by a repeat sexual offender who was on parole for murder. Although her case was perpetrated by a stranger, Angela stresses that sexual abuse is typically committed by someone who is known to the victim. The offenders prey on their victims using trust as well as silence and fear as a tool to continue to offend. Angela Rose founded the nonprofit PAVE: Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment and she is partnering with other groups to tackle this societal problem.

Child sexual abuse is a worldwide pandemic and prevalence rates are known to be as high as 60 percent. Sexual abusers tend to choose occupations that put them in close contact with children. They can be found in every profession. They are heterosexual and homosexual — they don’t discriminate.

While Penn State and Syracuse are now institutions that have been exposed, there are hundreds of other schools that work harder to cover up the abuse than simply expose it and deal with it.  In all of these cases, the pattern is the same when a child reports sexual abuse and when confronted with the investigation process— a process designed to be a fact finding process—the child is the one who is disbelieved, penalized, and blamed.  The children get victimized twice – once by the people they look up to and admire, and then again through the cover-ups of the perpetrators, and their colleagues.

Take a case that as not received the same attention as Sandusky or Fine.  It is the case of Steven Noyes of Naples Florida.  In April 2011, nine-year old Jane Doe reported that she was sexually and inappropriately touched by her fourth grade teacher Steven Noyes.  Not surprisingly, he denied all allegations and hid in the joy of being the “beloved teacher.”   While the school  initially suspended Noyes, it came out that he was doing report cards, continued official duties and even  communicated with children  and parents during his time on “admin leave.” It smelled of a BS admin leave with no real intention of looking objectively into the facts of the allegations.  The smell got worse when the school seemed to have conducted a shoddy (at best) internal investigation that  resulted not only in Noyes returning to school but culiminated in the ultimate blow when principal Ginger Sauter suggested that the child leave the school with zero justification. So, like these other high profile cases the school seemed to practice their same protection for themselves instead of saying “mea cupla, we screwed up, and we are sorry.”

School and institutions have choices.  They can choose to pick denial, minimization and blame and live being more concerned about the institution, the school, and the teacher – or they can stop blaming the victim and protect the victim.

When the institutions protect abusers, they not only are allowing for rampant prolific abuse to continue but are sending the message for victims to stay silent because the adult and institution will always win.  Children are being taught that  horrific,  vile, and abusive behavior is acceptable  and that their words do not matter.

We are here to say victim’s words DO matter.  Their disclosures are critical.  The victim’s voices must be heard and we the growns up cannot be silent.  The fact that we even have to have laws of mandated reporting to order people in positions of trust to report is telling even and of itself.  The fact that those who work with children have to be mandated to tell is just troubling.   Do we really need a law to say “tell.”  Do we need to have laws to say do the right thing and don’t kick the victim out of school too?

We can no longer be silent.  We all have a responsibility to tell whether mandated by  the law or not.  We are the adults – and kids count on us to be vocal and stand up for our victims who will live with this pain for the rest of their lives.   In New York City, buses and subways are covered with billboards that say “When you see something, Say something!” We urge you to REPORT IT!  In workplaces and in the armed services there are hotlines given for anonymous reporting.  Whether duty bound by mandated reporting laws, we the adults should retrain our default to tell and to tell until someone does something.   The more silent you stay, the more children are hurt.

You can make a difference. Report! Advocate! Get involved and most importantly, tell.

Love Our Children USA: Love Our Children USATM is the leading national nonprofit and ‘Go-To’ prevention organization fighting all forms of violence and neglect against children in the U.S. Since 1999, Love Our Children USA has broken ground in preventing violence against children and eliminating behaviors that keep them from reaching their full potential. Love Our Children USA teaches effective parenting solutions and fosters kid success by creating valuable programs that empower positive changes in parenting and family attitudes, bullying and cyberbullying prevention, Internet safety and school violence prevention through public education.    The goal of Love Our Children USA is Keeping Children Safe® and strengthening families.

