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Community Cafes for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse
Date of Report: June 9, 2014

COMMUNITY CAFÉ REPORT
Prepared by Eileen Wise and Nawal Qureshi
WHAT WE DID
In January of 2012 a small group of concerned citizens in Centre County began to
meet in churches and coffee shops as an informal grassroots organization to try to
‚really make a change in the statistics of child sexual abuse‛. Current estimates are that
1 in 4 girls and one in 6 boys are (or will be) sexually abused before the age of 18. We
knew that only with a strategic, concerted effort to protect and defend children by all
adults in the community could we hope to be successful.
In searching for a way to engage the general population we learned about a
process called World Café, which gathers small groups in a café-like setting to hold
deep conversations about issues of importance to the participants. We hoped that in the
process of these guided conversations, consensus would eventually emerge that would
lead to action.
We contacted a skilled educator in the World Café process, Marilyn Anderson,
and raised funding through several local churches, individuals, and organizations in
order to bring the trainer to State College in January, 2013. Marilyn trained nine local
facilitators in the World Café process, and together we led nine public cafes at various
locations in State College and Bellefonte. At each café, the conversation was centered on
issues relating to child sexual abuse and how to prevent it.
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Community Cafes for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse
Date of Report: June 9, 2014


OUR MOTIVATION
In November, 2011, a storm of controversy enveloped State College as the news
broke that the founder of a statewide charity, The Second Mile, serving disadvantaged
children and adolescents had been indicted on multiple counts of child sexual abuse.
Not only was this a respected person in the community, he was also well known to fans
nationally as a former Penn State football coach who had worked alongside famed
coach, Joe Paterno, for years.
In the months after the news about Sandusky came out, and the media storm that
buffeted our community with the blame being cast on Penn State, the firing of Coach
Joe Paterno, and accusations of complicity in hiding the abuse levied on university
officials, including University President Graham Spanier, the atmosphere in State
College and the surrounding community was indeed grim. Feelings of shock, anger,
and shame were palpable among Penn Staters and the general public, whose
identification with the university was intense and proud. It seemed that all our local
pride had turned to embarrassment and disgust—almost overnight.
In conversations across the county the major topic was always about ‚the
scandal‛. Some residents wondered if there was any way to turn the negative energy
and hopelessness into constructive ideas, knowledge, and action. A small group began
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Community Cafes for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse
Date of Report: June 9, 2014

looking into how to help members of the community deal with their complex emotions
and to fight this hidden and pernicious crime against our community’s children.
After months of sharing and connecting with other organizations actively
seeking to respond to the situation, it was suggested that we use the World Café process
in a series of ‚Community Cafés‛ throughout 2013 which could be a forum for religious
groups to sponsor as a way for the religious community to contribute its own unique
response to the Sandusky scandal. State College faith organizations partnering were the
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Centre County (UUFCC), University Mennonite
Church, State College Presbyterian Church, and Saint Paul’s United Methodist Church.
They were, later joined by the First Presbyterian Church of Bellefonte. The State College
Kiwanis Club added its financial support to the original funds donated by a local
community member and child sexual abuse survivor.

WHAT WE DISCOVERED
In the duration of the nine community cafes, we had a total of 103 participants, of
which 46 were returning participants after experiencing a community café. The topics
covered in these cafes were varied from one café to the next. These topics helped us
come to some conclusions through the discussions we had, the evaluations that were
filled out, the writings & doodles on the table covers, and the suggestions we had from
the participants.
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Community Cafes for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse
Date of Report: June 9, 2014

How the participants felt about child sexual abuse were feelings many seemed to
share among each other and the community around them. One of the participants had
written on the tabletop that we need to, ‚…be able to speak about ‘unspeakable’
topics.‛ For them, child sexual abuse is an ‚unspeakable‛ topic and this was an idea
that many others shared during the discussions throughout each café. They felt that it
was a very private issue, which made people uncomfortable to talk about it in public.
Many times, people did not want to be affiliated with it, especially if they were part of a
bigger organization or team. This feeling was also mutual when the Sandusky case was
discussed. People felt angry towards the issue, yet they felt the community around
them was too embarrassed to talk about it or take action. However, the participants
seemed to feel very passionate about getting this movement off the ground and due to
that, they wanted to be more informed. Many of them did not feel very informed on
child sexual abuse in general and how to deal with it, mainly due to the privatization of
the problem. Hence, they felt much better informed after their experience of the
community café.
Through the discussions with the participants of the cafes, we learned that they
think the best way to protect children from child sexual abuse and to prevent it is
education. This education includes the education of parents, family members, and
children themselves. The participants felt that the community was largely uninformed,
themselves included, on how to prevent child sexual abuse, how to recognize a
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Community Cafes for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse
Date of Report: June 9, 2014

