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Engaging Faith: Practical lesson ideas and activities for Catholic Educators

April 15, 2008

A Scandal of "Great Suffering"

Pope Benedict XVI, on his way to the United States, for his a historic visit spoke of the "shame" of the sexual abuse scandal among priests both in the United States and abroad. "We will absolutely exclude pedophiles from the sacred ministry," he told reporters on his flight to Washington.

Most dioceses have mandated courses on sexual abuse prevention. There are good reasons for teaching adolescents about sexual abuse. Some of these reasons and answers to other important questions on this topic are included in Learning about LIFE Love Infatuation, Friendship, Exploitation: A Family-Based Program on Relationships and Abuse Prevention. They include the following, some or all of which can be shared with your students at yours and your school's discretion:

1. Why should we teach adolescents about sexual abuse?
• So that they will know how to avoid being abused sexually by anyone.
• So that they will know what to do if they have been or are being sexually abused.
• So that they will know how to help a friend who has been or is being sexually abused.
• So that they will never be people who abuse others sexually.
• So that they will never falsely accuse someone of sexual abuse.

2. What is pedophilia?
Pedophilia is a serious psychological problem that causes an adult to be sexually attracted to children and to look for opportunities to do sexual things with them. Adults who abuse children sexually are called pedophiles. Some pedophiles are attracted to boys, some to girls, and some to both. Some have the problem all the time, some only when they are drunk or high or when they are under very great stress.

3. Who might be a sexual abuser?
Children are taught at a young age to be aware of strangers who might do bad things to them. But a sexual abuser is more often not a stranger but someone a child or teen knows and trusts. A sexual abuser might be a:
• family member: mother, father, older brother, or sister
• relative: aunt, uncle, grandparent, cousin
• adult leader: teacher, coach, scout leader, priest, nun
• friend: teenager, neighbor, friend of parents, another child
• stranger: Internet user, neighbor, truck driver

4. How does a pedophile operate? How do young people get pulled into his or her web?
A pedophile is usually a very slick operator. A pedophile is always on the lookout for young people who are vulnerable and who can be used by the pedophile for sexual pleasure. These are some of the things sexual abusers might do to a child or young teenager:
• Try to get the child/teen alone
• Give the child/teen alcohol or other drugs
• Promise to give them presents or privileges
• Build their trust, also their parents’ trust
• Play on their natural curiosity about sex
• Show them sexual pictures, movies, videos
• Take naked or sexual pictures of them
• Touch the child/teen in a sexual way
• Ask the child/teen to touch them in a sexual way
• Force the child/teen to do sexual things (oral sex, intercourse)
• Swear the child/teen to secrecy
• Threaten to hurt the child/teen or someone else if he/she tells
• Tell the child/teen that the sexual abuse is really his/her fault

5. How would a person feel who had been sexually abused?
The response of children or adolescents to sexual abuse is often confusion. They have many negative feelings like shame, embarrassment, guilt, hurt, and betrayal. But they might also have some good feelings. Sexual touch is supposed to be a pleasant experience. The abuser may be gentle and seem to be loving. The victim might believe what the abuser has said to them, and feel special and loved. Sometimes the victim doesn’t realize until much later that they have been lied to and used.

6. Are young teens ever guilty of sexual abuse?
Sometimes young people your age or older do sexual things out of curiosity, in response to peer pressure, to act grown up, to feel powerful, or just for the excitement. I am going to read a list of activities that some teens your age do, things that could be considered sexual exploitation, abuse, or harassment. Raise your hand if you know about kids who have done the thing. Raise your hand high if you know it happens lots, low if you just heard about it once or twice.
• making fun of the sexual areas of someone’s body
• touching, grabbing, or groping the sexual areas
• bullying someone in a sexual way
• pressuring someone into doing sexual things (Saying: “You would if you loved me.”)
• playing sex games at parties
• watching X-rated movies or videos
• gossiping about someone’s sexual activity
• bragging about their own sexual activity with someone
• making fun of someone’s sexual experience or lack of it
• leading a person along just to see how far they will go
• open-mouthed kissing
• having sex (both oral sex and intercourse)

7. What does a person who has been (or is being) sexually abused need to know?
Sexual abuse can cause serious traumatic problems in the life of a person who has been abused. Anyone who has been—or is being—abused, needs to remember these things:
• God loves you very much, and wants you to be healed of the bad effects of this traumatic experience in your life.
• You are a good and lovable person. The person who abused you did a bad thing to you, but that did not make you a bad person.
• It is important that you talk to an adult whom you trust about the abuse. Those who love you can’t help you unless they know what happened. If you tell someone and that person doesn’t believe you, keep telling until you find someone who will listen.
• The sexual abuse is not your fault. An abuser will try to blame you for what happened, but the abuse is the adult’s fault, not yours.
• Sexual abuse is like a serious wound that needs to be healed. The healing might take a long time and much counseling and guidance. Those who love you can help you to get better, but you must let them help.
• If a friend tells you that they are being abused, you must find an adult who can help the friend. This is a problem that is much too big for an adolescent to try to solve.

Say to the students:

As an adolescent, you need to make some serious personal decisions about your own growing sexuality. God and your parents want you to become strong, independent young men and women who can give and receive love honestly and truly. They want you to choose to avoid any activity that is exploitative, or that shows disrespect for yourself or someone else. Your parents can teach you and protect you only so far, then it is up to you. Pray every day— for yourself and for your friends—that you will always respect the beautiful gift of sex and use it only according to God’s plan.

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