PAVE: Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment is a multinational nonprofit that uses art, education and grassroots action to shatter the silence of sexual violence.

Robin Sax is a Fox 11 legal analyst,  California-based attorney and former sex crimes prosecutor, who has authored six books including It Happens Everyday Inside the Life of a Sex Crimes DA and Predators and Child Molesters:  A Sex Crimes DA Answers 100 of the Most Asked Questions.

Repost from Humane Connection: Connecting People, Animals, Planet: 6 Questions for Connectionist Ashley Maier

I like this initiative so much that I felt I must re-post to our blog. This yields some AMAZING food for thought in the violence prevention movement. Please read and comment.

Original post can be found here:

Ashley MaierAs with many who want to create a better world for all, one thing leads to another. Ashley Maier, who currently serves as the Prevention Program Coordinator for the Oregon Attorney General’s Sexual Assault Task Force, found that her focus on working at the roots of overturning the oppression and exploitation of women led to a connection with the exploitation of nonhuman animals and the planet. Now Ashley uses her connectionist vision — and her organization, Connect the Dots — to address the connections between human, animal, and environmental well-being. We asked Ashley to tell us more about her work for a just, compassionate, healthy world for all.

IHE: What drew you to humane education?

AM: Human rights work, actually. Work against violence, against women in particular. I’m one of the rare people who was drawn to expand my lens from human-exclusivity to include non-human animals and the environment due to my human rights work. I remember that I got a pamphlet from Vegan Outreach in 2005. I had been a vegetarian for a long time, but never was fully exposed to the realities of animal exploitation beyond actual consumption of animal flesh. That pamphlet drew me to veganism. Once I was vegan, and I continued to work against domestic and sexual violence, I saw the very norms, standards for behavior, that support violence against women support violence in so many new places. I realized that those same norms support the exploitation of the planet and all of its inhabitants.  I knew that I would never end gendered violence as long as the roots of generalized violence remain intact and manifest throughout our environments, systems, and behaviors. It just clicked. I started making the connections because I had to. The prevention of violence against women demanded it.

IHE: What led you to co-found Connect the Dots and to call it a “connectionist movement” and yourself a “connectionist”?

AM: From the first day that the interconnections clicked for me, I learned that it was not safe to talk about this within my human-exclusive, social justice circles. It was too “radical,” too much to actually imply caring for animals “as much as” humans.  I could lose my job. So I started searching. I felt so very alone. I started to talk to animal rights folks about this and Kath Rogers from Animal Protection and Rescue League said she knew someone who she thought could relate. It was then that I met my partner in this work, Stacia Mesleh. She too came from the anti violence against women movement and she agreed with me! It was like breathing for the first time after holding your breath just to the point of losing consciousness. We started Connect the Dots because we felt that something major was missing from social justice work: work at the intersections, at the roots. We wanted to build a movement of folks who make the connections and who allow those connections to inform their work towards a peaceful and just world.  We wanted to break down the false dichotomies, the walls, that divide human, animal, and environmental movements. We call it a connectionist movement because that’s what it is: a movement of connectionists – folks who make connections between human, animal, and environmental well-being.  And it’s growing!

IHE: What have been some of your biggest challenges? Your biggest successes?

AM: Honestly, our biggest challenge has been life. Full-time jobs, moves, family …you name it. This isn’t a popular concept at which people are throwing money, as I’m sure you know, so having to do this as a “side project” while attempting to support ourselves by other means has been a big barrier. Also, I can’t tell you how many times we’ve heard that it’s “too radical.” In general, we find that animal rights folks are supportive of the concept. Human rights folks? Not so much. What we’ve learned is that the very norms that support violence against the planet and its inhabitants are alive and well in our movements. Our challenge is to work to shift these norms. So one of the biggest barriers is also one of the main foci of our work. Finally, if we were celebrities, this would be a whole lot easier.