predator/victim, how to educate their children, and what resources are available to
them. The most important education that the participants felt needs to take place is the
education of children at home. This education needs to include self-protection,
sexuality, and how to come forward if they are being victimized. It also needs to be
clear and concise, without any room for misunderstanding. As children, many are
taught ‚nicknames‛ for their genital parts as a way of protecting them, as if their
genitals are something to hide from or be ashamed of. This causes a massive conflict
when it comes to children admitting they are sexually abused. First off, the children feel
ashamed of their genitals or feel like they are something to not be spoken about. Hence,
when they are being victimized, they feel too embarrassed to talk about it to someone.
Secondly, when these nicknames are given to children’s genitals, it becomes a much
clouded situation when they come to adults with the abuse that is taking place. For
example, if a vagina were nicknamed a ‚cookie‛, a child would come up to an adult
saying, ‚He/she touched my cookie.‛ This makes it very confusing for an adult to
understand and comprehend what the child is saying to them and many times the
situation goes unnoticed.
Education on child sexual abuse in the family will also make it easier for adults
to believe their children when they come forth with something like this. Many times the
situation is unseen due to adults not believing their children. This is a severe issue and
part of it is because they believe the child has misinterpreted something or does not
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Community Cafes for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse
Date of Report: June 9, 2014

know what they are talking about. If family members educate their children on the
severity of this issue, both the child and parent can communicate freely and concisely,
without room for misunderstanding. Lastly, free and open education between children
and their family members helps children to admit to this abuse sooner rather than later,
as they know that they can talk about this issue openly to the people close to them.
Hence, education in the family seemed to be the most important way of preventing
child sexual abuse among the participants of the cafes. They felt it was the easiest way
for children and family members to identify and communicate any abuse between
himself and herself, as they are the people the children trust the most.
This family education can be hard though, as many participants agreed that they
would not know how to go about starting that at an early age appropriately and
continuing it as the children grew up. Hence, we came up with the idea of using three
main community institutions, hospitals, schools, and religious organizations, in order to
educate the local community at different stages of their children’s lives and to assist
them in educating their children. Hospitals would serve as the starting point of
education for parents and family members with newborn children. There would be
required classes on healthy relationships and recognizing the signs of a predator/victim
of child sexual abuse. These classes would help parents learn how to recognize and
prevent child sexual abuse in their family or their surroundings at an early age of their
children’s lives. These classes would also inform them on resources that are available to
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Community Cafes for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse
Date of Report: June 9, 2014

them in their community to educate them on how to teach their children about
sexuality, self-protection, and healthy relationships at an early age, using the right
language. These would include such resources as Stewards of Children, Child
Advocacy Center, who to call in order to report a suspect, and books on how to educate
your children or introduce them to self-protection at each stage of their lives
appropriately. In this way, the lives of children can be protected from an early age, both
by parents and by the children themselves.
Schools would also play a role in preventing child sexual abuse at an early age,
and they would also play a continuing role. The participants believed schools should
continue education of children on sexuality, emotions, healthy relationships, and self-
protection. This would help children feel comfortable enough to express their feelings,
share their thoughts, and not feel embarrassed to talk to school officials if someone is
abusing them in the family. As was made clear in our discussion, most predators of
child sexual abuse (90%) are known to the child, either as close family members, family
friends, or other trusted adults. Due to that, it becomes hard for the victim to feel
comfortable talking to someone close to him or her if they are being victimized. Here,
school officials can play a huge role in identifying victims and helping students feel
comfortable enough for them to tell a trusted school official about what they may be
going through. Also, educating children on sexuality and self-protection can help them
get a clear idea of what is acceptable in their everyday relationships and what is not.
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Community Cafes for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse
Date of Report: June 9, 2014

Moreover, it can help children learn that they have services and people available to
them if they are a victim and this can help them come forward without embarrassment,
which as we learned is a common feeling among not only victims but the general public
about child sexual abuse. Therefore, we believe schools can play a tremendous role in
preventing child sexual abuse.
As we continued these cafes, we realized how much religious organizations
could assist in the prevention of child sexual abuse. Religion is a substantial part of
many people’s lives. We discovered in these religious organizations, this issue of child
sexual abuse seemed to be even more unspeakable. People felt it was perceived as
shameful and due to that, something people had to hide. It is considered a terrible act to
commit in most religions, but due to that, it gives off this vibe of shame and
embarrassment for the victims themselves. Hence, if education on child sexual abuse
became part of these organizations, it could help many people feel comfortable enough
to report it and try to prevent it. Many people trust their respective leaders in their
religious community and for many these leaders play a lead role in their lives.
Therefore, if congregants knew that it is acceptable to talk about such an issue, they
may use this resource in order to prevent this abuse around them. Also, early education
on this for children through their religious organization could help children come forth
with their issues, as would schools and hospitals.
WHY WE THINK THIS IS IMPORTANT
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Community Cafes for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse
Date of Report: June 9, 2014

