Panel discusses 'Moving Forward,' initiates conference conversation

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- On Sunday, Oct. 28, a free public panel titled “Moving Forward: A Public Conversation on Surviving Child Sexual Abuse,” was held to initiate Penn State’s Child Sexual Abuse Conference, being held through Oct. 30 at the Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel on the University Park campus.

The panel, hosted by the Office of the President and the Penn State Justice Center for Research, consisted of four individuals who shared personal experiences -- three as survivors, all as professionals who help children and families who are victims of abuse and as advocates for children and better child protection laws.

Cindy Christian, a nationally recognized expert on child abuse, serves as the director of Safe Place: The Center for Child Protection and Health at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and was earlier this year named to Pennsylvania's Task Force on Child Protection, a group created by the state’s General Assembly to thoroughly review state laws and procedures governing child protection and the reporting of child abuse. As a panelist she spoke about her work, as moderator for the evening she asked the other panelists to share their stories.

Rep. Louise Williams Bishop represents the 192nd Legislative District, Philadelphia, in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. Sexually abused at the age of 12 by her stepfather, she is an advocate against child sexual abuse as the House Democratic Chair of the Children and Youth Committee. She spoke of her abuse and said that it wasn’t until recently that she told her story. It was hearing other victims share their stories that sparked the memory of her own abuse and inspired her to speak out. She told her story as an adult and said it’s a lot harder for a child to do the same.

“Most children are abused by someone they really love,” Williams Bishop said. “They don’t know that they need to share this secret. As a parent you have to make a point that you have to know your child, study them, know who they are with, if they have been bonding with adult, be close enough feel that as a mother or father that something that doesn’t lay right with your child.”

Margaret Hoelzer is a two-time Olympic swimmer, winning two silver medals and a bronze medal during the 2008 Games in Beijing, China. At the age of 5, she was sexually abused by a friend’s father; she is now a national spokesperson for the National Children's Advocacy Center. She spoke of how the man she knew “groomed” her for the abuse – not only did he gain her trust and respect, he gained her parents’ trust and respect, setting up a scenario where he could be alone with her. She said the advocacy center the police sent her family to when they filed the report against her friend’s father helped her when her parents just weren’t equipped to know what to do.

“People overcome some amazing things and still go on to be successful,” Hoelzer said. “It can be done, I am proof, but the key is I got help and didn’t do it alone.”

Christopher Anderson is the executive director of MaleSurvivor, a 501(c)(3) organization that is committed to preventing, healing and eliminating all forms of sexual victimization of boys and men. A passionate advocate for the rights of survivors of sexual abuse, Anderson joined the organization in 2007 after coming to understand the extent to which the sexual abuse and trauma he suffered as a child profoundly affected his life. Growing up in a tumultuous home, Anderson, who was bullied in school, found friendship in a neighbor who ended up sexually abusing him. It wasn’t until he was in his 30s that he realized the impact the abuse had on his entire life. He said he is working on his healing but that everyone who has abused can.

“I want to stress that it is absolutely possible for every survivor to heal, I know a man who first disclosed it when he was in his 80s and he then cried tears of joy for finally getting rid of the burden after holding it in his whole life,” Anderson said.

Through an extended question-and-answer period, the event encouraged a wider community dialogue about this national problem and the next steps that can be taken to move forward with more informed minds and fully engaged hearts.

To watch a video of the public panel in its entirety, visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SbM-Pd56M2A.

For more information about the Child Sexual Abuse Conference: Traumatic Impact, Prevention, and Intervention, visit http://protectchildren.psu.edu. For more information about the Penn State Justice Center for Research, go to http://www.justicecenter.psu.edu online.

Last Updated October 31, 2012