Successes? We’re still here! This can be incredibly discouraging and lonely work. But we’re still here. And the movement is growing.  We meet more and more people every day who consider themselves connectionists. People are studying this much more in school, incorporating it into their activism, and living their lives through a lens of interconnection. It’s exciting!  And most exciting of all  – we’re inspiring others to do this work. The best message I ever got was, “You have to hear about my new project – it’s inspired by Connect the Dots!” We know that we didn’t invent connectionist work, but we’re thrilled to help facilitate it.

IHE: What kind of influence do you hope CTD will have on people? What would success look like?

AM: Success is in our name: Connect the Dots. We hope to influence people to connect the dots of human, animal, and environmental well-being.  Our theory of change is pretty simple: If people make connections between their well-being and the well-being of other animals and the environment, then they can incorporate concern for the planet and all of its inhabitants into their daily choices and the world can become a peaceful and just place. We know it’s bigger than this.  We know that measurable behavior change requires multiple, sometimes complex strategies. Yet by building a connectionist movement, we believe that we can change systems of violence and exploitation. For every connectionist that CtD creates, there is one more step towards comprehensive community health. A peaceful and just world for ALL.

IHE: What gives you hope for a just, compassionate, healthy world for all?

AM: I am able to look back to 2005 and compare where we were to where we are now. The movement is still small, but it’s growing. In 2005, I didn’t think I’d ever find more than a handful of folks who made the connections. IHE didn’t have nearly as many graduates as it has today. The world really is changing. Those of us who do prevention work know that it’s often discouraging because we don’t have the quick, easily identifiable indicators of success that other more crisis or response-focused work does. I can’t tell you the number of positive behaviors that have resulted from my work. I can’t name the exploitive acts that I’ve prevented from occurring. But I can tell you that a movement is growing. I can name individuals who support connectionist work. I can point you to new connectionist resources that didn’t exist 7 years ago. It’s changing. We’re changing. That gives me hope.

IHE: Future dreams/plans/projects?

AM: We look forward to publishing our book, Connect the Dots Essays: How Human, Animal, and Environmental Well-Being are Connected! We also can’t wait to be able to give out mini-grants to support connectionist work and to host the first annual connectionist conference! We hope that you’ll all join us along the journey.

~ Marsha

Connecting People, Animals, Planet: 6 Questions for Connectionist Ashley Maier

My Stories: Stacy M.


It seems that I can’t turn on a news program lately without hearing discussions about the Penn State University child sexual abuse scandal. Nor does it seem that I can browse the pages of this newspaper without finding several stories weekly about child pornography and pedophiles. It feels very much like we have reached a turning point as a society where we are beginning to become educated and speak openly about childhood sexual abuse, the perpetrators and victims and the psychology and complexity behind all of it. Sadly, the sexual abuse of children is far more common than most of us ever thought (I’ve read that one in four girls and one in five boys will be a victim of sexual assault by the time they are 18 years old) and by the time a child molester is caught, he has already victimized an average of 117 children. The good news is that these crimes are coming out of the shadows and hopefully as a society we will become less tolerant and more aware of how this happens and how to recognize and prevent it.

The Jerry Sandusky sex abuse accusations coincidentally have taken over the airwaves as I await the trial or sentencing of my daughter’s molester and the spotlight that has been put on these crimes has shown so many similarities between these two perpetrators, as well as others in the news. My daughter’s molester was her step-father for a little over a decade and if you would have asked me as recently as two years ago if he were capable of sexually abusing a child, I would have said absolutely not. He was educated, had helped in the raising of some of his younger siblings and his three biological children whose mother is a seemingly smart, professional woman, a doting and protective mother and certainly wouldn’t have knowingly raised children with a pedophile – nor would I. But we did. One of the detectives working on this case that specializes in helping child sex abuse victims worked with an officer for about eight years and was shocked when it was revealed that he was in possession of child pornography. Another detective specializing in internet child porn cases once had to arrest his next-door neighbor for these crimes – a person who had sat at his own dinner table and shared a meal with his family. That’s one of the scariest things about these predators – they are master manipulators and usually have everyone in their lives fooled. They are puppet masters, creating scenarios to get close to their prey and keeping others from unveiling their dark secrets. Jerry Sandusky started a charity for underage boys from dysfunctional families who were very easy prey for him. A recent local molestation story involved a man who ran a day care – a situation where parents literally handed his victims over to him. There was also a Pattee Canyon campground host who molested at least four little girls. Camping is a situation where kids run with a bit more freedom than usual and the opportunities were likely abundant for that predator. I remember my daughter’s molester telling me on more than one occasion that before being with me, he would often see young mothers and their children in grocery stores and always felt like that’s what he wanted for himself – a young woman with little kids. I had no idea that it was likely the children that appealed to him, not their mothers.

