Child Sexual Abuse Prevention: Who Are The Funders and Families Backing It?

The news last May that 19 and Counting star Josh Duggar sexually abused multiple girls as a teenager, including his own siblings, rocked the nation. Since the story first broke, it has continued to unfold in disturbing ways.

There was the convenient destroying of Arkansas police reports on Josh Duggar from 2006, and then the Duggar’s response that included an assertion that their rights had been violated because this information got out. Not surprisingly, TLC has now decided to cancel the show for good.

One logical takeaway from this is, of course, that we still have a lot of work to do when it comes to preventing sexual abuse.  There are still numerous people involved in ignoring, minimizing and covering up these crimes. When states are destroying records to protect perpetrators and it takes a television network over two months to decide there’s no way to repair the betrayal and disgust that viewers of their show now feel, it is clear that more needs to be done to stop sexual abuse of children.

Before Josh Duggar, another recent case prompted national discussion and awareness about child sexual abuse—the trial and conviction of former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky. That situation seems to have spurred an increase in funding that is worth looking at.

Joe Paterno was the head coach for football at Penn State when assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was committing sex crimes against children. For a full timeline of the sequence of events, you can go here, but as a cautionary note to sexual abuse survivors, the content on the click-through is hard to stomach.

Suffice to say, Joe Paterno knew what Jerry Sandusky was doing. He tried to get it reported, but he was not successful. Joe Paterno has been widely criticized for not doing more to get the abuse addressed although defenders of Paterno will point out that he did exactly what the policies and laws required him to do.

Shortly after Sandusky’s arrest in 2011, Paterno was fired as the longtime coach of Penn’s football team, a position he’d held since the 1950s. In his exiting statement, he said, “With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I’d done more.” Paterno died of complications from lung cancer on January 22, 2012, only two months after he was fired.

Joe Paterno’s widow, Sue Paterno, seems to have taken his wish that he had done more as a personal call to action. Since 2012, she and other members of the Paterno family have been working with Stop It Now! to develop Circles of Safety for Higher Education, a program to combat child sexual victimization.

With $230,000 in funding from the Paternos, Stop it Now! worked with nearly 150 college staff members from across Pennsylvania’s 14 state university systems, training them in child sexual abuse prevention.  The idea here is that university systems, which are often used as venues for activities and camps for children under 18, are setting a new standard for how to protect children in the community. These 150 staffers then went on to train another 2,000 staff, creating what the university hopes is a safer environment across the system, where children under 18 are less likely to be abused.

The goal of this two-year training effort was to help college staff members recognize the warning signs of sexual abuse of children, and be more aware of what to do in situations that cross boundaries into inappropriate or illegal contact. “If my father had had the training we’re now doing, he’d have known what he was dealing with,” Joe Paternos’ son, Scott Paterno, recently said. Stop it Now! and the Paterno family would like to see this training brought to college campuses across the country.

The Paternos’ resolve to heighten awareness and battle child sexual abuse comes at a good time. In choosing to work with Stop it Now!, the family is adding to the growing momentum of an organization that has been a front runner in pushing education and awareness about child sexual abuse both nationally and internationally.

Stop it Now! has been around since 1992 and was founded by Fran Henry, a child sexual abuse survivor. At that time, very few child sexual abuse prevention programs existed. Since then, Stop it Now! has made great strides in identifying, refining and sharing effective ways to prevent child sexual abuse.

Where has Stop it Now! gotten its funding in the past? One foundation that has been particularly supportive is the Oak Foundation. Founded in 1983, the Oak Foundation is international, with 64 employees in offices in Belize, Bulgaria, India, the U.K., Switzerland, and the U.S. (To apply for funding with the Oak Foundation, you need to first review the Child Abuse program, and send a letter of inquiry.)

The Oak Foundation began funding Stop It Now! in 2008 with two initial grants totaling just over $500,000 for “collaborating to strengthen child sexual abuse prevention efforts in low- and middle-income countries.”

In 2010, a larger grant from the foundation to Stop it Now! took aim at both national and global agendas. With $373,573 over 24 months, the goal of this grant was to “improve the Child Sexual Abuse prevention capacity (e.g. knowledge, prevention tools, strategies, professional connections) of family and child-serving professionals in selected low and middle income countries, and at local and state levels in the U.S.”

In 2013, Stop It Now! received $500,000 from the Oak Foundation “to provide core support to build organisational capacity.” In other words, time to take this program to scale and get this vital information disseminated nationally and globally.

The Oak Foundation has clearly put child abuse high on its funding agenda. Among the other national grant makers with an interest in the issue, based on previous grants:

  • NoVo Foundation, which gave a total of $5 million between 2009 and 2012 to the Ms. Foundation for Women to support a project called Child Sexual Abuse: A Social Justice Prevention Model.
  • Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which gave $500,000 in 2011 to the Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center to “support the Network of Treatment Providers Collaborative Project in expanding mental health treatment for victims of child sexual abuse.”
  • On a smaller scale, the Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center also received $50,000 from the VNA Foundation in 2014 for the purpose of addressing “the critical need for victims of child sexual abuse and their families to access mental health services in a timely manner.”

Much of the funding for child sexual abuse prevention comes from state or regional community foundations such as Meyer Memorial Trust in Oregon, the California Endowment and the New York Community Trust.

Alongside these community foundations, a handful of nationally focused private foundations also cover this ground.

The Paternos provide a good example of how to pick up the pieces and transform a disaster into something valuable for the community that prevents the problem from happening again. Foundations committed to the prevention of child sexual abuse have set the bar high for other funders who, in the wake of the Duggar tragedy, now have the opportunity to step up and do more to keep children safe.

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About Kiersten Marek 22 Articles
Kiersten Marek, LICSW, is a clinical social worker in Rhode Island, and a Senior Editor for Los Angeles-based Inside Philanthropy, where she writes about economic and social philanthropy. Kiersten is also the author of Know Thyself: A Kid's Guide to the Archetypes, an identity development workbook.