UNIVERSITY PARK – Over the past year, more than 30,000 people affiliated with Penn State have received training to identify and report suspected child abuse. Seven counties in southwestern Pennsylvania instituted a prevention program for parents and caregivers, and prevention efforts were bolstered statewide — all through the University’s partnership with an agency that is focused on fighting sexual abuse.
Penn State’s affiliation with the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR), as well as the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), has resulted in a number of initiatives that are reaching communities across the commonwealth with new programs, support groups, and renewed investments in the prevention of child sexual abuse and maltreatment.
Now in its third year of a partnership with the University, PCAR has used a portion of the $1.5 million provided by Penn State to fund several initiatives. The funds came from Penn State’s 2011 share of the Big Ten bowl revenues. The partnership and pledge by Penn State to fight the crime of child abuse came about in December 2011, following the allegations of child sexual abuse against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.
“We are so pleased to work with Penn State to address the issue of sexual abuse,” said Delilah Rumburg, CEO of PCAR and NSVRC. “Sexual abuse is traumatic for victims, those close to them and even entire communities. Through our 40 years of working on this issue in Pennsylvania, we know these devastating events can also inspire people to grow, learn and become active agents of change to support survivors and promote prevention. We’ve seen this first hand with our many Penn State affiliated partners.”
PCAR and University officials expect 2014 to be even more effective in educating others about sexual abuse and in assisting agencies with the daunting task of child protection in the Commonwealth and across the nation.
According to a year-end review from PCAR officials, in the past year connections were created among the 50 rape crisis centers in Pennsylvania and Penn State’s established network of Extension and Continuing Education offices in every county. Because rape crisis centers have expert knowledge and resources on child sexual abuse and prevention, the pairing with Penn State Outreach and Extension gave them an easy delivery method for providing education to adults in all 67 counties of the state. The information that blanketed the commonwealth included how to recognize warning signs of grooming and sexual abuse; how to respond responsibly to protect children; warning signs of potential perpetrators; and how the networks supported by PCAR and Penn State can make a significant and lasting positive change in communities.
PCAR also designated $50,000 of the bowl revenues to support collaboration between community based rape crisis centers and campus-based prevention activities. Information gained through these efforts was used to revise a manual to guide community mobilization to prevent sexual assault.
In addition, a pilot project that began in Allegheny County spread to six other counties in southwestern Pennsylvania to involve parents in promoting safety for all children and preventing child sexual abuse.
“Where We Live: A Manual for Engaging Parents in Child Sexual Abuse Prevention” recognizes that parent engagement is key to creating safer communities for children and preventing child sexual abuse. The program was developed with input from parents in the Pittsburgh area. Parents indicated by survey that they needed more critical knowledge about how to discuss healthy sexuality and sexual abuse prevention. The project, created by Pittsburgh Action Against Rape with the help of PCAR, increases adult awareness of child sexual abuse and teaches proactive behaviors that can reduce the risk of inappropriate adult-child interactions. It also promotes the belief that it is every adult’s responsibility to protect and intervene for children in their community.
“Where We Live” is now set to become a national model for child sexual abuse prevention programs. After participating in the program, adults were more likely to take direct action with an adult about whom they were concerned and less likely to put responsibility on children to avoid suspicious adults.
Raising awareness beyond parents also was a priority for PCAR and NSVRC. In an effort to enhance the abilities of members of the media to report on child sexual abuse, the NSVRC leveraged an existing relationship with the Poynter Institute, a leading source of education for journalists. Through the Institute, the NSVRC was able to collaborate to create a two-day seminar for the media that covered child sexual abuse and violence.
PCAR also is one of 18 sponsors of Penn State’s upcoming third annual Conference on Child Protection and Well-Being to be held on the University Park campus on May 5 and 6 at the Nittany Lion Inn. The two-day conference will focus on “Parenting, Family Processes and Intervention” and feature presentations and panel discussions from top researchers in the field.
“It’s imperative that everyone combine resources and expertise to combat this devastating crime,” said Melinda Stearns, senior director of strategic partnerships in University Outreach and liaison to PCAR. “PCAR and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center bring rich resources to the mix. Our partnership is strong and continues to grow for the benefit of our communities. We look forward to another year of accomplishments.”