Watching an interview with the mother of one of Sandusky’s victims and hearing her talk about how her son told her that Jerry was a “weirdo” but she was unable to mentally make the leap and recognize that he was a molester was eerily similar to my situation. My daughter, at age seven or eight, told me one day that she didn’t want her step-father to give her a massage anymore. I asked her when he had given her a massage and if it hurt her or was uncomfortable. She said it was uncomfortable and, hearing our discussion, the step-father jumped in and said, “What? What is she saying to you?” I told him what she had said and my little girl looked at him and said, “I don’t want you to do that anymore”. He chuckled and said, “Ok. I’ve never been very good at giving massages.” That was it – a very defining moment because my little girl thought that she had communicated that something wasn’t right, I failed to make the mental leap that a bad massage meant that this man that I knew and trusted was a pedophile, and he took control. He had been starting the grooming process with her by increasingly expanding where and how he touched her, beginning with simply massaging her back but reaching just a bit further each time. I’ve recently learned that the next time he did that to her back then, he told her (in true pedophile fashion), “Don’t tell anyone, you almost got me in trouble last time.” For the next several years (until she was 14), my daughter lived in a cycle of bribery, confusion and blurry memories of waking up to this man fondling her. There’s no way of knowing what she, or other potential victims of his slept through or were too young to remember.

There were lots of arguments between him and me over the years because he favored my daughter over my son, giving her gifts and lots of extra attention. He claimed that it was because he had grown up with only brothers and always said, “Little girls are special – I always made sure my own daughter had nice things.” I struggled to figure out why my daughter had such a hard time concentrating in school and received average grades despite her obvious intelligence. He often blamed it on the absence of her biological father, though I’ve since learned that inability to focus in school is very common among sexual abuse victims. Over the years, I suffered from anxiety and a constant nagging feeling that something wasn’t quite right, but allowed my spouse to convince me that those feelings were my fault and that I was insecure and paranoid.

This man, like Jerry Sandusky, had good long-time friends, worked full time and was loved by his own children. There were many good times over the years – camping trips with all of our kids, birthdays, graduations and lots of sporting events. Never in a million years would I have guessed that things would end the way they did. It was as if the man I trusted and loved had two identities living in one body. That seems to be the realization with which people who know a pedophile must come to terms – these people can compartmentalize their two halves in a way that seems impossible. This man was a co-worker to many, an employee to some, a good friend and confidant to others. He was a father, a son, a brother and the majority of people who knew him would have described him as a good guy. We all hate pedophiles and child molesters in theory, but it’s a difficult journey to wrap your mind around the fact that you already know and maybe even love one. I’ve learned from several experts that pedophiles develop their attraction to small children (some prefer boys, others prefer girls) in their teen years and a huge majority of them were sexually abused themselves.

