Child Sexual Abuse – The Silent, Violent Epidemic

Sexual abuse of children is a topic few people like to think about, but it was the focus of a workshop Saturday in Helena.

Detective Craig Campbell of the Helena Police Department noted that in 2007, the city received 68 reports of child sexual abuse, the county had 17 reports and the state’s Child Protective Services department received 37 accounts.

Some of those reports probably were duplicated, Campbell noted. But an estimated two-thirds of child sexual abuse incidents go unreported, noted Kim Jones, the Friendship Center’s residential therapist.

“Why don’t children tell? This is a difficult one,” Jones said.

She noted that many times, good communication between parents and children is lacking. The perpetrator may have threatened to harm the child, the child’s family or even their pets.

“That’s a big deal; sometimes they do it (hurt the pet) just to show it can happen,” Jones said.

Children might fear that if they say something, they’ll be removed from their home. They might be afraid that no one will believe them. Sometimes they might feel guilty, like they did something wrong and prompted the sexual assault.

“But as many as one in four girls, and one in six boys will have experienced a sexual assault by the time they’re 18,” Jones said, adding that the abuse isn’t always by adults. “Up to one-third of the cases of child sexual abuse are perpetrated by individuals under the age of 18.”

Jones said serious discussions of childhood sexual assaults only began in the United States in the 1970s.

“Prior to that, sexual abuse was kept quiet and was unspeakable,” she said.

By 1995, the American Medical Association had declared it a “silent, violent epidemic” and many of the professionals in the meeting room at the Lewis and Clark County Library Saturday are now trained to watch for and mandated to report any suspected abuse.

Jones said that most of the perpetrators are male, although some are females. They’re usually known and trusted by the victim, and they’re frequently repeat offenders. They can be family members, clergymen, babysitters, teachers, and just about anyone who has close contact with children.

Campbell said 30 to 40 percent of the children are abused by family members, and another 50 percent are abused by someone outside the family who they know.

“Among rape victims younger than 12, 90 percent of the children knew the offender, according to police incident data,” Campbell said, adding that this can make it easier for police to make arrests.

Abusers gain access by paying attention to a child and making them feel special. They take advantage of a child’s natural curiosity, and like to isolate them by involving them in fun activities that they can do alone. They try to be someone a family relies upon.

Campbell said only some victims of child sexual abuse become offenders themselves, but statistics show that 93 percent of convicted child molesters had been molested as a child.

He cautioned parents and others who are told by a child of a sexual assault to limit their questioning until a professional interview can be done. He said a parent’s reaction of shock, horror or disbelief can affect how a child responds to additional questioning. In addition, having to retell and relive the crime numerous times can also be traumatic for a child.

“We want to make it OK to talk about it, but don’t want to make them relieve it over and over again,” Campbell said. “Plus, the more you ask and they tell, the more muddied the story often becomes.”

The Lewis and Clark County Children’s Advocacy Center in Helena has created a facility in which interviews and evaluations can be done in a non-intimidating fashion with children, and recorded so the victim may only have to relate the story once. They work with the police and sheriff’s department, the county attorney, pediatricians and others to try to cover all the issues and needs that might arise in molestation cases.

But if a child does come to a person and reports abuse, Campbell offered some tips on how to respond.

“You can say “I’m glad you told me about that. It’s not your fault. It’s OK to tell. I believe you. I want you to be safe,” Campbell said. “Then what we try to do is have them sit down with someone who is trained to talk to kids.”

Published in: on November 10, 2008 at 8:50 am  Leave a Comment  

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