April is sexual assault awareness month. It’s also child abuse prevention month. With recent news, not just here in PA, but nationwide, being filled with stories about abused and exploited children, I wanted to spend a few minutes to raise awareness to the epidemic issue of childhood sexual abuse.
Current statistics state that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually victimized by the time they turn 18. This means that nearly 25% percent of the American population have been directly affected. Sadly though, most professionals admit that those numbers are low, because we know that fewer actually ever report the abuse. It’s estimated that only 1 in 3 ever tell anyone, and even fewer male individuals ever tell. The average age of men when they tell someone about past abuse for the first time is mid-thirties.
Sadly there are many myths surrounding sexual abuse and even sadder is that many of these myths are the exact things that keep people from telling in the first place
One of the biggest is the Vampire Myth. The idea that if someone is abused, they will go on to abuse someone else. While Hollywood and TV play into this myth on some popular shows, such as CSI, and suggest that 30% of boys who are abused will go on to abuse, studies that have been done show that this number is actually somewhere between 2 and 10%.
Another myth is the “stranger danger” myth. The idea that all or most abuse is carried out by scary men in trench coats with vans who tell children stories of lost puppies or free candy. The reality is that most cases of abuse are actually by someone the child knows personally and trusts. The biggest percentage of that is actually the child’s own parents, then grand-parents, then other immediately family members, then extended family. From there in lessening percentages people from the community that the family and usually the community trusts as well. Statistics show that in only about 10% of the cases is a stranger responsible for sexually assaulting a child.
Another Myth? Only men abuse and only girls are victims. The reality is, perpetrators of sexual abuse can be male or female, come from all ethnic groups, orientations, economic, and social classes. As such all children, regardless of gender or race, or other factors are equally at risk for abuse.
Children who are sexually abused commonly deal with Anxiety, PTSD, Depression, Dissociation, Eating Disorders, Self-Blame, Self-Harm, Substance Abuse, and Suicidal thoughts. This list is not exhaustive. Statistics also show that adult survivors of abuse are more likely to be involved in crime and twice as likely to be arrested for violent offenses. Many struggle with inter-personal relationships and even the divorce rate is higher when a survivor of sexual abuse is involved.
The effects of abuse last a lifetime and effect not just the individual, but all those around them. This isn’t a problem for those who are abused to deal with, but a problem that every individual in society should be taking an active role in solving!
So what can be done? Educate yourself.
- Read up on the statistics, effects, and warning signs of abuse. Knowledge really is power and the more you know, the better of you and potentially children in your life will be.
- Find out the do ‘s and don’ts of responding to someone who may share with you that they were sexually abused or assaulted. Many victims of abuse will tell you that the response they received from those they told was far more damaging than even the abuse itself.
- Prepare to respond. Many adults freeze in the face of suspected sexual abuse. It literally is a make or break moment, because far too often the adult decides a myriad of reasons why not to report suspected abuse rather than protecting a child. Protecting the child should always be priority and as such, figure out what to do if you suspect abuse before the time arrives, so that in the moment, you can do the right thing and spare a child years of abuse.
Below is a list of sites that will help with the learning and education process and some that offer support for those that have experienced abuse and assault.
Advocacy & Education:
National Children’s Alliance: www.nationalchildrensalliance.org
Darkness to Light: www.d2l.org
1 in 6: www.1in6.org
Several extremely informative articles written by Survivor and Activist Robert Brown.
Victim Advocacy & Support:
Pandora’s Aquarium: www.pandys.org
Male Survivor: www.malesurvivor.org
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-799-4889