Keeping Our Children Safe from Sexual Abuse
I recently attended an ATSA (Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers) conference in Denver, Colorado in order to increase my knowledge of best practices in developing a comprehensive sex offender program, and the role of prevention and education in increasing public safety. Over the past few decades a tremendous amount of research has been conducted to understand and address this issue and although a lot of progress has been made, there continues to be much more to learn.
Despite headlines that might lead one to believe otherwise, a study issued by the Department of Health and Human Services in 2011, indicates that both the physical and sexual abuse of children have decreased significantly over the past 20 years. The problem is that even with that decline, 6 million children were abused in the United States in 2010, and 9.2% of those children were reported as victims of sexual abuse.
Although a means for tracking known sex offenders, public registries and community notification is not enough to keep children safe. As a matter of fact, placing known sex offenders in situations where they are subjected to rejection, public ridicule and humiliation increases the chance that they will reoffend. That does not mean that the public does not have the right to know that a convicted child molester is living in their community. It is how that information is used that can make a difference in whether or not an individual will reoffend. Unless more resources are dedicated to the treatment of victims and abusers, the management of sex offenders, and the prevention of child sexual abuse through effective education for children and their caregivers, cases of sexual abuse will continue to plague our society.
Research tells us that the majority of children subjected to sexual abuse are victims of family members and/or acquaintances, and not by individuals unknown to the child or his/her family. Research also tells us that not all child molesters are pedophiles. This in and of itself makes protecting our children from sexual abuse all the more difficult. The fact is that about 60% of children who are sexually abused fall prey to what I will call “opportunistic bastards”. These individuals do not have a fetish specifically directed toward children; their fantasies lie in other areas, but are visited upon the most readily available victim.
All child molesters fear exposure and children must be taught to tell if anyone asks them to keep what happens between them a secret. As a society, we have failed miserably in teaching and enforcing age appropriate boundaries, and child molesters are more than happy to take advantage. Sadly, some children never have the opportunity to tell since their abuser’s psychopathology includes willingness, if not desire to kill.
The days of “Stranger Danger” are no longer enough, and neither are posters and educational approaches that give children and their caregivers the false impression that a child molester is a dirty old man in a trench coat, lurking in the bushes. The fact is a child molester cannot be categorized by any physical attribute or “bad” character trait. Many are well known and respected members of the community, well adapted in the art of winning people over and appear to be dedicated to their community and its children and youth.
A big thank you to Vicky for this excellent post!
Please feel free to discuss this very important issue and offer your opinions on how we can all help to protect our children.