In May, a bomb dropped. One of the most watched and talked about television families, the Duggar’s of 19 Kids and Counting fame, were in the public eye, not because they had decided to add another baby to their brood, but because one of their babies, when he was a teenager, had inappropriate sexual contact with some of their other babies and at least one child that was not their blood. Due to the strict moral code the family purported to adhere too, the world was swift to react. The Duggar’s, no strangers to scrutiny, were and are in over their head. Without question, they mishandled the situation when it happened and are not doing a much better job of it now. But here’s the thing. They are not the only ones to find themselves in this situation and casting stones gets us nowhere. Prevention begins to happen when we understand the problem and understand our legal and moral responsibilities of the problem. We will explore this complex issue through this five part blog series. STEP ONE: We educate ourselves about child sexual abuse. This is a topic that people often want to shy away from but statistics tell us that would be an unwise choice. One out of four girls and one out of six boys are sexually abused before they reach the age of 18 (Browne, A & Finklehor, D. (1986). Impact of child sexual abuse: A review of the research, Psychological Bulletin, 99, 66-77). These are only the reported cases. We know that this is a vastly underreported crime, so we know our numbers are larger than this. Clearly, we know it is happening but what is “it”? In its simplest form, child sexual abuse is any activity that happens to a child (someone under the age of 18) that is for the sexual gratification of the offender. However, it’s important to understand what activities fall under this:
- Asking a child to touch their own private parts
- Asking a child to touch the private parts of the offender
- Asking the child to view or take off their clothes to view or touch private parts
- Exposing the child to pornography
- Talking to the child in a sexually explicit way
- Having any kind of sex with a child
Understanding this definition is not enough. We also have to be able to identify it. Contrary to popular culture, children are not just running around telling everyone they have been abused. In fact, disclosures are very difficult for children for many reasons. Therefore, we have to know that if we see any of the following that we should begin to be thinking child sexual abuse is a possibility:
- Sexual knowledge that is beyond what is appropriate for the child.
- Persistent sexual play with other children, self, toys and/or pets.
- Unexplained changes in behavior. Changes in behavior can be related to other issues such as bullying, family illness, and divorce. However, society rarely considers child sexual abuse as well.
If you see or hear about these things, they shouldn’t be ignored. They shouldn’t be dismissed as misunderstandings or kids-being-kids. They should be seen for what they are – a sign that something bigger is going on. And ignoring that sign doesn’t do anyone any good. Just ask the Duggars. COMING UP: PART 2 – WHO DOES THIS CRIME?
Written by: Valerie Craig, Co-Founder and Director of Education