For Carol Carrillo, if there's a silver lining to the horrifying allegations of child abuse at Pennsylvania State University, it's that people are now talking about a difficult issue.
"It raised the awareness of child sexual abuse, and that's pretty important awareness," said Carrillo, executive director of the Child Abuse Prevention Council of Contra Costa County. "With child abuse, most people think that it doesn't happen in their communities, it doesn't happen in their families, it happens out there somewhere else, when indeed it crosses all cultural, racial, economic boundaries."
The Child Abuse Prevention Council, which gets funding from the county and state and through private donations, works with schools and other organizations throughout the county to provide educational outreach, child safety information and training for those state law designates as required to report suspected child abuse.
"Pretty much where parents gather, that's where we like to be," Carrillo said. She hopes the Penn State situation will shine light on the issue of child abuse and make people aware of local resources to help prevent and respond to it.
More than 11,000 children were affected by child abuse in 2010, according to data from Contra Costa Children and Family Services. Of those, 1,063 were victims of sexual abuse. Carrillo says the numbers are likely higher in reality because much abuse goes unreported.
California law requires anyone who comes into contact with children during the course of their job to report suspected abuse to Child Protection Services or the police. That group includes teachers and school employees, law enforcement officials, social workers, physicians and clergy.
"I don't go to my supervisor and say, 'Johnny came to school today and I suspect that something might be happening at home and I'm suspecting that he might not be safe and I'm going to report it,'" Carrillo said. "That principal cannot say, 'don't worry about it, I'll take care of it.' "
Pennsylvania, however, allows those who work with children who suspect abuse to report it to their supervisor, upon whom the obligation to contact authorities then falls. That's what former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno did in 2002 when he was told former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky had molested a boy on campus. Paterno has not been charged with a crime, but two administrators have been charged with lying to a grand jury.
Sandusky has been charged with molesting eight boys over several years but maintains his innocence. Penn State officials have drawn fire for not doing more to stop the alleged abuse.
"It was, 'We'll deal with it within our own community,' " Carrillo said. "They were protecting the adults in that situation and not the children, and they were protecting the reputation of the college."
A pair of California lawmakers introduced legislation last week aimed at preventing another Penn State-like situation. One bill would hold public and private university coaches responsible for reporting sexual abuse; the other would strip nonprofit organizations -- Sandusky founded a nonprofit, Second Mile Foundation, for at-risk youths -- of their tax-exempt status if they are caught hiding, fostering or failing to report child sexual abuse.
Carrillo favors broadening California laws to require more people to report suspected abuse.
"Why not? Why can't we all protect children?" she said. "Why can't we all be required to protect children and to be involved in children's' lives."
"It's important that we raise healthy, emotionally, physically healthy children, because they are our future. I know I want healthy children growing up to be healthy, productive adults in our society."
To learn more about the Child Abuse Prevention Council of Contra Costa County, visit www.capc-coco.org.