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Expert: Shift in Culture Needed to Prevent Child Abuse

by on April 23, 2014 6:00 AM

Everyone from citizens to politicians, need to be part of a shift in culture in order to prevent child abuse in America, according to a well-known expert.

James Hmurovich is CEO and president of Prevent Child Abuse America. He'll be addressing the issue of child abuse during an appearance at Penn State later today.

"The public understands it's an issue, but we haven't been successful as a country to engage people and to stop abuse," he says.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month and Penn State will be hosting an awareness and prevention event at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the HUB Auditorium. Hmurovich will speak during the event which is sponsored by the University Park Undergraduate Association and Penn State's Network on Child Protection and Well-Being.

"Our definition of prevention means that the abuse or neglect never occurs," Hmurovich says. "We know how to do it, we're just not doing it."

Specifically, while the federal government has many programs in place to prevent child abuse, the structure is not connected, Hmurovich says. Additionally, he says those in charge of each separate initiative likely has its own definition for child abuse prevention.

The solution, he says, is to "connect the dots" by creating an integrated, comprehensive strategy for children as well as draft a national definition of prevention. To get there, elected officials need to draft a framework of policies and citizens need to support it, he says.

"If we want to prevent abuse and neglect we ought to be talking about how we ensure on an equal basis the happy and healthy development of every child," says Hmurovich. "People want to help, but they don't think they know what to do to help, so that's an awareness issue."

The responsibility also rests on corporations, Hmurovich says, by recognizing that employees' time with their family can be more important than the bottom line.

"We need corporate leaders to say families are important and our employees have families and they have the right to have time with their families ... maybe we've got to change the way we do business," he says.

Prevention can also occur at a more local level – for example if an adult is shopping at the mall and witnesses a parent aggressively dragging their child, Hmurovich says the adult should consider speaking up in a non-confrontational way.

"Say something that makes them smile, but lets them know they're being watched," he says.

In regards to the Jerry Sandusky, a former Penn State football coach who is now a convicted pedophile, Hmurovich says if something positive did come out of the abuse that received international attention it is that more people are talking about child sexual abuse than ever before.

When it comes to whether Penn State administrators, other employees, players, family members etc., did enough to stop the abuse by Sandusky, Hmurovich says that is less of a legal question and more of a moral question.

"We all have a responsibility that if you see something, say something," he says. "We have an obligation to report it and do something about it. ... I think the lesson that this circumstance taught us is we all have that responsibility.

"It's all in the best interest of the child. ... It can't be about money or the law ... to me the issue is, was everything done in the best of the child?"

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Jennifer Miller is a reporter for She has worked in journalism since 2005. She's covered news at the local, state and national level with an emphasis on crime and local government.
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