Why wait until it is too late to train your staff on child sexual abuse?

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I am thrilled every time I get a call from a school or youth-serving organization that wants me to provide training on child sexual abuse. All year long, I am introduced to schools, churches, PTA moms, the zoo, the Girl Scouts, sports associations, after-school-care providers, summer camps, and every youth-serving organization you can imagine.

I am usually introduced by someone who has attended my training on child sexual abuse prevention and immediately recognizes who would benefit from that training. They send an email introducing us, letting them know they learned a lot from the training I provide and letting them know how I can help their organization. I respond immediately, thankful for the opportunity. Sometimes we exchange a few emails and sometimes they hire me to train their staff but often they do not, UNTIL an incident occurs, then suddenly they want training and they want it yesterday.

The training is not expensive or time consuming so that is not the issue. I know the main issue is that it is not a fun training, nobody wants to hear about child sexual abuse, I get that. However, by now, just by turning on your television or the internet, you have to be aware of sheer volume of cases of child sexual abuse that has run rampant in youth-serving organizations such as:

  • U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Dr. Larry Nassar molested children for more than three decades. Michigan State reached a $500M settlement with 332 victims and there are more victims still seeking justice.  

  • The Catholic Church was forced to spend $300 million just in 12 months, and spent $10M lobbying AGAINST laws to protect victims of abuse.

  • Since 1919 (100 years ago!) The Boy Scouts of America has maintained a group of files known as the "ineligible volunteer files," which acknowledge predatory behavior and pedophilia among scout leaders. Knowing they have problem and failing to change the internal culture, they have 800 new allegations and are considering filing bankruptcy.

  • The University of Southern California Gynecologist George Tyndall was charged with 29 felonies and hundreds of victims are currently suing USC. The charges represent only a tiny fraction of the allegations made to police and prosecutors by nearly 400 women, and span just the final seven of Tyndall’s 27 years at the university. Those filings represent allegations that were within the 10-year statute of limitations, with evidence corroborating the women’s accounts.

As you can see from only a handful of examples, failing to properly train staff and failing to report when abuse has been disclosed is not only extremely expensive to the organization, but it perpetuates the abuse, increases the number of victims and has lifelong consequences for the victims.

When I get unsolicited calls from organizations to train their staff, I am super excited that they are being proactive. Then, I show up and provide the training, and inevitably they confide in me that there had been an incident. I am still grateful they are getting the training. I am happy to train anyone and everyone, no matter the circumstances. However, I wonder what it will take to get organizations to seek this training BEFORE they have an incident.

When will adults and organizations be willing to do what is necessary to protect kids and prevent abuse BEFORE it is too late? The only way to keep youth safe is to get trained, train your staff, train your volunteers and offer classes for youths.

If you haven’t been trained, now is the time, it is both always too late and never too late.

Christy Heiskala is the founder of Educate to Eliminate, a non-profit dedicated to educating youth, adults, and youth-serving organizations on child sexual abuse prevention and bystander intervention so we can eliminate the pandemic of abuse. Christy is a victim advocate who work with victims and their families to help them navigate their path forward.