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Protecting Children is Everyone’s Business

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Rita Baker

Executive Director

Pregnancy Center of Central Iowa

Child Sexual Abuse is a type of maltreatment, violation, and exploitation that refers to the involvement of a child in sexual activity to provide sexual gratification or financial benefit to the perpetrator.  It includes contact for sexual purposes, molestation, statutory rape, prostitution, pornography, exposure, incest, or other sexually exploitative activities.  It is basically any sexual activity with a minor, or child.  The abuse may be by an adult, an adolescent, or another older child.

What happens to children during childhood shapes who they become as adults?  Unfortunately, children who live through abuse and violence unnecessarily suffer the ill effects of this trauma for the rest of their lives.

According to statistics, one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn eighteen years old.  Over 58,000 children were sexually abused in 2017.  8.3% of reported child abuse cases were sexual in nature.  These numbers are terrifying, especially when it is taken into consideration that only 30% of sexual assault charges are reported to authorities.

What can those among us who have children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, or other beloved children in our lives do to protect them from the heinous crime of child sexual abuse?  We can certainly educate ourselves to the circumstances and warning signs, train ourselves as to the appropriate way to respond to a victim, and make a firm commitment to reporting any and all possible cases of Child Sexual Abuse to the proper authorities.

Most sex offenders are heterosexual.  Many are married and have children of their own.  Although females offend, 96% of offenders are male.  The vast majority of offenders are known and trusted by the child, or are members of the child’s own family, which makes the abuse even more difficult for a child to deal with.

No group of children is immune from Child Sexual Abuse.  Children of all races and ethnicities can be victims.  Girls are more often the victims of sexual abuse than boys.  Children of all ages can be victims, but the younger the child, the more easily they can be manipulated by the abuser

In many cases a process called “grooming” precedes the actual acts of abuse.  Grooming serves to desensitize children and prepare them to be tricked into accepting the abuse.  Once the abuser has gained the child’s trust and confidence, they use behaviors such as an inappropriate joke, a touch that lingers a little too long, or a kiss to test whether or not the child is likely to tell on them.  If the abuser is satisfied that the child won’t tell, he or she moves on to the next level.

The grooming process takes time, and requires the abuser to interact with the under-aged victim.  An abuser displays warning signs that we all must be aware of, look for, and be cautious about.  An abuser may constantly be around children and actually seem to prefer the company of children to that of adults.  They touch children when it is not necessary, disregard rules of parents and caregivers, behave in a juvenile manner, share secrets with children, or keep mementos and pictures of children.  They also become angry when confronted about their actions, talk about sex around children, show pornography to children, provide drugs or alcohol to children, and give special attention and seek to be alone with a particular child.

To commit Child Sexual Abuse, an offender must have the opportunity to offend, which means having the child alone without other caring adults present.  Caring adults must limit time that children are alone with other adults and diligently watch for warning signs.  Never leave a child with an adult who has not been checked out and approved.

Behavioral warning signs include unexplained changes in sleeping patterns, recurrent nightmares, fear of the dark, crying, complaining for no apparent reason, unexplained fear of adults, or increased dependency on certain adults.  Signs also include use of sexual language, acting out sexual behaviors, creating drawings or writings with a sexual theme, an unexplained drop in grades, or skipping school.  Other signs to watch for are poor hygiene, an overly mature appearance, sexual activity or seductive behavior, increased moodiness, poor self-esteem, excessive bathing, and thoughts of or attempted suicide.  Victims may also exhibit a preference for adult companionship over that of their peers.

Children often do not report abuse because they are afraid.  They are afraid of being blamed, that no one will believe them, or that they will be punished.  They are also afraid of breaking up the family.  If the abuser has threatened harm, the child may be fearful of being harmed or that others will be harmed because of them.

The manner of responding to a child who has been abused is critical.  If a child tells you they do not want to be around a particular adult, ask them, “Why?” in a very calm and loving manner.  Gently, but firmly, pursue the issue until the child gives you a reason.  If a child trusts you enough to tell about being abused, you must always react calmly and lovingly.  Children rarely lie about being abused.  Do not get angry, as that will only reinforce the child’s fear of reporting the abuse.  Tell the child that you are there to help and assure the child that telling was the right thing to do.  Let the child know that you believe them.

The final step that responsible caring adults must take about Child Sexual Abuse is report to the proper authorities.  If you reasonably suspect a child has been abused, it is your duty to protect the child from further harm.  You do not need hard evidence or proof to report.  Even if you protect the one child, if you don’t act, the abuser will continue to prey on new victims.  The only way to stop Child Sexual Abuse is to stop the abuser.

So be aware of warning signs, condition yourself to appropriate responses if a child confides in you, and always report suspected abuse to the authorities who will handle things from that point going forward.  Protecting children is everyone’s business.

Psalm 127: 3

Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a real blessing.

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