This is the first post in a three-part series focused on ways parents* can serve as powerful allies in efforts to address and prevent child sexual abuse. This post offers background information on the problem and people who sexually abuse children.
A first step in addressing child sexual abuse is learning about it. Media coverage and depictions of child sexual abuse are not always accurate or representative of reality – it’s important we have solid facts and research. A recent national survey found that almost 43% of women who experienced rape at some point in their life said it happened before they turned 18. For male survivors, over a quarter experienced a rape before the age of 10. Child sexual abuse is a national problem that impacts kids and their families.
A person sexually abuses a child when they manipulate that child into witnessing or taking part in a sexual act. Almost 93% of abusers know and are trusted by the child they abuse. Sexual abuse can be contact or non-contact (such as watching pornography). People who abuse children will often push non-contact boundaries before engaging in contact sexual abuse. Often these individuals are adult men who would identify themselves as “straight” or heterosexual. People who sexually abuse children look for families and kids that are vulnerable, are more likely not to report abuse or disclose to anyone, and to whom they have access.
This does not mean parents and adults need to be afraid or hyper-vigilant. We do – however – need to take a different look at how we’ve traditionally viewed this problem. Here are a few things to get us started:
• Personal safety lessons are not enough. “No-Go-Tell” and “Stranger Danger” programs focus on kids stopping abuse or reporting it after it happens. As the anti-sexual violence movement learns more about prevention, we know that proactive programs focus on adults in a child’s life: parents, teachers, and health care providers to name a few.
• Check school and after-school organizational policies. Every staff member should have a background check and child abuse clearance, regardless of the level of contact they have with students or children. For example, facilities maintenance workers, external consultants or presenters, or bus drivers.
• Trust your instincts. We will often ignore that nagging feeling to avoid making things awkward. Whether it’s an adult who constantly wants to be alone with a child or someone who doesn’t respect a child’s hug refusal, we need to start putting kids first. Find ways to speak up. Practice with a friend or loved one and find the right words.
We will be focusing on these more as the series continues, sharing resources, tips, and tools.
It’s also important to remember New Jersey requires everyone who suspects or knows about child abuse to report it to the State Central Registry at 1-877 NJ ABUSE (1-877-652-2873). A hotline operator will take your report and provide information on next steps and resources.
Stay tuned for the next post in this series: Ways parents and caring adults can respond to children who have experienced abuse. We will offer some language and tools to support parents in having difficult – but very important – conversations with children and teens.
*We use “parents” throughout this and future posts to describe caring adults who serve as a child’s primary caregiver. The relationship can be biological, legal, social, or emotional. NJCASA recognizes and celebrates the many ways people define “family” and their role within a family.