“How can something like this happen?” is a question so many Americans are asking about a few disturbing events we’ve seen and heard on the news lately. Sexual abuse inflicted upon USA Gymnastics athletes by a doctor who was apparently respected and trusted in his community is one that has, unfortunately, grabbed the nation’s attention. Pediatrician Rachel P. Berger also wonders, like the rest of us do, how such a monstrous display of child abuse could happen, “despite a long history of disturbing rumors, whispered complaints and questions about the appropriateness of his behavior with his patients,” right under the noses of parents, coaches, and athletic organizers. In order to prevent this from happening again, Dr. Berger, who is Chief of the Division of Child Advocacy at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, writes in Sunday’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, we must “listen to our children and believe what they tell us”:

Too many children have told me they said nothing because they knew no one would believe them, especially when the person who abused them was in a position of authority or prestige in the community. Sometimes children know other children who are also victims and have witnessed them tell and not be believed, or even punished for lying.

Sexual predators take advantage of this; they almost always tell children no one will believe them. They are master manipulators of their victims, their victims’ parents, their own families — and even the police and child protective services. Sexual predators have so much control over children precisely because adults so often refuse to believe children.

 

It is up to all of us, Dr. Berger says, to contact the police or child protective services when a child makes a disturbing accusation. But Tonya GJ Prince says in order for parents to hear about abuses suffered by their kids, they need to ask them the right questions:

Perhaps you may want to consider asking these questions the next time that your child is in someone else’s care.

I asked my son privately whether or not he enjoyed himself.

 How did you spend your time?  

What was your favorite part of the party?

What was the least favorite part?

Did you feel safe?  

Was there anything else that you wanted to share?

Try to remember to make these questions a consistent habit. Also, it might be helpful to  remind your children that they can always add details about what occurred during while they were away from you.

 

Ask the kids and then listen to the answers. Yes, let’s do that.

 

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