Almost 10% of children today are exposed to sexual abuse; from rape, incest, pornography, touching, fondling or sodomy.
According to the Childhelp organization, the most common ages that child sexual abuse acts are committed are ages 7 to 13.
Within child protection systems, these percentages are much higher and the children’s ages are lower when the abuse begins.
As a CASA guardian ad-Litem in Hennepin County, about half of the fifty children in my caseload were sexually abused. After almost 20 years as a County volunteer in child protection, I think it is the most under-reported crime in our nation.
Six million children are reported to child protection agencies in the U.S. each year. About 10% of them receive services. The other 90% are left to fend for themselves.
Child abuse can vary in different forms from physical, sexual, neglect and psychological/emotional abuse. Any type of abuse is difficult for a child to understand and can lead to serious psychological issues later in life such as; an increased feeling of isolation or loneliness, self-medicating habits such as alcohol or drug use, developing coping mechanisms, increased depression or self-destructive behaviors or habits (see www.avahealth.org).
Child sexual abuse victims experience trauma. How they deal with that trauma depends on the help available to them from family and community. Children stuck in abusive homes generally receive no help and can only live through the terror or escape when they are old enough or they have been brutalized so badly that it is reported to police or the media.
One child in my caseload was two years old & two others (all different families) were four when their sex abuse began. One had been prostituted by the time she was six & another beaten severely and repeatedly for four years and suffered lifelong physical injury as a result.
Nationally, the oldest child in a home has been victimized for four years upon entering child protection services.
According to Cathy Spatz Widom, PhD., with Susanne Hiller-Sturmhofel, PhD., “people who lack the proper coping mechanisms (e.g., seeking help from others) to deal with their experiences of childhood victimization and the resulting depression may use alcohol to make themselves feel better. Because alcohol merely covers, rather than cures the problems, the need for alcohol may persist or even increase over time, increasing the risk of developing alcohol abuse or dependence.” (55)
Alcohol abuse can lead a parent or stranger to commit an act of sexual abuse on a child. According to data completed by the Childhelp organization, “children whose parents abuse alcohol and other drugs are three times more likely to be abused and more than four times more likely to be neglected than children from non-abusing families.”
Parental alcohol abuse increases children’s vulnerability to CSA by interfering with the parents ability to provide a supportive, nurturing, and protective environment.” (53)
A powerful lesson about child sex abuse was taught to me by a successful professional friend, when at lunch, he told me of his abuse over 60 years ago. He told no one for over 30 years, when felt that there was something wrong with him that had caused his two divorces and 3 failed business partnerships.
My friend confided that at that time he sought out a therapist and was still seeing him 27 years later.
Child sexual abuse is a life changing trauma that our communities need to identify and offer all the help we can to a normal life possible for the children experiencing this trauma.
Melissa co-wrote this article for KARA. She is a content writer for Saint Jude Retreats, a program for overcoming substance use. In addition to writing for Saint Jude’s she enjoys blogging and health, cooking and women’s issues.