Child sexual abuse is shockingly prevalent in the US. One in four girls and one
in six boys will have been sexually abused before they reach the age of 18. To make this
concrete, five children in a classroom of 20 is or has been sexually abused. Sandusky’s
victims were was just the tip of the iceberg. Many more children were and are being
sexually abused every day—in our community—and in many other communities across
the country. Realizing the enormity of the problem and also the long term damage that
sexual abuse can cause—in drug and alcohol addiction, sexual promiscuity, mental
health problems, physical ailments, and criminal activity—we knew we had to do
something to engage the community in stopping this injustice against our children. We
also knew that with a problem this big, it would take all of us to make a difference.
Through the café conversations we were able to brainstorm about what resources
currently exist and what still need to be created in order to eliminate child sexual abuse
in our community. We found that the structure of the café process provided a safe and
confidential way for people to discuss sexuality and child sexual abuse, to share
information, and to work toward solutions.
In talking with students, our families, and coworkers, it struck us that if we could
harness all the negative feelings and channel them into constructive dialogue, this
might enable people to face their fears in talking about such a sensitive topic, work
through their discomfort together, and mobilize themselves into groups that would take
action in their own lives to begin to solve the problem. In the process, we hoped that we
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Community Cafes for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse
Date of Report: June 9, 2014

could find a way to heal our own hurt and anger and use it to fuel new ideas and
constructive action. In our own way, we envisioned that we as a community might be
able to actually change the statistics on child sexual abuse, and even become a model
community for the rest of the country.
We believe that this process needs to continue in our community and needs to be
introduced into other communities, in order to get the conversation started on
informing people about child sexual abuse. We learned throughout the cafes that
people had a lot of questions about child sexual abuse that this process helped to
answer, and that people had a lot of ideas on how we could prevent this from
happening in the future. We also learned that this process helped people feel
empowered and helped them cope with the idea of child sexual abuse. This was made
evident when we asked people to describe their feelings with one word at the end of the
cafes on our surveys. The figure below shows this data of what people said in all the
cafes totaled. As can be seen, this process helped the participants in many ways, all of
them being positive. This is why we believe this process needs to continue expanding
and this issue needs to continue being addressed.
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Community Cafes for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse
Date of Report: June 9, 2014

Feelings of participants taken from surveys collected at the end of each café

CONCLUSIONS AND TAKE HOME MESSAGES
 People want to do something about the problem of child sexual abuse—ideally
to prevent it—but often don’t have the knowledge or resources to address the
problem.
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Community Cafes for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse
Date of Report: June 9, 2014

 People expressed a relief that they could discuss the subject of child sexual
abuse openly and constructively in the cafes.
 People felt that education was the key to prevention—education of parents
and grandparents in ways to talk to their children and grandchildren about
their feelings, their bodies, and privacy issues.
 People felt that the primary place for sexuality education should be the home,
and that it should begin early, but that parents may need help with how to
approach the subject in developmentally appropriate ways.
 People felt that schools have an important role to play in continuing the
education of children about their developing sexuality, responsibility, respect,
and privacy.
 People felt that hospitals and medical professionals should help with
educational opportunities for new parents, possibly with the creation of a
“parenting center” where classes for various developmental stages can be
housed and accessible at low cost to all families.
 People felt that religious organizations should take responsibility for child
protection, as well as these other groups, and to cover important issues of trust,
privacy, respect in teaching children about the spiritual aspects of their lives as
sexual beings.
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Community Cafes for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse
Date of Report: June 9, 2014

 People at each café expressed feelings of satisfaction, empowerment, and
hope, as well as the enjoyment of getting to know previously unfamiliar
members of the community. Many expressed the desire to continue the cafes
and shared other topics of interest that they wanted to strategize about in the
future in this enjoyable format for tackling tough issues.

This report, as well as photos, artistic renderings, and conversation threads from each
café can be found at:
www.cafe.defendachild.org
Additional resources:
1. List of age-appropriate books about sexuality to read aloud with children:
www.cafe.defendachild.org/children-s-books
2. Red Flag Behaviors Signaling Possible Abusers
http://bit.ly/15GmORe
3. Model Parenting Center at Children’s Hospital, New Orleans
www.chnola.org/parentingcenter
4. Religious education curricula including human sexuality
www.uua.org/re/owl/
http://www.cfchildren.org/child-protection/talking-about-touching.aspx