Hidden in plain sight — SCAN’s response to increased institutional child abuse across Northern Virginia 

February 2, 2024

Written by Leah Fraley, CEO, Stop Child Abuse Now (SCAN) of Northern Virginia

It’s a parent’s worst nightmare. Your child goes to swim camp, basketball practice, or school, and is abused by the very adults trusted to keep them safe.

These are the stories you heard just last week as the former Board President of an Arlington youth swim club and an Arlington basketball coach have been charged with child sexual abuse and exploitation.

But for child advocates, it’s a story we hear every day. 1 in 10 adults say that as a child, they were sexually harassed or abused by an employee of a school. And that’s just what we know. 86% of child sexual abuse goes unreported altogether.

This is a silent epidemic in every community in Northern Virginia. For every case that becomes a headline, there are countless survivors who never get justice, are never taken seriously, or never feel safe enough to even come forward. Our children deserve better.

They deserve to go to basketball practice and be safe. To be protected by laws that put them first, by hiring practices that screen out unsuitable adults, by policies and codes of conduct that set healthy boundaries, and by a culture that puts child safety before adults and the organization’s reputation.

When will we stop waiting for the next headline? Where there is one victim, there are countless in the shadows. And where there is one abuser, there is an organizational culture failing every child. This is institutional abuse. It’s not a new story, and it can be prevented.

For years we’ve tried to protect children using the same tools. It’s time to try a new way. A survivor once said, “Do we blame the alligator — or the person who keeps feeding it children?” We must take this more seriously. Our children cannot wait.

Stop Child Abuse Now (SCAN) of Northern Virginia has been standing up for children for 35 years. We’ve trained thousands of professionals to recognize and respond to abuse, but it’s not enough. Today, we’re operating the only dedicated Institutional Abuse Prevention program in the state because solutions need to be more effective.

Gone are the days of settling for training teachers and coaches or mandating reporting and expecting that to prevent abuse or make an organization safer. That’s a part of the plan, but not enough on its own. To truly transform organizations into safe spaces, we must be comprehensive in our approach — doing the most the law allows, rather than the least it requires.

At SCAN, we’re not waiting for the next headline, because our children need us now. To learn more about our work with organizations, or how you can support prevention, visit scanva.org/iap.