Protecting Children from Sexual Abuse

On June 22, 2012, former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was convicted of 45 charges of child sex abuse. The scandal has devastated the local Penn State community and dominated national news headlines for months. Shockingly, it appears “Sandusky had used the charity he founded for troubled children to cultivate relationships with boys he could molest” (Joel Achenbach, The Washington Post, June 22).

You might ask, “How does this happen? This man was a trusted member of the community and was well-respected and praised for his achievements. How could we have missed this? How can we stop this from happening again?!” Well, you have made your first step in finding a solution: becoming informed. This article includes many resources for you to become more informed of the problem and to help raise awareness so that change may be affected and justice administered.

Whether you are aware of it or not, it is quite likely that you know a child who has been or is being abused. The statistics are devastating:

  • Experts estimate that one in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before their 18th birthday.
  • One in five children are sexually solicited while on the Internet.
  • Nearly 70% of all reported sexual assaults occur to children ages 17 and under.
  • As many as 93% of abusers are family members, friends, or other close, trusted individuals.
  • 70-80% of sexual abuse survivors report excessive drug and alcohol use. They are also more likely to develop eating disorders, have suicidal thoughts, and even attempt suicide.
  • Approximately 40% of sex offenders report sexual abuse as children.
  • One survey showed that fewer than 30% of parents have ever discussed sexual abuse with their children. And even then, most failed to mention that the abuser might be an adult friend or family member.

(All statistics from the Heath Evans Foundation (www.heathevans.org) and Darkness to Light (www.d2l.org)

It is critical to become informed about the issue in order to protect children vulnerable to sexual abuse. Darkness to Light (D2L) is an excellent resource to learn more about the crisis of child sex abuse. D2L exists to raise awareness, administer justice, and implement prevention. Their mission is “to empower people to prevent child sexual abuse,” in hopes that child sexual abuse can be ended. On their website (www.d2l.org), the organization offers seven primary steps to protecting children from sexual abuse.

“Learn the Facts and Understand the Risks – Realities, not trust, should influence your decisions regarding children.”

There are offenders out there and your child or a child that you know could become a victim! Denial and ignorance only propagate the problem. Abuse thrives in an atmosphere of confusion, naiveté and fear. Childhood sexual abuse can happen in any community and across all demographics. Keep in mind that most child victims never report the abuse because they are afraid and unsure. These children are at high risk for psychological, emotional, social and physical problems, often lasting into adulthood. Offenders will go to great lengths to gain your trust and brainwash your child. Abusers frequently try to form a trusting relationship with parents. They may appear to act just like anyone else, but in fact, they are often going out of their way to appear trustworthy to gain access to children. Do not become paranoid, but be aware: pedophiles are drawn to settings where they can gain easy access to children (i.e. sports leagues, faith centers, clubs, and schools).

“Minimize Opportunity – If you eliminate or reduce one-adult/one-child situations, you’ll dramatically lower the risk of sexual abuse for children.”

Abuse happens mostly when children and adults are in one-on-one situations. It is not going overboard to request your child is only in group settings if it can protect them from a lurking offender. Ensure all organizations who deal with children have done proper background checks and screening.

“Talk About It – Children often keep abuse secret, but barriers can be broken down by talking openly about it.”

It may be difficult, but you must talk openly about sexual abuse with your child. Make sure your children know that they can trust you and confide in you without fear of anger, punishment or rejection. Create a comfortable environment where you can ask open-ended questions. Have “good touch-bad touch” conversations and reminders regularly. Talk with your child from a young age about their body and which parts are for them alone. Also important, talk among other adults—put them on notice for awareness!

“Stay Alert! – Don’t expect obvious signs when a child is being sexually abused. Signs are often there but you’ve got to spot them.”

You will need to understand that the signs are not always the same or obvious. Be on the alert for some of these warning signs of childhood sexual abuse: excessive bedwetting, withdrawal, unexplained anger and rebellion, genital discomfort, sexual behavior and language above their age-awareness level, reluctance to go to a certain adult’s home, and self-harm. Physical signs will be much less noticeable. It is the emotional or behavioral signals that must be more carefully observed. If you sense something might be wrong, do not ignore it. Follow up on your intuition and pursue your suspicions. A child, possibly your child, is worth it!

“Make A Plan – Learn where to go, whom to call, and how to react.”

You will want to be preventive rather than reactive. Make sure you know how you will respond so you do not over-react in front of your child—that can be even more frightening for him and make him feel blame/guilt when he should not. Crucial is that they know they are safe and loved. There are two primary agencies which handle reports of child abuse: child protective services and law enforcement. The Child Welfare Information Gateway provides information about each state’s requirements and who to make a report to (www.childwelfare.gov). To find a children’s advocacy center near you contact the National Children’s Alliance (http://www.nationalchildrensalliance.org; www.nca-online.org; or call 1-800-239-9950).

“Act on Suspicions – The future well-being of a child is at stake.”

By acting on suspicions of child sexual abuse, you will save not only one child, but perhaps countless others. It is the duty of the adult to protect the child. Now you may be faced with a situation where you suspect but do not have proof. Suspicions may be scary, but you cannot afford to ignore the possibility. So trust your intuition and be spiritually sensitive. Stand up for the child who is not able to stand up for and protect themselves. Have the courage to report the suspected abuse. If you are unsure of where to go, start by calling a Child Abuse Helpline: Darkness to Light’s helpline (1-866-FOR-LIGHT) or the Child-Help USA National Child Abuse Hotline (1-800-4-A-CHILD).

“Get Involved – Volunteer and financially support organizations that fight the tragedy of child sexual abuse.”

Make sure your youth leagues, church groups, and schools all do background checks. Work to be sure your state enacts legislation that protects children and punishes abusers. Make sure places you frequent with your children are “kid safe”—keeping them out in the open and not alone with adults. Use your voice and your vote to make your community a safer place for children.

Here are more resources on how you can obtain further information and become involved in the cause:

Be assured that God cares deeply for these children. His heart breaks and cries out in agony at the violence and oppression. He hates the abuse, exploitation, and injustice. And He will make all wrongs right. He will win in the end and bring righteous judgment to all. In the meantime, He is calling you to make a difference. He has sent you “to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed” (Isaiah 61:1b). For those who do not care for their own, the Bible says they have denied the true faith and become worse than unbelievers (1Timothy 5:8). In fact, anyone who would cause or allow one child to come to harm or be led into sin would be better off “to be thrown into the sea with a millstone hung around [their] neck” (Luke 17:2). You know what is right. So do it. Do not silence you ears to the cries of the hurting. A child is weeping in anguish for somebody, anybody, to come his or her rescue. Will you hear? Will you listen? “No, O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

 

Finley can be reached at: [email protected]

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