The road to getting caught for most of these molesters is long and rocky, as they will do anything to protect their secret. I spent the final year and a half with my daughter’s molester getting into arguments and defending myself against his delusions. Reintroducing alcohol into his life after many years of sobriety made it very difficult for him to maintain his two separate identities and his façade crumbled. Fearing his secret coming out and knowing that I wanted out of the relationship due to his drinking, he went on the offensive attempting to preemptively discredit me in the event that I learned the truth. He accused me of cheating on him with one man, then four or five, then dozens. Ugly fights occurred in front of my children and when I left him, he spread his delusions and lies among his family members portraying himself as a victim who had been cheated on then abandoned. That’s when it began to click. I remembered how he had told me similar things about another woman long ago – tales of infidelity and abuse, painting a picture of himself as a victim. I remembered him ranting many years prior about the fact that he felt that he hadn’t had any privacy and always felt under suspicion – essentially laying the groundwork for me to give him space and not question his behavior. These were the same things he was saying about me now, that I cheated, was abusive to him and snooped into his private business.

On Thanksgiving 2010, he sent my daughter a text attacking my character and that was the final straw for her. She told me that night that she remembered several times waking up to him touching her over the years. She said that the last time he did it, she was 14 years old. I confronted him about it and he claimed that one time, in his sleep, something may have accidentally happened. My daughter insisted that it wasn’t one time and it wasn’t an accident – she remembered him molesting her on several occasions over many years. I discussed the situation with my therapist and, following his guidance, we discussed these things with child protective services and then the police. This is one of the things about childhood sexual abuse that many people don’t understand. Why didn’t she say something sooner? Why are so many of Jerry Sandusky’s victims coming forward now, many years after the crimes occurred and after others were victimized? That’s all a part of the complex psychology of this kind of crime. When kids are very little and they are being abused in this way, they often don’t know that it’s wrong. It doesn’t hurt and sometimes even feels good. By the time they understand how wrong the behavior is, they feel as if they have been a participant in something bad because they didn’t speak up sooner. Some fear the repercussions such as not being believed, anger from those who care about the pedophile and potential revenge from the abuser or his supporters. Most suffer guilt because they often have an otherwise close relationship with their abuser despite the pain and dysfunction he has caused. In Sandusky’s case, he spent many hours, days and even years mentoring his victims. Many of Sandusky’s victims are now speaking up because they know that they are not alone. My daughter finally felt safe speaking up after she was sure that I was not going back to her former step-father.

After my daughter came forward, her abuser’s home was raided and a huge amount of child pornography was found – videos and images of little girls from toddlers to teens being raped and sexually assaulted. Police told me that some of the girls could be heard crying in the videos while being raped. He had saved much of it to CDs and much more was found to have been downloaded on his computer. This all hit me like a ton of bricks and has taken many months to process. How could I not have known? I thought back to all of the times that I watched the Dateline “To Catch a Predator” shows on TV and my daughter’s molester acted appropriately disgusted by the adult men preying on underage girls. He even once told me that those guys should be shot. I remembered a time when I told him about a man who tried to sexually assault me when I was very young and he said that he wished he knew who that was because he’d kill him.  He seemed very protective of his own children and step-children. Many times, I told them that they were lucky to have such a good father figure in their lives. None of it fit or made sense but it was all true – the evidence was clear and abundant and was followed by his confession.

There are several people in this man’s life who are still struggling with pain and confusion, looking for someone else to blame (many of them choosing me or my daughter), and who have a long road of grieving and breaking through denial ahead of them. The initial reaction by some of his supporters was similar to the crowds of Penn State students who rioted, turned over a news van and loudly protested Paterno’s firing. We received an onslaught of text messages and emails, some calling my daughter a liar, one telling me I belong in prison with him, and several disowning both of us. I was accused of “thriving” on the terrible circumstances and of allowing the abuse to take place because the perpetrator helped pay my bills. In reality, I paid a large portion of our household expenses and a significant amount of his earnings, I now know, was spent on child pornography and a gambling addiction he was hiding. And, any mother who has been in my situation can attest to the fact that they would NEVER knowingly allow someone to molest their child. Whether such an accusation is made out of ignorance, denial or cruelty, the additional pain caused to a pedophile’s victims is the same. People that my daughter loved have been cut off from her life and people who she thought would love and protect her have failed to show concern about her recovery or to reach out to her in any way, instead, they are more concerned about the fate of her molester and spreading rumors that the molestation charges have been dropped (essentially still suggesting that the crimes never happened).

