We wrote an article for the Cook County News Herald about child sexual abuse - if you missed it you can now read and reread it here on the blog!
It is difficult to speak about child sexual abuse for a multitude of reasons, especially if it affects our own lives or the lives of those we care about. It is an issue that makes people extremely uncomfortable, because it hurts to think about anyone harming children. Unfortunately, the reality is that childhood sexual abuse happens in every corner of the United States and it happens here in this community. Studies show that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before the age of 18 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2006). The public often remains unaware of child sexual abuse as a problem because 73% of child victims do not tell anyone about the abuse for at least a year. 45% of victims do not tell anyone for at least 5 years and some never disclose (Smith et al., 2000; Broman-Fulks et al., 2007). And for so many reasons many will never share.
Child sexual abuse is form of child abuse that includes sexual activity with a minor and is illegal. Child sexual abuse does not necessarily need to include sexualized physical contact between someone who perpetrates and a child but can include exposure to sexualized behavior. According to First Witness Child Advocacy Center in Duluth, Minnesota sexual abuse is about power and control. Men who batter are 4-9 times more likely to sexually abuse children in the home. The majority of those who sexually perpetrate are heterosexual males and many have consenting adult partners. Despite prominent stereotypes there is no significant difference in race, ethnicity, religion, or socio-economic status of those who sexually abuse. Childhood sexual abuse most commonly occurs between the ages of 4 and 12 years old and 90% of children are subjected to abuse by someone they know.
Those who choose to sexually perpetrate often groom children. Grooming is a process of targeting and engaging a child in sexual activity. Grooming includes targeting victims such as children that are isolated, have low self-confidence, emotional instability and a lack of supervision. Those who perpetrate work towards gaining the victim’s trust such as pretending to share common interests and experiences. They may analyze a child's needs and develop a plan to meet those needs. They may provide access to valuable items, privileges, or activities typically unavailable or off limits to children. They may provide excessive attention and affection toward the child and their family. Next, they may move towards isolating the child, by creating situations to be alone with child. They may also display inappropriate signs of love. After isolation they may begin sexualizing the relationship and test the child’s boundaries. Finally, they may move towards gaining control over the child such as using secrecy, threats or fear.
TIPS FOR ADULTS
• Pay attention to the children in your life and the people in that child’s life, including family members.
• Trust your intuition.
• Talk to your children, using age appropriate language, about touches they like and touches they don't like and interacting with others.
• Let them know that no one can touch their private parts unless someone is keeping them clean, safe or healthy.
• Get to know your child's teachers, coaches, day care providers, youth group leaders and other significant adults in their lives. Additionally, educate yourself about the policies in place for child protection and screening of adult staff or volunteers.
• Teach your child it is safe to come to you with their problems and concerns.
• Look for patterns of behavior in both suspected perpetrator and victim.
*If you yourself have sexually perpetrated please seek treatment. For more information visit https://mnatsa.org/adult-sexual-offender-treatment-programs/
SIGNS AN ADULT MAY BE GROOMING A CHILD
• They spend most of their spare time with children and do not seem interested in spending time with people their own age.
• They share inappropriate information about themselves with children.
• They ask adult partners to dress or act like a child during sexual activity.
• They provide access to valuable items, privileges, or activities typically unavailable or off limits to children.
IF YOU SUSPECT YOUR CHILD IS BEING GROOMED
• Limit your child's interactions with the suspected individual.
• Call 911 or social services immediately for further action if you discover your child has been sexually victimized.
• Contact Violence Prevention Center for support and information on how to talk to your child about the abuse or to participate in the Safe and Strong Child Program
At the Violence Prevention Center, we have a trained facilitator in the Safe and Strong Child curriculum. Safe and Strong is a developmentally appropriate curriculum for children ages pre-k through 6th grade. This program teaches children about body ownership and body safety. It also provides education for adults on how to talk to children about body ownership and body safety as well as education round sexual abuse. If you are interested in learning more about this program, we are always available to share information.
We can all play a part in creating a culture where sexual abuse is not tolerated. Paying attention to the children in your life could alter the course of a future. If you yourself are unsure how to talk about issues of sexual abuse let us know and we can provide materials to help you learn more. While these conversations can make us uncomfortable, they are so important to talk about, simply sharing fact or posting on social media can make someone think a little deeper about the issue. Our society often dismisses young people because they do not carry enough life experience, but some of the most powerful work you can do is to believe young people and support them in their journey to find healing.