In honor of Child Abuse Prevention Month, I am ending the month on another article. I will list books at the end of the article to read for more information.
This article is something we don’t want to talk about, see, or really even hear about. Most of us will give a news article a few moments of horrific thought and then go on with our lives. We say it can’t happen to us. We will sometimes put blame on the victims. Well I am here to tell you WE ARE ALL VICITMS!
Child sexual abuse isn’t just about the child who was abused. Please don’t misunderstand this. I do not mean to minimize the trauma that has happened to them. They are the biggest and most important victim in this crime. But each and every one of us are also victims. We may have had it happen in our own families. We may have a friend who was a victim. Maybe you live near someone who has been or is being sexually abused. The numbers are staggering.
I personally have a child and grandchild that was sexually assaulted. I have a friend that was sexually abused by a family member. This has affected my direct family. It has damaged parent/child relationships and sibling relationships. It has made me angry, confused, sad, embarrassed, ashamed, guilty, fearful, and overwhelmed. I am a different person from who I was before I knew about the abuse. My other children have been affected by this. Their relationships with their own families has been changed. All of those people now have a different reaction to others. It goes on and on.
Before the age of 18:
- 1 out of 4 girls will be sexually assaulted
- 1 out of 6 boys will be sexually assaulted
- Nearly 70% of all sexual assault reports are children 17 and under
- More than 90% of abusers are people the children know, love and trust
- Young victims often don’t recognize the abuse and victimization
- Children who are sexually abused that keep it a secret or who “tell” and are not believed are at greater risk for psychological, emotional, social, and physical problems lasting into adulthood
- The way a victim’s family responds to the sexual abuse plays an important and lasting role in how the incident affects the child.
- An estimated 42 million survivors of childhood sexual abuse exist in America today
Child sexual abuse is a taboo subject in our society still today. There are feelings of shame, fear, and embarrassment surrounding it. Often there is disbelief, disgust, and accusatory comments, looks, or actions toward the abused and their families. We are all taught from a young age about our “private” parts. We are taught to listen and mind adults. It is assumed that all family members and friends are trustworthy. We often expect our children to let these people touch them and hug them. This is not to say don’t hug family members etc. It is simply a fact that it helps an abuser.
Child sexual abusers are in our families and friend circles. They are our neighbors. They are coaches, teachers, store workers, daycare workers, etc. We certainly can’t distrust everyone we or our children come in contact with, but we do need to be more observant and questioning.
More importantly, we need to believe the child immediately when they find the courage to tell. We need to be understanding and let them know that none of this is their fault. We need to be able to discuss the freely and openly. A child learns from a very young age to read their parents and other adults emotions through physical signs such as their facial expressions, their body movements, and their words. We must be able to react with love and understanding.
Of course this is much easier said than done. Society has placed such a stigma on this topic that we don’t want to talk about it. We must banish this taboo around the subject and openly talk about it with each other and with the initial victims. When a child is sexually abused, it affects the entire family. The abuser could even be another family member. We feel guilty that we didn’t protect the child. We feel shame and embarrassment that a family member or close friend is an abuser. Child sexual abuse is such a horrific thing that we find it hard to “believe” and accept. It brings out feelings of confusion and anger. We feel alone in the face of it. We are afraid to hear about it, even if it is not in our direct family.
We need to bring this discussion out in the open. As a society, we need to recognize that it exists. We need to understand that all the emotions this crime elicits are normal and ok. We need to accept what the child and family are going through.
Once we do know, we question what we should do. Should we report it or keep quiet? Should we talk about if with the child or leave them alone? Should we take the child to therapy right away? How do we turn in another member of our family? What if reporting it brings unwanted attention? Maybe CPS gets involved or the legal system.
Each person and family have to make these “tough” decisions. Be mindful and accepting of that. If a family chooses the legal journey, know that it is a hard road and often re-victimizes those involved. Be supportive and respectful not judgmental. Remember, they didn’t think it would ever happen to them until it did.
There are many organizations that are out there to help. Reach out to them. Suggest them to your friend going through this. Become a member. Donate your time or money to one you can believe in. Speak out about child sexual abuse. Listen to someone that needs to talk freely about their experience. Help to change our justice system. Join an organization to help the children and the families. Be an advocate.
Below are just a few of the organizations that you can find information and help. You will also find a few books. These are stories of abuse. Many are hard to read. They have graphic descriptions. We must read and learn of the problem to be able to begin helping and healing.
For every victim, there is a survivor.
As always I ask for your comments and thoughts.