Again, the similarities have come to light with the Sandusky accusations. Once the veil had been lifted and the truth revealed, Jerry Sandusky minimized his behavior, claiming to have “horsed around in the shower” with young boys. The local day care provider recently convicted of molestation claimed that the little girl he sexually assaulted was “four going on forty” and very provocative. The Pattee Canyon campground host who has molested at least four young girls said that when he has one drink too many, his hands “start to wander”. During his confession to police, my daughter’s molester said in regard to her, that he had “crossed the line a few times,” as if all adults are somehow teetering on the edge, resisting the urge to molest children. Regarding all of the child pornography, police asked if he had any pictures or videos of my daughter and he replied that the stuff he had was just “generic kids”.  I suppose the perpetrators of these crimes have to minimize their actions in their own minds in order to live with themselves and maintain their false image on a daily basis.

As disturbing and frightening as it is that these crimes are so common and the perpetrators are so difficult to identify, I am pleased to see that we, as a society, are beginning to become educated about this subject. I am thankful that my daughter was brave enough to speak the truth, strong enough to deal with the re-victimization she has endured and has a great therapist and many supportive people who love her and will help her recover. I am proud to say that she is now on the high honor roll in school and on track to graduate a year early. If more people feel safe to speak up and more people understand how to properly respond, the cycle of sexual abuse can began to be broken. Victims will have a greater chance of recovering and perhaps pedophiles will find the courage to admit what they are, deal with what happened to them and seek the help they need rather than continuing to harm our children and their own families.

- Stacy M.

Mandatory Reporting Challenges on a College Campus

The other day, over lunch, prompted by an in inevitable conversation about the recent tragedy at Penn State, a colleague lamented their own experiences as a mandatory reporter of sexual assault. The discussion began as we were flushing out possible scenarios with the Penn State case, hoping that perhaps the lack of reporting on behalf of Coach Paterno et al was a lapse of administrative training rather than pure moral abomination. My colleague expressed some sympathies with those encountered by reports of sexual violence and that a similar encounter had left them questioning the efficacy of the current mandatory reporting protocol.

My colleague works at a small liberal arts college in a position that manages student workers. The college requires that all student employees take an hour-long online sexual harassment training, which they administer twice a year. My colleague emailed a notice to their student staff that each of them would have to take this training. In response to the email, a student requested that they be exempt from the training because they had recently experienced a sexual assault and also had a major assignment due the day after the training and did not want to be “re-triggered and stressed out by having to spend an hour thinking about sexual violence.” The student requested anonymity and mentioned that she intentionally did not report the crime to the Student Judicial Board (my colleague made assumption that assault must have been committed by another student because Judicial Board would have been standard course of action).

After getting this information, my colleague was unsure of what the necessary protocol was for reporting. They know they are a mandatory reporter, but were not sure that this fell under the realm of things necessary to report, especially since anonymity was requested and the student was not seeking help. The information they received regarding the assault was extremely limited and the disclosure of the event was not intentional, but rather reactionary – prompted not out of a request for help, but rather to avoid being re-triggered. It is important to note here, that although my colleague is a mandatory reporter, they have had no training on mandatory reporting from the institution they are currently working for. Fortunately they worked in Student Life for another higher education institution where they did receive some training, namely to report up.

My colleague took two steps. She reported the incident to her direct superior and asked if further action was necessary. They said no, no action was necessary because the student asked to remain anonymous. At the same time, however, the staff member e-mailed the schools HR department to see if the student’s request for a training exemption could be honored. My colleague explained the situation to HR in full, however omitting the students identifying details. The HR director responded to her email almost immediately saying that they could definitely accommodate the student and telling my colleague that they needed to report the assault if they had not already done so. My colleague called the HR director at this time and let them know the opposing information they had received from their immediate superior. The HR director admitted that they were, in fact, not positive that they needed to report and suggested they contact the Assistant Dean of Students to give the final decision. After a meeting where the student’s anonymity remained intact, the decision was reached that standard mandatory reporting protocol must take place, and that my colleague should file a paper report and send it up the chain of command.

