Dear Friends and Family,
April is National Child Abuse Awareness Month.
Child abuse awareness and prevention is a cause that is very dear to me. I am asking now for your help in preventing abuse. The easiest way to do that is to raise awareness. By choosing to wear a blue ribbon, you are choosing to take a stand against the hurt that so many children are forced to suffer.
Who knows? By wearing a ribbon, you may be preventing the hurt a child may endure. Someone will ask you the purpose of the ribbon, and by sharing a piece of knowledge you may inspire something wonderful. A parent, about to verbally or physically lash out at a child, will remember the ribbon and stop to think. A neighbor or friend, suspecting a case of abuse, may decide to interfere—perhaps saving a life.
So what happens if someone asks you about your ribbon? Share a piece of knowledge. A fact. A simple way for us to prevent abuse to an innocent child.
The following information regarding childhood sexual abuse is published by the organization Darkness to Light (darkness2light.org). I would ask you to take the time to look over the information. Put it into practice. Memorize a few key facts to share with those around you. By talking about it, we can prevent it, spread awareness, and begin to eliminate abuse. Forward this email to everyone you know--tell the world you are taking a stand and invite others to join you.
7 Steps to Protecting Our Children
Learn the facts and understand the risks.
Realities – not trust – should influence your decisions regarding children.
It is highly likely that you know a child who has been or is being abused.
◆ Experts estimate that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before their 18th birthdays. This means that in any classroom or neighborhood full of children, there are children who are silently bearing the burden of sexual abuse.
◆ 1 in 5 children are sexually solicited while on the Internet.
◆ Nearly 70% of all reported sexual assaults (including assaults on adults) occur to children ages 17 and under.
◆ The median age for reported sexual abuse is 9 years old.
◆ Approximately 20% of the victims of sexual abuse are under age eight.
◆ 50% of all victims of forcible sodomy, sexual assault with an object, and forcible fondling are under age twelve.
◆ Most child victims never report the abuse.
◆ Sexually abused children who keep it a secret or who “tell” and are not believed are at greater risk than the general population for psychological, emotional, social, and physical problems, often lasting into adulthood.
It is also likely that you know an abuser.
The greatest risk to children doesn’t come from strangers but from friends and family.
◆ 30-40% of children are abused by family members.
◆ As many as 60% are abused by people the family trusts—abusers frequently try to
form a trusting relationship with parents.
◆ Nearly 40% are abused by older or larger children.
◆ People who abuse children look and act just like everyone else. In fact, they often go out of their way to appear trustworthy to gain access to children.
◆ Those who sexually abuse children are drawn to settings where they can gain easy access to children, such as sports leagues, faith centers, clubs, and schools. Consequences to children and to our society begin immediately. Child sexual abuse is a direct source of a number of problems facing us.
◆ 70-80% of sexual abuse survivors report excessive drug and alcohol use.
◆ One study showed that among male survivors, 50% have suicidal thoughts and more than 20% attempt suicide.
◆ Young girls who are sexually abused are more likely to develop eating disorders as adolescents.
◆ More than 60% of teen first pregnancies are preceded by experiences of molestation, rape or attempted rape. The average age of the offenders is 27 years old.
◆ Approximately 40% of sex offenders report sexual abuse as children.
◆ Both males and females who have been sexually abused are more likely to engage in prostitution.
◆ Approximately 70% of sexual offenders of children have between 1 and 9 victims; 20-25% have 10 to 40 victims.
◆ Serial child molesters may have as many as 400 victims in their lifetimes.
If you eliminate or reduce one-adult/one-child situations, you’ll dramatically lower the risk of sexual abuse for children.
More than 80% of sexual abuse cases occur in one-adult/one-child situations.
Reduce the risk. Protect children.
◆ Understand that abusers often become friendly with potential victims and their families, enjoying family activities, earning trust, and gaining time alone with children.
◆ Think carefully about the safety of any one-adult/one-child situations. Choose group situations when possible.
◆ Think carefully about the safety of situations in which older youth have access to younger children. Make sure that multiple adults are present who can supervise.
◆ Set an example by personally avoiding one-adult/one-child situations with children other than your own.
◆ Monitor children’s Internet use. Offenders use the Internet to lure children into physical contact.
◆ Create and lobby for policies reducing or eliminating one-adult/one-child situations in all youth-serving organizations, such as faith groups, sports teams, and school clubs. These policies should ensure that all activities can be interrupted and observed.
◆ Talk with program administrators about the supervision of older youth who have responsibility for the care of children.
◆ Insist on screenings that include criminal background checks, personal interviews, and professional recommendations for all adults who serve children. Avoid programs that do not use ALL of these methods.
