Privacy and Child Abuse

Press Release, 11/14/2011

The two current stories of child abuse dominating the news clearly demonstrate the troubling roles that our ideas about privacy play in the reporting and prosecution of child abuse.

Reactions to the video of Texas judge William Adams screaming slurs at his teenage daughter and hitting her repeatedly with a belt range from horror to justification of his actions. A recurring theme presents itself over and over—that this was a private matter of parental discipline between the Judge and his family. 

At Penn State, athletic department and school officials placed reputation above the well-being of children and teens. Eyewitness accounts of sexual abuse were handled internally and not reported to law enforcement, and the abuser was left to continue his abuse, so long as he did it off campus. With the termination of head football coach Joseph Paterno, questions arise about ethical obligations to report abuse.

Our reactions to stories like these reveal much about how we view abuse. It is shameful, something to be kept in the dark. We, as a culture, are uncomfortable with the idea that a family court judge would mistreat his own family, so we say it is none of our business, or that if it was really that bad, his daughter would have come forward sooner or her mother would have stopped him.   It’s easy to overlook  the power that Judge Adams had—both with his abused family and with the community.

We recoil from the thought of revealing others’ humiliating secrets, so we say that Coach Paterno did enough when he reported the abuse to his superior.  We ignore that with the power and influence wielded by Paterno as the longtime coach at a football school he could have made a difference.

At STAND! For Families Free of Violence, we know that child abuse will only become a thing of the past when we all play a role in ending it. Only when we move past our embarrassment can we take action. Each of us can make a difference when we know a child is being hurt. Suggest an alternate form of discipline to your friend who hits her child in anger. Follow up when you report something suspicious. Believe children when they say someone is hurting them. STAND! with us to end child abuse.

For more information about what you can do to help stop child abuse, visit