Days ago, Jerry Sandusky was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison for sexually assaulting 10 boys over a 15 year period. We all breathed a collective sigh of relief that he will spend the rest of his life in prison for these crimes. While we may find some closure in knowing that this man - whose crimes of sexual abuse shocked the nation - will spend his remaining days in prison, the fact remains that hundreds, if not thousands of child abusers go unpunished every year because crimes of this nature go unreported or are poorly investigated.
Jerry Sandusky has been convicted of victimizing young children entrusted to his care. At the time they were abused, these victims did not know to whom to turn for help; and in the case of one who did report abuse, the investigation was so poorly conducted that one could hardly call it such. While it has taken decades for these crimes to publicly surface, there has been a shift in the national discourse on child sexual abuse that no doubt led to the veil of silence being removed. As a society, thankfully, we have finally begun to speak out about child abuse so these crimes do not go unnoticed and unpunished.
Over the past 25 years many communities in this country have committed themselves to a better way of investigating, prosecuting, and treating child sexual abuse. In over 750 communities in the US, there exists a Children's Advocacy Center where child victims of abuse are given a safe space to tell their story and receive help. At these centers, trained professionals understand the best practices for investigating allegations of abuse, providing medical and mental healthcare for victims, and prosecuting offenders, all the while putting the child victim first.
These questions remain - what might have happened if coordinated intervention and prevention programs were available in Happy Valley back in the early days of Sandusky's abuse? Could these children have known where to go for help? Would their caregivers have been better educated to recognize the signs of abuse? Would institutions and investigators have been better trained and better equipped to respond to reports of abuse?
Despite the growth of the Children's Advocacy Center movement since its impetus in 1985, over 1,000 U.S. counties still do not have access to these important coordinated services - leaving thousands of children underserved. These communities also lack the benefit of abuse prevention programs that are commonly instituted by Children's Advocacy Centers. As was the case in Happy Valley during the years of Sandusky's abuse, the fact exists that when coordinated services for abuse intervention are not in place, there are far more allegations that will fall through the cracks of a disjointed investigative system. And as we saw with Sandusky's victims, years, even decades may go by before the real story surfaces and the abuser is punished for his or her crimes.
The Children's Advocacy Center model has been proven effective in bettering the response to child abuse in customized ways to meet the needs of local communities. Yet so many communities still do not have access to this model. It is our shared responsibility to protect our children. By educating ourselves on the signs of abuse and the process for intervention, as well as by raising awareness of the need for coordinated intervention and prevention services in every community around the country, we take one more step in doing so. To learn more about the signs of abuse and how to report it, visit OneWithCourage.org, our national prevention initiative. And to find out more about the Children's Advocacy Center model or locate the one nearest you, visit www.nationalchildrensalliance.org.
Let's make the legacy of the Jerry Sandusky case not merely be listening to one more horrific tale of lives devastated by abuse as we await the next one. Rather, let the tragedy of this case make us ever more committed to ensuring abuse is prevented, and that those who are abused receive the compassionate care of a Children's Advocacy Center. The victims of Jerry Sandusky, and the hundreds of thousands more children abused in this country every year, deserve no less.