David Burton will give a
on Monday, Aug. 6, at 7:30 p.m. in Weinstein Auditorium,
Wright Hall, as part of the School for Social Work Summer
Lecture Series. The lecture is free and open to the public.
I was once a guest in a college
classroom, appearing with a man who had spent years in prison
and treatment for his sexual aggression.
I was ill and quite
tired at the time, and was dressed in an old sport jacket
and blue jeans, and I had a patch over my left eye. My co-presenter
was older, well coiffed, well spoken and well dressed.
class topic was deceit. We decided that he would speak first
and answer questions until the discussion turned to research.
I looked downward, averting my gaze. After half a dozen questions,
the students were calling him “Doc.”
When a student asked a question
about survival curve analysis, I grabbed a piece of chalk
and stepped in to in to answer. The shock in their eyes was
amazing, the lesson of the day quite clear.
We know a lot about sexual assault,
how to predict reoffense, and how to successfully treat it
(in study after study, only 5 to 10 percent of sexual abusers
reoffend after treatment). Yet the missing critical element
is often a lack of reporting by bystanders. A victim may
not want to report what happened due to shame, guilt, fear
of not being believed or being harmed.
Why would a bystander
not report their suspicions? Bystanders or those suspicious
of sexual assault may not report because they think a person
they know or care about could not be a sexual offender. This
is obviously wrong. An amazing 80 percent of sexual offenders
are well known to the victim. And as illustrated in my classroom
anecdote, sexually abusive people do not look like monsters—they look like everyone else (only a very few
A bystander could also be worried
about what might happen to the person they report on. After
25 years of working with police I know they do a very careful
job in investigations and we need to trust in their skills.
Finally, some bystanders may fear repercussions from the
accused, such as in instances in which an accused person
holds power over the accuser. But is a child’s
safety and wellbeing worth giving into those fears? What if it were your child?
Are we not all responsible for our societies’ children?
I exhort everyone to
push aside such fears and report all suspicions. We can help
the survivors and may stop the offender from reoffending.
If you need help on this, visit the for
salient resources and links.
The Potential Benefits of Sports
Secondly, I wish to raise a
point relating to coaches and parents. Researchers have reported
how difficult middle school can be for about 85 percent of
young women (grade drops in 7th grade are extremely common)
and that involvement in sports is one of the best ways of
maintaining healthy self-esteem. For young men, the difficult
period is in early high school. Sports and other extracurricular
activities also help boys emerge with self-esteem. In fact,
researchers have reported the great social, emotional and
physical benefits of sports involvement, facilitated by coaches,
all the way into college. However they have also shown that
both coaching and education work best when positive and frequent
parental involvement is present.
Do you know your daughters’ coaches
well? Do you supervise when your son goes on a trip with
a traveling team? Do you allow your child and their coach
to spend time alone together on a regular basis? Sexually
abusive individuals target isolated youth who do not have
much parental supervision and, as one client told me, “…who
In my research and clinical
work the motivations for sexual assault are many and the
methods are clear—public awareness
about this information is the best response to what has been
called the major public health issue of our time.
never know the details of what happened at Penn State. Yet,
we can all learn to report our suspicions and add to the
benefits of sports and extracurricular activities by being
positively and regularly involved in our children’s schools
and lives. Both of these behaviors will reduce the chances
of children being sexually assaulted. Finally, if a child
tells you they have been abused, please bring them to a licensed
therapist as soon as possible for an evaluation.