District teachers get training in preventing sexual abuse

Date Published: 
September 9, 2016

Patricia Dailey-Lewis, who heads the Beau Biden Foundation for the Protection of Children, recalls the moment the foundation was born.

It was in Lewes, she said, as she and Biden walked through the seaside town in the midst of the case against one of the most notorious child abusers in United States history. Dailey-Lewis was deputy attorney-general at the time, and recalled that “I lived in the AmericInn in Rehoboth Beach” while the State built its case against Lewes pediatrician Earl Bradley.

Bradley was indicted with 529 counts, including rape, covering more than 100 patients. He was eventually convicted of all 24 charges in a consolidated indictment and sentenced to 14 life sentences plus 165 more years.

The case rocked Sussex County. Dailey-Lewis recalled the day, in the midst of it, that she and Biden were walking down Savannah Road and a woman approached Biden and asked, “What are you going to do?” The question, she said, hit Biden at his core, and he responded that he was going to start an organization to help prevent another Bradley from harming children.

“He was a person who did what he said he was going to do,” she said of the late attorney-general.

Bradley has been in jail for more than four years, but the case still sends chills through Sussex County families.

“It was traumatizing,” Dailey-Lewis said last month, as she stood before nearly 100 new the Indian River School District teachers preparing to meet their students for the first time.

Dailey-Lewis now carries out Biden’s legacy as director of the foundation named for him. Her presentation to the new teachers was part of a training program called “Stewards of Children.” The program seeks to prevent child sexual abuse by raising awareness and educating adults how to recognize it and how to react responsibly to it.

Stewards of Children is a training program offered by nationwide Darkness to Light organization. Central to the program is a video featuring former victims of child sexual abuse, including Marilyn VanDerbur, Miss America 1958, who was abused for decades by her father and now advocates for victims of child sexual abuse.

Also featured is Margaret Hoelzer, an Olympic-medal-winning swimmer who was abused by the father of a friend when she was a very young child.

One of the most chilling moments in the video comes when VanDerbur recounts a night when her father was in her bedroom with her, and she heard her mother’s footsteps in the hallway. She hoped, she said, that her mother would open the door and her nightmare would be over. Instead, VanDerbur said, she listened as her mother paused, and then walked away, leaving her alone with her abusive father.

“My mom made a choice that night, and she didn’t choose me,” VanDerbur said in the video.

The stigma around child sexual abuse is part of what makes it so difficult to deal with, and Stewards of Children training teaches adults to face their responsibility as potential reporters of the abuse. For teachers, the importance of such training is paramount, given that one in 10 children will be sexually abused before turning 18.

Since child sexual abuse victims are more likely to experience other issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression, sexually transmitted diseases, self-inflicted harm, delinquency, running away, homelessness and seemingly unrelated health problems, including diabetes, cancer and heart ailments, the impact of it is immeasurable.

The new Indian River teachers learned five steps toward protecting children from sexual abuse:

(1) Learn the facts — understand what sexual abuse is, recognize its prevalence and understand how it occurs;

(2) Minimize opportunity — which as teachers, can mean minimizing “hotspots” in schools where abuse could occur, monitoring internet use in schools and instituting a code of conduct that addresses appropriate and inappropriate interactions between teachers and students;

(3) Talk about it — be open with children about setting boundaries, encourage them to talk to you or another adult if something makes them uncomfortable, and give them proper language for body parts so they will be properly understood when they do approach an adult;

(4) Recognize the signs — even though in some children, there may be absolutely no signs of abuse, certain behaviors and signals can often be clues that a child is being abused; and

(5) React responsibly — understand how to respond when a child discloses abuse or it is suspected.

“You will be the voice of these children,” Dailey-Lewis told the teachers.

Citing the Bradley case, she emphasized that his abuse continued for years because other adults did nothing to stop it. The same, she said, was true in the case of Penn State University coach Jerry Sandusky.

“How did that go on for so many years with so many people talking about it?” she asked. The answer, she said, is that “the institution was put before the kids.”

There is hope, Dailey-Lewis said, as education efforts against child sexual abuse move forward across the country. Delaware, for example, has gone from 48th in the nation in reporting of child sexual abuse, to fifth within the past five years — which she said indicates not so much an increase in sexual abuse of children, but an increase in the reporting of the crimes so that the perpetrators can be prosecuted and prevented from harming more children.

As teachers, Dailey-Lewis said, the new IR staffers need to face the reality that “pedophiles are going to go where they have access to children,” and that “our job is to build that wall around them” and keep them safe.