Do Something!

If you've ever thought something should be done about child sex abuse—consider this:

"I wondered why somebody didn't do something.
Then I realized…I am somebody!"

All child abuse, especially childhood sexual abuse, is so disturbing that we tend to want to keep it out of our conscious awareness. Periodically, the news explodes with a story of child abuse, then quiets down—until the next big story comes along. We shake our heads and wonder how it could happen. How can adults be so cruel to innocent children? But what do we actually DO about it?

For many years, one of the most articulate spokespersons in raising awareness of this issue has been Marilyn Van Derbur Atler, who is a former Miss America who was sexually abused by her father for many years while she was growing up. She makes a passionate plea that we do more than sit by and watch as we hear of case after case; she urges us to become informed about the issue of child sex abuse. (The quote at the top of this article is one she uses in her effort to reach out to people to encourage all of us to "do something.")

Our first thought may be that we don't know what to do. Well, the first step is to raise our awareness of the problem and become more educated about it. We need to open our eyes and deal directly with the reality of what's happening. Marilyn points out that by using terms like "molested," we fail to acknowledge the horror faced by so many children—and that we need to confront the fact that she (and many others) are not "molested;" they're "raped, torn open."

One of the reasons we might try to ignore or deny the full reality of childhood sexual abuse is because we find it so fearful—and most of us (especially parents and grandparents) just want it to "go away" and never touch our lives. We want to bury our heads in the sand when we really need to do just the opposite; we need to never forget for a moment that this is happening to thousands of helpless children—and that it could happen to ANY child.

I encourage you to begin by getting some background information in order to gain perspective on this issue. Reading (or re-reading) my article on Preventing Child Sexual Abuse could be a good start. It's a long article that needs to be read thoroughly and carefully, especially taking note of the concluding section titled: "What You Can Do—As a Parent."

Parents alone can't keep children safe; they need "backup" protection from friends, relatives, teachers, counselors, doctors, and the clergy. To some degree, our children are the responsibility of all of us. Therefore, all of us need to be tuned in to the kinds of indicators of abuse that are listed in the above article aimed at parents. Any actions, of course, need to respect the parents' role as the first line of defense.

For instance, if you think a child is at risk, check out your perception with someone else who is in a position to observe the child's behavior. (Don't restrict this "checking out" only to other adults; an older child could also be a good source.) You can also speak about your concerns to a professional trained in dealing with abuse issues and ask their guidance. And, of course, you can develop a trusting relationship with the child so they feel they can talk to you about anything and that you're available to listen. (But don't approach someone else's child with leading questions.)

Teachers have a unique opportunity to see the child on a regular basis outside the home environment—which may give them a more accurate perception of the child's ongoing emotional state, so other concerned adults might check their own perceptions with those of the child's teacher.

In broadening your information and acting on your sense of responsibility, you can now check online for lists of sex offenders that became available as a result of "Megan's Law." Just do a search for "registered sex offenders" to begin the process that will allow you to check by zip code to see if registered sex offenders live in a specific area. (In my own state of California, there is a separate website for the list of California sex offenders, instantly available free of charge.)

Whatever you do, do something. We can't wait for someone else to take responsibility for protecting our children. I hope you use this as a "wake-up call" to become informed and involved in addressing this issue—for the sake of the children as well as for the good of society as a whole.

To learn more (plus extensive guidelines for parents), see Preventing Child Sexual Abuse.
Also see: The Pain from Secrecy about Sexual Issues: A Call to Action.

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