◆ Insist that youth-serving organizations train their staff and volunteers to prevent, recognize, and react responsibly to child sexual abuse.
◆ Ensure that youth-serving organizations have policies for dealing with suspicious situations
and reports of abuse.
One-on-one time with a trusted adult is healthy and valuable for a child. It builds self-esteem and deepens relationships. There are things you can do to protect children when you want them to have time alone with another adult.
◆ Drop in unexpectedly when the child is alone with any adult, even trusted family members.
◆ Make sure outings are observable, if not by you, then by others.
◆ Ask the adult about the specifics of the planned activities before the child leaves your care. Notice the adult’s ability to be specific.
◆ Talk with the child when he or she returns. Notice the child’s mood and whether the child can tell you with confidence how the time was spent.
◆ Find a way to tell the adults who care for children that you and the child are educated about child sexual abuse. Be that direct.
Talk about it.
Children often keep abuse a secret, but barriers can be broken down by talking openly about it.
Understand why children are afraid to “tell.”
◆ The abuser shames the child, points out that the child let it happen, or tells the child that his or her parents will be angry.
◆ The abuser is often manipulative and may try to confuse the child about what is right and wrong.
◆ The abuser sometimes threatens the child or a family member.
◆ Some children who do not initially disclose abuse are ashamed to tell when it happens again.
◆ Children are afraid of disappointing their parents and disrupting the family.
◆ Some children are too young to understand.
◆ Many abusers tell children the abuse is “okay” or a “game.”
Know how children communicate.
◆ Children who disclose sexual abuse often tell a trusted adult other than a parent. For this reason, training for people who work with children is especially important.
◆ Children may tell “parts” of what happened or pretend it happened to someone else to gauge adult reaction.
◆ Children will often “shut down” and refuse to tell more if you respond emotionally or negatively.
Talk openly with children.
Good communication may decrease a child’s vulnerability to sexual abuse and increase the likelihood that the child will tell you if abuse has occurred.
◆ Teach your children about their bodies, about what abuse is, and, when age-appropriate, about sex. Teach them words that help them discuss sex comfortably with you.
◆ Model caring for your own body, and teach children how to care for theirs.
◆ Teach children that it is “against the rules” for adults to act in a sexual way with them and use examples. Teach them what parts of their bodies others should not touch.
◆ Be sure to mention that the abuser might be an adult friend, family member, or older youth.
◆ Teach children not to give out their email addresses, home addresses, or phone numbers while using the Internet.
◆ Start early and talk often. Use everyday opportunities to talk about sexual abuse.
◆ Be proactive. If a child seems uncomfortable, or resistant to being with a particular adult, ask why.
◆ Teach children that it is your responsibility to protect them from sexual abuse.
◆ Teach children you can only protect them if they tell you when something is wrong.
◆ Listen quietly. Children have a hard time telling parents about troubling events.
Talk to other adults about child sexual abuse.
◆ Support and mutual learning occur when you share with another adult.
◆ You raise the consciousness of your community and influence their choices about child safety.
◆ You may be offering support and information to an adult whose child is experiencing abuse, and may not know what to do.
◆ You put potential abusers on notice that you are paying attention.
Don’t expect obvious signs when a child is being sexually abused. Signs are often there but you’ve got to spot them.
Learn the signs.
◆ Physical signs of sexual abuse are not common, although redness, rashes or swelling in the genital area, urinary tract infections, or other such symptoms should be carefully investigated. Also, physical problems associated with anxiety, such as chronic stomach pain or headaches, may occur.
◆ Emotional or behavioral signals are more common. These can run from “too perfect” behavior, to withdrawal and depression, to unexplained anger and rebellion.
◆ Sexual behavior and language that are not age-appropriate can be a red flag.
◆ Be aware that in some children there are no signs whatsoever.
If you find physical signs that you suspect are sexual abuse, have the child physically examined immediately by a professional who specializes in child sexual abuse.
A children’s advocacy center can guide you. To find a center near you, call 1-800-239-9950.
The opportunity to convict a child molester may depend on evidence from an examination.
Make a plan.
Learn where to go, whom to call, and how to react.
If a child breaks an arm or runs a high fever, you know to stay calm and where to seek help because you’ve mentally prepared yourself. Reacting to child sexual abuse is the same. Your reactions have a powerful influence on vulnerable children.
When you react to disclosure with anger or disbelief, the response is often:
◆ The child shuts down.
◆ The child changes his or her story in the face of your anger and disbelief, when, in fact, abuse is actually occurring.