This would mean that the students anonymity would no longer be intact as a paper report (which requires a name) would have to be filtered through six additional people before it eventually would get back to the Assistant Dean Of Students (who they had just met with and was already briefed on the incident). This was the first time my colleague found out that they would have to file an actual paper report, previously they thought a simple verbal exchange was all that was required. Additionally, they found the report rather confusing and somewhat futile. The definitive categories on the report were misleading and seemingly redundant. Also, the only information my colleague had was limited which meant that the bulk of the report remained blank.

After the report was filed and sent up the chain of command, my colleague was urged to reach out to the student, give her a packet of information on resources and encourage her to report and seek support. My colleague was asked to get the student to fill out a threat assessment with campus security even if she did not want to report in an effort to protect other students. The packet of information and resources seemed particularly helpful and full of information my colleague wished they had known previously so that they could have given the student more helpful information when she first confided in them.

The student didn’t respond to the staff member for several days, even though my colleague had seen her at work and on campus a few times since sending the follow-up email and information. The student responded by thanking them for their concern but said she was doing fine and did not address answering the threat assessment or reporting. My colleague, the staff member, sent the student response back to campus safety and the dean’s office. To date, that is where the case has ended. This case is about a month old, and the above proceedings took place over the course of 8 days from the student confiding in my colleague to her response going to campus safety.

This incident left a very sour taste in my colleague’s mouth, who highlighted several challenges and take homes to reporting on their campus:

-          Staff felt really bad about having to “pressure” the student to report.

-          Staff was unsure of how much to encourage the student to report and did not appreciate higher up administrators asking them to pressure the student as they did want to disrespect the student by pushing her to do something she was uncomfortable with.

-          Staff did not want to breach the confidentiality of the student but wanted to provide the best support possible.

-          Staff had lack of training. Even though they are a mandatory reporter, they only received an hour long on-line sexual harassment training but never had a Cleary reporting training or any specific training about mandatory reporting with student employees or about someone who approaches you but is not trying to report.

-          Staff found the paper Cleary Report misleading and misrepresentative.

-          Staff learned that only health and counseling professionals do not have to report

-          Staff disappointed that higher up staff and supervisors were also unclear about the reporting process and could not provide proper guidance.

-          Staff wanted to be able to report without sharing the students’ name

In the end this incident enlightened my colleague’s superiors and HR administrators to the fact that their staff lacked sufficient training and that changes need to be made with the overall reporting system. However, the student victim did not receive the anonymity she requested, which might have felt like a violation to her. This incident is by no means a singular occurrence.  This and similar situations have been seen time and time again at universities across the country. Higher education staff members are under-equipped to handle sexual violence on their campuses. This is a HUGE problem. College women experience one of the highest risks of sexual violence of any demographic. One in four college women will be assaulted during their time. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 20.4 million students are enrolled in US colleges. If we give a rough estimate that half of these students are female (and this is generous because enrollment tips more heavily towards the female persuasion) then this means that 2.55 million women will be assaulted during their time in college. This is an epidemic and we need to treat it as such. Who is going to be there to support these two and a half million women?

The egregious handling of the Penn State sexual assaults by all parties, although very different from most sexual assaults that happen on our nations campuses, has started conversations about our role in reporting and intervening from the white house to casual luncheons between friends. We need to continue this conversation and keep highlighting the epidemic of sexual violence in our society. Bottom line: Our higher education administrators need training and they need it now. A national effort needs to be made. We need to address this issue from both sides. We need more prevention work on our campuses and we need to encourage our students to demand these types of services on their campuses.