Thursday, November 17, 2011

Learning from Penn State

For anyone from the United States, the subject of child molestation and preventing sexual abuse has, again, come to the forefront.  It should not be surprising to anyone, as recent statistics have reported a staggering number of child victims (1 in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls).

What is shocking to most people in this case, but unfortunately all too common, is the lack of action taken by authorities when abuse was initially reported.  Unfortunately that, too is all too common.  In the Penn State case, it appears that protecting the revered institutions of its university and its football program were more important than taking the claims of child victims seriously.

This happened in the world of high-stakes sports, but it can happen anywhere.
Yes, even in the game room.

Protecting Your Children and Yourself

Anyone who is a parent or works with children or youth needs to take note of the dangers and take appropriate precautions.  Idealism and naiveté are no longer excusable when it comes to protecting our children from sexual abuse.

Protecting Your Children

Education: If you are a parent, then sex education needs to start almost immediately.  This does not mean telling them every detail, of course (and thus sexualizing them at a young age), but it does mean making it part of the normal learning environment you maintain in your home.  The body should be talked about as freely as colors, numbers, and letters.  It should not be joked about, nor should nick-names be given to a child’s sexual organs, as these are common tactics used by child predators.

It is also important that, during this time, children know that their bodies belong to them, and that others touching certain areas of their bodies is inappropriate.  If someone does something that makes them feel uncomfortable, they need to tell that person right away and then tell you.  You can then assure them that you will do everything in your power to protect them.

Situation:  Proper education and openness is vital, but it is not enough.  No matter how much you empower your child, you are still responsible for making sure he or she is not put into potentially vulnerable situations.  This does not mean that the parent has to watch the child 24 hours a day, but it does mean keeping an eye on that child’s activities and potential problems.  Adults—and especially experienced offenders—know how to coerce even the strongest children, when given the opportunity.

For example, your child should not be left alone in a room with any adult, no matter how much you trust him or her, as most offenders are people trusted by the parents and children.  If a child has a private music lesson in a closed room, it is your responsibility to be there with him or her.

The same goes for a game night.  Basements may be great for stashing a big game collection and gaming table, but they are also secluded from the rest of the house.  If an adult is hosting, and no one else shows up so that your child is alone with him or her, that child needs to come home—or both of them can come to your house to game.

Also make sure to ask your child about his or her gaming group and gaming experiences.  Open communication and interest on your part is important in building trust in your relationship, and it will also help you be more aware of things that your child is dealing with—and may even provide some early warning signs that sexual abuse may be happening.

If it does happen, then report the incident immediately to the police, and follow up if they do not.  It is also your responsibility to warn other parents whose children attend that game group.  The parents can agree to keep your child's identity anonymous, and can work together to find an alternative gaming group.

Protecting Yourself

As an adult, it is also important to keep yourself out of situations in which others could suspect you of inappropriate contact with children or youth.  Being aware of the dangers and an awareness of others' perceptions can both assure the child’s parents and even help to educate them in protecting their child elsewhere.

When I held game nights with young people at my home, for example, I tried to do it when my family was present.  Later, we met in one of the boys' apartment, with his mother present. 

Better yet is to meet in a public café or storefront space that is visible from the outside.  Those are the kinds of places in which I do most of my gaming these days, and the transparency has been appreciated by the parents of those youth who have participated. 

Parents unfortunately need to be suspicious these days, and adult gamers can go a long way to build trust and an atmosphere of fun and openness by avoiding suspicious situations.

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