In the movie theatre, we are told that “silence is golden.” When it comes to child protection, we cannot and must not be silent.
In the fourth grade, one of my classmates shared with me that her stepfather was touching her inappropriately. As a fourth grader, I could not process what she shared with me. If I had been equipped with the right tools as a child, I could have encouraged her to tell our teacher or another trusted adult or spoke up for her myself. My classmate probably didn’t know what to do and may have felt responsible for being sexually abused. That’s why it’s important that we educate children that they matter and they must not remain silent when faced with sexual abuse or abuse of any kind.
Child sexual abuse is likely the most prevalent health problem children face with the most serious array of consequences. Here are some statistics about child sexual abuse from Darkness to Light: about 1 in 10 children experience child sexual abuse before their 18th birthday; 1 in 5 children is sexually solicited on the internet; the median age for reported sexual abuse is 9 years old; an estimated 42 million survivors of sexual abuse exist in America.
The last statistic regarding the number of sexual abuse survivors is probably higher because this number represents reported cases. Some survivors have chosen to remain silent and will never disclose their sexual abuse to anyone. They will continue to suffer in silence and not heal. We must break the silence!! Silence allows pedophiles to continue to abuse children.
As I have stated in the past, the protection of children is the responsibility if adults.
Why do children remain silent about sexual abuse? If the abuser is someone the child trusts and looks up to, the child especially has difficulty viewing that person in a negative way and instead, is likely to blame him or herself. The child may be fearful of the abuser threatening to harm the child or family if anyone finds out. Younger children may take a long time to understand what happened to them and do not have the language to describe it. Often, children will keep abuse a secret because they don’t think anyone will believe them, they feel embarrassed, or they are afraid to get themselves or others in trouble. When sexual abuse occurs within the family, the child may fear the anger or shame of other family members, or be afraid the family will break up if the secret is told.
How should we respond if a child discloses sexual abuse? Believe them; thank the child for their courage; assure the child that they did the right thing by telling someone; tell the child that he or she is not to blame for the sexual abuse; offer the child protection; seek help for the child so they can begin the healing process.
When a child tells someone about sexual abuse, a supportive, caring response is the first step in helping the child and re-establishing their trust in adults. How an adult reacts to a child reporting sexual abuse is crucial. If they deny the abuse happened, choose to ignore it, or at worst, blame the victim, the abused child is then re-victimized and is often compelled to silence.
We must break the silence!!
Call to Action: If we see something, we must say something as adults and children. Children are depending on us to protect them. Also, we must teach children how to use their voices and speak up. They must speak up for themselves and others that may not be strong enough to use their voice.
For more information on child sexual abuse prevention, please visit the Darkness to Light web site at: www.d2l.org
In his service,
Please feel free to contact Virginia for further information at [email protected]