Every day we see and hear stories about children being sexually abused; often by a trusted friend, a church member, a coach, etc. It’s an old story that, painfully, we see happen too often. We see situations in which children are used as objects and cast aside as carelessly as one might throw away an empty Coke can — with as little thought to the consequences.
When an individual chooses to sexually abuse a child, that individual interrupts childhood and changes the course of that child’s life in ways that should never happen. There are serious shortterm and longterm consequences of child sexual abuse, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, self-harm, poor self-esteem, sleep disturbances and dissociative and anxiety disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder.
Victims may withdraw from school and social activities and exhibit various learning and behavioral problems. Teenage pregnancy and risky sexual behaviors often appear in adolescence. Sexually abused children experience a variety of losses, including self-esteem and self-worth, trust, normal relationships, control over his or her body, safety and security. They often suffer from nightmares, phobias and regressive behaviors such as bed-wetting and thumb-sucking. Young children who have been sexually abused often engage in precocious sexual activity, as they are more sexually aware than they should be. They are frequently insecure, putting them at risk for further abuse and exploitation.
Everyone would agree that child sexual abuse is wrong and should never happen. We all shake our heads in sorrow and wonder how this could happen in a community that values children. But we do very little to stop these crimes against children, primarily because no one really knows what to do.
The good news is that each person who reads this can make a difference. Ninety percent of children who are sexually abused know, and usually trust, their abuser. Thirty percent of the children are sexually abused by a family member. Sixty percent are sexually abused by someone they know — and that’s where we can make a difference. As a community, we can say that we’re not going to sit idly by and continue to allow children to be victimized and broken. We can work together and learn ways to create an environment that will keep all children safer. We can take action and thwart the individuals who would harm our children by limiting their opportunities to do so.
I’m the director of the Family Support Council, and we provide a free child sexual abuse prevention training called Darkness to Light’s Stewards of Children, which educates adults about how to prevent, recognize and react responsibly to child sexual abuse. It is an evidence-based program and is appropriate for organizations, businesses, churches and individuals who want to protect children.
If you are interested in becoming part of the solution by participating in this training, please contact myself, Mary Smith or Nancy Griffin at the Family Support Council at (706) 272-7919.You can reach me at email@example.com.
We can’t wish it away, but we can work it away.
Holly Rice is executive director of the Family Support Council, which works to prevent child abuse and neglect in Whitfield and Murray counties.