Saturday, June 23, 2012

Sexual Abuse Scandals

If there is any good to come out of the newspaper today, it is that people become more aware of sexual abuse.

Three stories sadden me to no end, each story related to child sexual abuse.  The links I could find below are slightly different from those in the Kansas City Star today (June 23, 2012):

Unless you have been living in the wilderness without any connection to the outside world, you have heard of the Sandusky trial.  It represents that not all abusers are scary looking men who are unkempt, dirty, undereducated, or any of the number of images that come to mind when thinking what an abuser is supposed to "look" like.  They are typically well groomed, friendly people you would trust. They often abuse many children over many years without getting caught.

The Monsignor case highlights the misconception that authorities always do the right thing.  Authorities, whether they are church officials, police officers, teachers, or any other person, are human. And humans fail sometimes.  Unfortunately it appears that he knew a priest abused children, but allowed him to continue to serve the public and did not notify authorities as he should by law.  I will never know the full story.  Maybe he had so much faith in this man that he could not see clearly.  Maybe he thought he was not a threat or his solution would work.  In any case, he allowed the opportunity for more children to be hurt.  I can see how many of us could be convinced at some level that a problem is less than it is, and turn the other cheek.  Maybe we witness something concerning at the store, but decide that it isn't our business, we are overreacting, or we don't know what is going on and shouldn't get involved.  At what point are we wrong for looking the other way?  If we intervene every time a parent disciplines a child with a harsh word, we certainly will offend some otherwise great parents and possibly cause damage to their healthy family by misunderstanding their discipline and getting authorities involved.  But what if their yelling at a child in public is only a fraction of what will be done in the privacy of their home? It is a slippery slope...

The "In Brief" story from Lawrence (page A7, Kansas City Star, June 23, 2012) of a man being found guilty of raping a 5 year old girl has one sentence that haunts me: "The girl, from Eudora, first accused Walker of abuse in 2010 but recanted."  Does this mean she was subjected to pressure to recant her story? Did her family fear retaliation? Was she abused further after telling the adults she trusted?  I will never know the answers to these questions, but I hope and pray that parents hear the underlying message: believe in your children.  Talk with them openly. Watch for signs of abuse.  Seek help from child abuse experts.

Child abuse is often under-recognized by families and friends, allowing the abuse to continue for months to years before recognition and help for the child.  I have written about recognizing abuse and what to do about it previously.  Most sexual abuse victims know their abuser in some way, and often the families encourage interaction with that person because they trust them.  It is a very difficult thing as a parent to protect our children, because we want them to grow up able to have healthy relationships with others.  They cannot be excluded from sports, scouts, school, religious organizations, visiting friend's homes, and other potential risky places.  We instead need to give them the tools to recognize dangerous situations, feel confident in themselves, and be open to them sharing anything with us.  

Abusers often look for certain traits in kids: lonely, feeling of being unloved.  They groom not only the child, but the parents -- if someone seems "too good to be true" and always offering to help with your child, gives them excessive gifts, or otherwise seems to be getting very close to your child -- be very watchful.  Not all helpful adults are threats, but identifying those who are is important!  

And not all abusers are adults.  Some are other children who are experiencing abuse and are not quite sure how to deal with all of their confused feelings.  Monitor your children with other children.  Don't assume it is just "child's play" if they are being very secretive.  

Look at the lists of warning signs in the picture above from  Sometimes there are other reasons for these signs, but be sure to address the issues if identified, preferably with an abuse expert. 

Abused children have an increased risk of psychological disorders and drug or alcohol dependency. The are also more likely to grow up and abuse more children.  We must stop the cycle.  If you suspect a child is being abused, call the hotline, 1-800-422-4453 (1-800-4-A-Child) from a safe phone.  Be sure the children get help:  not just separating them from the abuser, but also therapy to be sure they appropriately deal with the confusion, pain, and guilt the abuse can cause.  

Stop the cycle.

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