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Adults' Responsibility in the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse

Child sexual abuse: the hidden epidemic

Child sexual abuse is a hidden but significant problem in every community in America. Experts estimate that one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday. Less than one in ten will tell. Research clearly shows that individuals who are sexually abused as children are far more likely to experience psychological problems often lasting into adulthood, including Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, depression, substance abuse and relationship problems. Child sexual abuse does not recognize region, race, creed, socio-economic status or gender; it crosses all boundaries to impact every community and every person in America.

If child sexual abuse were like most childhood diseases, the prevalence and consequences of it would lead to telethons to raise money for its cure every weekend. But child sexual abuse is one of the last cultural taboos. With the exception of child-focused personal safety programs, almost nothing is being done to address it.

Darkness to Light believes that adults should be taking proactive steps to protect children from this significant risk. It is unrealistic to think that a young child can take responsibility for fending off sexual advances by an adult. Adults are responsible for the safety of children. Adults are the ones who need to prevent, recognize and react responsibly to child sexual abuse. Yet, the statistics clearly show that adults aren’t shouldering this responsibility. Darkness to Light believes that adults just don’t know how.

What adults need to know about child sexual abuse…

  • It happens more than you think. A lot more - one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before their eighteenth birthday.
  • It can happen right under your nose and you may never know - less than one victim in ten will tell.
  • The perpetrators aren’t usually “dirty old men hiding in the bushes” - 34% of those who sexually abuse children are family members. A further 59% are friends and acquaintances of the child and his family.
  • You probably don’t realize how big the problem is - 67% of the victims of all sexual assaults (including adults) are children.
  • And we’re not talking about young teenagers having consensual sex - the median age for sexual abuse is just nine years of age.
  • Child sexual abuse is not just a bad experience. Child sexual abuse wrecks young lives - victims of child sexual abuse are at far greater risk for all sorts of psychological disorders including PTSD, depression, substance abuse and relationship problems, often lasting into adulthood.

The personal pain of child sexual abuse…

  • Adolescents and young adults with a history of childhood abuse are 3 times more likely to become depressed or suicidal as compared to those without such a history. ( Brown, Cohen, Johnson & Smailes, 1999 )
  • Women with histories of childhood abuse report a greater number of physical and psychological problems, and lower ratings of their overall health than their peers. ( Moeller & Bachmann, 1993 )
  • 34% of children who are either physically or sexually abused, and 58% of children who are both physically and sexually abused meet the criteria for Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. ( Ackerman, Newton, McPherson, Jones & Dykman, 1998). Untreated, PTSD is a chronic disorder. The residual emotional, behavioral, cognitive and social symptoms persist and contribute to a host of psychiatric problems through life. ( Ferguson & Horwood, 1998 )
  • Adolescents and adults who are abused in childhood are significantly more likely to drink alcohol and/or use illicit drugs than their peers. Adolescents and adults who were victims of childhood maltreatment have been consistently found to be more likely to engage in high-risk sexual behaviors.

And the cost to us all…

  • A 1996 National Institute of Justice study estimated that each year child sexual abuse in America costs the nation $35 billion
  • Victims of child sexual abuse generally spend more on psychiatric care and medical services throughout their lives. Some victims of child sexual abuse require more expensive special educational services. Child sexual abuse causes lost potential and productivity. These expenses, which would not be necessary if not for sexual abuse, are a financial drain to each and every one of us.

So, what is happening to prevent child sexual abuse

  • Preventing sexual abuse with child-focused programs… There are several well-known and successful programs that teach children self-protection skills and techniques, as age-appropriate. These programs also teach children about physical boundaries and about discerning types of touch. These programs are valuable to children. The skills learned by children in these programs have thwarted some abductions and sexual assaults. However, we must not fall into a trap of thinking that these skills are the only protection children need.
  • Think about it. It is unrealistic to expect a six-year old to fend off sexual advances from an adult relative. A six-year old can’t recognize sexual advances for what they are. And a six-year old has been taught to “mind” adults who are authority figures. It is unrealistic to think that a six-year old can or even should protect himself in this situation.
  • Adults are responsible for the safety of children. We strap children into car seats, we walk children across busy streets and we ask our teenagers questions about where they are going and who they will be with, all to keep them safe. Adults should also be responsible for protecting children from sexual abuse.
  • Why don’t adults do a better job? Child abuse statistics show that adults do not adequately protect children from child sexual abuse. There are a lot of reasons why, but the main one is THEY DON’T KNOW HOW!!!
  • Research suggests that adults are unaware of effective steps they can take to protect their children from sexual abuse. Most do not know how to recognize signs of sexual abuse and many do not know what to do when sexual abuse is discovered.
Read the 7 Steps to Protecting Our Children to learn simple proactive steps to take to be a responsible adult about child sexual abuse.











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