The conversation on child sexual abuse needs to rise above the fray of individual scandals and focus on national prevention and accountability.
From Josh Duggar to Dennis Hastert, we have seen a stream of high profile child sexual abuse cases in the news lately. At Darkness to Light, we know that this is just the tip of the iceberg – that child sexual abuse is occurring every day in communities across the nation.
The majority of abuse cases go unreported, and without proper intervention and care, can cause lasting harm to children, families, communities, and to our nation. Following high profile incidents, we see communities affected by the abuse come together to respond and heal. We also see national outrage at the perpetrator and anyone else who may have facilitated or overlooked the abuse. What we do not see is increased understanding of child sexual abuse as a national issue.
Years following the Sandusky scandal, there is still intense debate on exactly what Joe Paterno knew and whether he met his obligation to report abuse and protect children. Today, there is heated discussion of Jim Bob Duggar’s role in covering up alleged abuse by his oldest son, Josh. While it is natural to seek answers, we also need to realize that these are not isolated incidents. Child sexual abuse is happening. In homes. In schools. In religious organizations. In wealthy neighborhoods. In poor neighborhoods.
These events highlight a need for national accountability in protecting children. At Darkness to Light, we believe that adults are responsible for keeping children safe from sexual abuse. One in 10 children will be sexually abused before the age of 18, and although attention has been placed on educating children about “stranger danger,” 90% of abused children know their abuser. Frequently, it is someone the family knows and trusts.
National cases like the ones mentioned generally leave us with a sense of helplessness. The problem seems bigger than we can face, and so we take a small amount of comfort in the perception that these incidents are far removed from our lives and experiences. The reality is that you likely know more than one person who has been sexually abused. The good news is that there are simple steps you can take to make your home, your organizations, and your community a safer place for children:
Step 1 – Learn the facts. 1 in 10 children will be sexually abused before the age of 18.
Step 2 – Minimize opportunity. More than 80% of abuse cases happen in isolated, one-on-one situations.
Step 3 – Talk about it. Begin talking to children early and often about topics like body safety and what to do if a situation or person makes them uncomfortable.
Step 4 – Recognize the signs. Emotional issues and behavioral changes are frequently more common than physical indicators directly related to the abuse.
Step 5 – React responsibly. Offer support and immediately report suspicion or discovery of abuse to the authorities.
As a parent or community member, one of the most important actions you can take is to make sure that every youth serving organization in your community has been trained in child sexual abuse prevention and response. These are people who may see hundreds of children on a daily basis. In addition to creating safe environments for children while they are on the grounds, those who work with children can provide an additional avenue of defense by recognizing signs and knowing how to intervene to stop suspicious behaviors or abuse.
There is a critical need for national prevention policy addressing child sexual abuse. Local, state, and national laws should recognize children’s right to be protected from sexual abuse, and require anyone who works with children to understand how to prevent and respond to abuse. At a community level, we can facilitate these changes by learning the steps of prevention and demanding that all youth serving organizations implement education and policies that protect children.
We all play a part in protecting children from sexual abuse. Prevention starts today. Isn’t it time?