Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Darkness to Light: Child Sexual Abuse Prevention

This will be a difficult post to read. The subject matter is absolutely awful. No one wants to think about sexual abuse to children. It's easier to shut our eyes and pretend that it doesn't exist. But I can also tell you that it does exist, and it exists with much more prevalence than many of us realize--the number of sex abuse cases that cross my desk is absolutely mind boggling.

Experts estimate that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before their 18th birthday. Keep in mind that these numbers only account for reported instances of sex abuse

I'm beginning to become more and more convinced that this is something that needs to be at the forefront of our thoughts. I recently went to a sexual abuse training put on by an organization called Darkness to Light. They are a great organization that puts on education classes about child sexual abuse. I would HIGHLY, HIGHLY recommend that churches, schools, and basically any organization that deals with children look into having them come and make a presentation.

I'm going to include some of the information and statistics that I learned in the presentation here in this post, along with a few of my own comments. I hope that you'll take the time to read the post, but if not, I hope you'll visit the Darkness to Light website and review their 7 Steps For Preventing Child Sex Abuse.

7 Steps For Preventing Child Sex Abuse.

Step 1: Learn the facts about sex abuse and understand the risks.

Nearly 70% of all reported sexual assaults (including assaults on adults) occur to children ages 17 and under.

The median age for reported sexual abuse is 9 years old.

Approximately 20% of the victims of sexual abuse are under age 8.

30-40% of children who have experienced sexual abuse were abused by family members; up to 60% were abused by someone that the family trusts. In more than 90% of sexual abuse cases, the victim knew the perpetrator. People who abuse children look and act just like everyone else. In fact, they often go out of their way to appear trustworthy to gain access to children. Adults who sexually abuse children may seek out settings where they can gain easy access to children such as sports leagues, faith centers, clubs, and schools.

Often, the abuser is abusing more than one child: 70% of sexual offenders of children have between 1-9 victims. 20-25% have 10 to 40 victims. It’s rare for sexual abuse to “stop” at one victim, especially if the abuser didn’t receive any consequences from his or her actions.

40% of sexual offenders report sexual abuse as children.

Step 2: Minimize opportunity.

More than 80% of sexual abuse cases occur in one adult/one child situations. Understand that abusers often become friendly with potential victims and their families, earning trust, and gaining alone time with children. Remember that sometimes abuse can happen by an older family member or friend. Minimize one-adult/one-child interactions with children other than your own, and also minimize one-on-one child interactions. If your child is left alone with any adult (even trusted family members) attempt to drop in unexpectedly.

Step 3: Talk About It.

It is staggering to me the number of children who will tell you that they’ve attempted to disclose sex abuse to their parents or that their parents should have known the abuse was occuring, but from the parent’s perspective, the children had never told them anything about sexual abuse and they had no idea it was happening. Also keep in mind that there is a lot of shame involved with sexual abuse. Children who have been sexually abused are often worried about disappointing their families—as their abuser is many times a family member or close friend. Some children may not understand what is happening to them, and others have been told by their abusers that it is “okay” or a “game”.

One study showed that fewer than 30% of parents ever discussed sexual abuse with their children. Talk openly and specifically with your children about their bodies, and where adults should and should not touch. Tell children that it is always okay to talk to you if they’re being hurt, even if it’s by a family member or friend.

Step 4: Stay Alert.

Don’t expect obvious signs when a child is being sexually abused. Physical signs of sexual abuse are not common—emotional behaviors are much more common. Emotional cues can range from “perfectionism” to depression, anger, and rebellion. For some children, there are not signs whatsoever, which is why Step 3 is so vital.

Step 5: Make a Plan.

Learn where to go, whom to call, and how to react. It is absolutely crucial not to react to a disclosure with anger or disbelief. The child could interpret anger at them, and disbelief at what they are saying, rather than anger and disbelief about the situation. Less than 1% of sexual abuse disclosures from children are false. Seek help of a professional who is trained to interview the child about sexual abuse. Assure the child that you believe them, that it’s your responsibility to protect them, and that you will do all you can. Make reports to law enforcement and/or Child Protective Services. If you’re unsure whether or not it’s necessary to make a legal report, contact a local Children’s Advocacy Center. To find one in your community, contact The National Children’s Alliance at 1-800-239-9950.

Step 6: Act on Suspicions.

Sometimes, you may have a suspicion of abuse, but not any “proof”. Thankfully, in most states you can report to Child Welfare if you even have a reason to suspect abuse or neglect. It is Child Welfare’s responsibility to investigate potential abuse, not yours. You can also call Darkness to Light’s helpline at 1-866-FOR-LIGHT or the Childhelp USA National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD.

Think about it—40% of sexual offenders report sexual abuse as children. If someone had taken action when they were children, would they have received the treatment and help that they needed to prevent one of their victims from being abused?

Step 7: Get Involved.

There are countless community organizations designed to help address the issue of child sex abuse. One major issue is simply education—there is still a major denial in our country that sex abuse is the epidemic that it is.

Darkness to Light’s Stewards of Children prevention program discusses many of these steps, and in my community, the trainings are free. Visit www.darkness2light.org for more information.


  1. Well, no one else commented, probably because it's grim as all fuck, but I think this is pretty good information. So... uh... yeah.

  2. Whoa. That is scary. It makes me so sad. But it is good advice. I will remember it- the talking about it is such a good idea. So simple- and yet so important!


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