April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. This is a time to recognize that all of us must be involved in promoting the safety and emotional well-being of children and families in our community.
As I provide presentations throughout Northern Colorado about child abuse and child sexual abuse in particular, I am always struck by the “not in my backyard” attitude so many people seem to have about the issue. We live in a beautiful area where our community members tend to be well-educated, physically active and, despite a challenging economy, luckier than most. So, how can child abuse be occurring in such an idyllic area?
Child sexual abuse operates under a veil of secrecy. It can be inter-generational – something family members take as normal. Child sexual abuse occurs in all economic strata and ethnicities. In 2011, ChildSafe provided services to 613 abused children, their nonoffending family members and adult survivors of childhood abuse from throughout Northern Colorado. The national organization From Darkness to Light states that there are 36 million survivors of child sexual abuse in the United States. National statistics are that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused by the time they are 18. More than 90 percent of abusers are people the children know, love and trust. While the Stranger Danger programs remain important, we need to make sure our children are taught that no one – even those that they know – has a right to touch them inappropriately.
If the unthinkable happens and child sexual abuse does occur, please know our community has an agency dedicated to helping child victims and adult survivors of childhood abuse heal: ChildSafe. We have therapists who are specially trained to work with sexual abuse and other childhood traumas. ChildSafe offers a sliding scale so no one needs to go without help, regardless of the family’s ability to pay. Many families and adult survivors come to us after having tried the “if we don’t talk about it, it won’t affect us” approach. For many victims, ignoring the abuse leads to low self-esteem, depression and an inability to function at their highest possible level. For other untreated victims, it can mean further victimizations, alcohol/substance abuse, school dropout and early, unintended pregnancies.
ChildSafe also offers parenting classes for the special challenges of parenting a traumatized child. Taught by therapists, these classes teach parents how to understand their children’s actions, how to respond appropriately and how to improve the parent/child relationship. Thanks to a grant from the Bohemian Foundation, our clients are able to participate in activities such as outdoor retreats at Red Feather Lakes, equine assisted learning, yoga and a ropes course. These activities are very important to child abuse survivors because of the undeniable link between physical and emotional health.
Let’s rise to the challenge of Child Abuse Prevention Month and do all that we can to protect, love and support these precious lives. Don’t be afraid to report suspected child abuse of any kind. If it isn’t actually occurring, the professionals will make that determination through their investigation. If it is happening, you may have saved a child from further abuse.
Jane Bradley is executive director of ChildSafe.