◆ The child changes the account around your questions so future tellings appear to be “coached.” This can be very harmful if the case goes to court.
◆ The child feels even guiltier.
Very few reported incidents are false.
Think through your response before you suspect abuse. You’ll be able to respond in a more supportive manner.
◆ Believe the child and make sure the child knows it.
◆ Thank the child for telling you and praise the child’s courage.
◆ Encourage the child to talk but don’t ask leading questions about details. Asking about details can alter the child’s memory of events. If you must ask questions to keep the child talking, ask open-ended ones like “what happened next?”
◆ Seek the help of a professional who is trained to interview the child about sexual abuse. Professional guidance could be critical to the child’s healing and to any criminal prosecution.
◆ Assure the child that it’s your responsibility to protect him or her and that you’ll do all you can.
◆ Report or take action in all cases of suspected abuse, both inside and outside the immediate family.
◆ Don’t panic. Sexually abused children who receive support and psychological help can and do heal.
Child sexual abuse is a crime.
Know the legal requirements for reporting:
◆ All 50 states require that professionals who work with children report reasonable suspicions of child abuse. Some states require that anyone with suspicions report it. Information about each state’s requirements is available at the National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect.
◆ If you are a professional who works with children, (e.g., a teacher, a nurse) there are special procedures and reporting requirements you must follow. Your employer should provide mandated reporting training.
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. Many of those who sexually abuse children have multiple victims.
You may be faced with a situation where you suspect abuse but don’t have any proof. Suspicions are scary, but trust your instincts. Have the courage to report the suspected abuse.
What if I’m not sure?
Where do I go?
◆ Child Abuse Helplines have staff specifically trained to deal with questions about suspected child sexual abuse. Call Darkness to Light’s helpline, 1-866-FOR-LIGHT to be routed to resources in your community, or call the Childhelp USA National Child Abuse Hotline, 1-800-4-A-CHILD.
◆ Children’s Advocacy Centers coordinate all the professionals (legal, social services, medical) involved in a case. If you’re unsure about whether to make an official report or just need support, contact a children’s advocacy center. The staff will help you evaluate your suspicions and your next steps. To find a center near you, contact The National Children’s Alliance at www.nca-online.org or 1-800-239-9950.
◆ Local Community Agencies, such as local hotlines, United Way offices, or rape crisis centers can often help.
◆ Talk to the child’s parents (as long as they are not the abusers) and provide educational materials, such as this booklet. If the parents seem indifferent or unlikely to take action, call one of the recommended sources.
Know the agencies that handle reports of abuse.
Two agencies handle most reports of child abuse.
◆ Child Protective Services (in some states this agency has a different name)
◆ Law Enforcement: Some states designate Child Protective Services as the agency that accepts reports of suspected child abuse. Others designate law enforcement. Some do not designate or designate both. Many states have tollfree lines that accept reports of abuse from the entire state. To find out where to make a report in your state, identify the Child Abuse Reporting Numbers at The National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect website, http://nccanch.acf.hhs.gov/topics/reporting/guidelines.cfm.
If the legal system does not provide adequate protection for a child, visit the National Center for Victims of Crime at www.ncvc.org or call 1-800-FYI-CALL for referral information.
These resources can help you if you are unsure of whether abuse has occurred, but they do not substitute for making an official report. Remember that you may be a mandated reporter in your state and you may be the only source of protection for that child.
Volunteer and financially support organization that fight the tragedy of child sexual abuse.
Get involved by donating your time and resources to support organizations such as these:
◆ Prevention programs
◆ Children’s advocacy centers
◆ Crisis information and referral services
◆ Rape crisis centers
Use your voice and your vote to make your community a safer place for children.
◆Ask that schools and organizations in your community have child sexual abuse prevention policies, and help with their creation. Ask other adults to do the same.
◆Bring Darkness to Light’s Stewards of Children prevention program to your community.
◆Support legislation that protects children. Visit www.darkness2light.org for legislative information.
◆ Demand that the government put more resources into protecting children from sexual abuse and into responding to reports of sexual abuse.
◆Call and write your members of Congress.
◆ Write letters to your newspaper.
BREAK THE CYCLE OF SILENCE.
There are 39 million survivors of child sexual abuse in America today.
Let the healing and the prevention begin today.
Will you join with me in the fight against child abuse? Will you commit to wearing a ribbon during the month of April, and invite your friends and family to do the same? Together we can make a huge difference.
Thank you for your support!
If you or someone you know is a victim of child abuse, there is hope. Contact Childhelp USA National Child Abuse Hotline, 1-800-4-A-CHILD and get the help you need to begin healing.