Prevention Corner: Childhood Sexual Abuse: Why it Matters and What We Can Do to Prevent It

Aug 21st, 1970

Summer Torres, MCASA, Program Coordinator (Underserved Populations)   We don’t want to talk about it. It is much too horrifying for our minds and hearts to handle. We push it under the rug, we keep it hidden for generations. We tell ourselves, with false conviction and genuine denial, this doesn’t happen in my family. This doesn’t happen to my children. This hasn’t happened to me. We are lying to ourselves. Nearly 1 in 6 men and nearly 1 in 4 women were sexually abused as children.[1] 58% of children are sexually abused by a family member or acquaintance with only 7% being abuse by a stranger.[2] 33% percent of children are sexuality abused by other juveniles, such as family members, friends, and classmates.[3] Those who have experienced sexual assault in their childhood are 13.7 times more likely to experience rape or attempted rape in their first year of college.[4] 26% of childhood sexual abuse occurs between the ages of 12 to 14 years of age, and 34% occurs at the age of 9 or younger.[5] The effects of childhood sexual abuse spans from the initial trauma well into adulthood. The effects are devastating and can alter a person’s life well beyond their control. Common side effects in child and adolescents are low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, flashbacks, regressive behaviors (such as bed wetting or thumb sucking), trouble in school, distrust, sexually reactive behavior (in the form of sexual experimentation with peers), self-injury, aggression, nightmares, and physical ailments such as headaches and digestive issues.[6] Child survivors may feel intense fear, guilt, and overwhelming shame over their abuse. For many survivors, the abuse is their first introduction to physical intimacy. For some, a physical response to stimulation (and in some cases an orgasm) leads to shame, self-blame, and the feeling that their body has betrayed them. As adults, these effects can still have influence over their life and present in destructive consequences such as drug and alcohol abuse, suicidal ideation, depression, eating disorders, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and in some cases criminal behavior.  According to the study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, compared to young men with no history of childhood sexual abuse, male survivors were five times more likely to cause teen pregnancy, three times more likely to have multiple sexual partners and two times more likely to have unprotected sex.[7] These statistics tell us with shocking clarity that childhood sexual abuse is an epidemic in this county, one which must be addressed. The effects of childhood sexual abuse do not only effect the survivor and their loved ones, but society as well. When so many of those who are most innocent are abused and left silenced, how can we as a culture claim to be healthy? Fortunately, there are national and statewide programs exist to eradicate sexual violence from the lives of our children. Nationally, organizations such as the National Center for Missing & Exploited ChildrenStop It Now!, and Darkness to Light fight to end childhood sexual abuse and promote prevention, outreach, and education to children and adults. Darkness of Light has its own prevention training, Stewards of Children, which is a nationally available program “that increases knowledge, improves attitudes, and changes child protective behaviors. That it offers practical prevention training with a conversational, real-world approach”.[8] In some states (not in Maryland) the introduction of “Erin’s Law” requires all public schools in the states where it has passed to provide age-appropriate sexual abuse and assault awareness and prevention education in grades pre-kindergarten through 12th, along with training school staff and parents on the prevention of sexual abuse[9]. More information regarding the introduction of Erin’s Law in Maryland can be found in “From Silence to Strength: The Passing of Erin’s Law” from the Frontline, Fall 2014 Issue. Within Maryland, the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MCASA), provides trainings to organization, institutions, and agencies who are looking to learn more about childhood sexual abuse prevention. Issues addressed in our trainings can include red flags of grooming behaviors by offenders, sexual assault warning signs, and how to comply with Maryland reporting laws. Trainings can also be co-presented with an attorney from MCASA’s Sexual Assault Legal Institute (SALI). In addition, MCASA, with the support the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, has developed a Maryland-specific on-line training for counselors, teachers and others working with children.  This training, Preventing, Identifying, and Reporting Child Sexual Abuse in Maryland,  provides education about the effects of child sexual abuse, prevention techniques, and Maryland-specific mandatory reporting requirements. MCASA is pleased to offer this new tool and looks forward to continuing to work with the community to stop sexual abuse of children. [1] Center for Disease Control, “Adverse Childhood Experiences Survey,” 2013. [2] U.S Department of Justice, “Sexual Assault of Young Children As Reported To Law Enforcement: Victim, Incident, And Offender Characteristics,”2000. [3] U.S Department of Justice, “Sexual Assault of Young Children As Reported To Law Enforcement: Victim, Incident, And Offender Characteristics,”2000. [4] Kevin Lalor & Rosaleen McElvaney, “Child Sexual Abuse, Links to Later Sexual Exploitation/High Risk Sexual Behavior and Prevention/Treatment Programs,” Trauma, Violence and Abuse, 2010. [5] “Child Maltreatment 2012,” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau, 2012. [6] “Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse,” RAINN.org, 2009, https://www.rainn.org/get-info/effects-of-sexual-assault/adult-survivors-of-childhood-sexual-abuse. [7] “Child Sexual Abuse Statistics,” victimsofcrime.org, 2014, http://www.victimsofcrime.org/media/reporting-on-child-sexual-abuse/child-sexual-abuse-statistics. [8] “Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Training,” d2l.org, Last Modified 2013, http://www.d2l.org/site/c.4dICIJOkGcISE/b.6243681/k.86C/Child_Sexual_Abuse_Prevention_Training.htm. [9] ‘Erin’s law,” http://www.erinmerryn.net/erins-law.html.

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