Child sexual abuse is tough to talk about, especially for victims. Their reluctance is what abusers count on to get away with these crimes, sometimes for years.
“Kids know adults don’t like to talk about it, which makes it harder for them to talk about it if it happens to them,” said Joy Chuba, executive director of the Children’s Advocacy Center Osceola, one of 500 such centers in the U.S. devoted to helping abused children.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, which advocates like Chuba use to bring awareness to the issue and help victims come forward.
“Child sex abuse is significantly underreported,” Chuba said. “We don’t really know the scope of the problem.”
The Crimes Against Children Research Center estimates that one in five girls and one in 20 boys are the victims of sexual abuse in the U.S.
What’s worse, 90 percent of abusers are known to their victims and 90 percent of victims don’t show physical signs of sexual abuse, Chuba said.
“It’s tough to wrap your head around,” she said.
These factors make putting abusers behind bars more difficult. While the CAC (Children's Advocacy Center) model is designed so victims can get help, it also increases the likelihood that offenders are prosecuted.
On Tuesday, Chuba gave a tour of the CAC Osceola to community leaders and media to show how it works. Instead of children having to recount their abuse to multiple officials from different agencies in various places, they are brought to the CAC. Law enforcement officers and agents from the Department of Children and Families, along with CAC caseworkers and doctors, work together to investigate and gather evidence in one child-friendly environment.
“It’s a less intimidating atmosphere and minimizes the number of times the child has to tell their story,” Chuba said.
The CAC process help build more solid cases against abusers. Still, children are almost always called on to testify in open court if cases are brought to trial. For many children, testifying is simply too traumatic. For others it’s empowering, Chuba said.
When it comes to preventing sexual abuse, the key, say experts, is being aware of the problem, learning how to talk about it.
“I think it’s a crime that people don’t want to spend much time thinking about because it’s ugly. We have this great tendency to be in denial,” said Jennifer Dritt, executive director of the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence.
One of the most difficult aspects of child sexual abuse, Dritt said, is that abusers are known to their victims more often than not.
“Children are at risk. That’s a fact of life and people we know and love are capable of doing this to children,” she said. I don’t think we’ve figured out how to grapple with that problem in an effective way.”
And there are ways to talk about the issue without scaring children, she said.
“You can help children keep themselves safe to some degree without frightening them,” Dritt said. “Early engagement around the issue is important. And parents have to talk about it among themselves.”
Predators can be teachers, family members, coaches and babysitters. They often “groom” the children they violate, so identifying those behaviors is one of the most effective means of prevention. Behaivors such as inviting the child to do fun activities alone, being a sympathetic listener when parents, friends and others disappoint a child and buying special treats and gifts for a child.
“You want your child to report early,” Dritt said. “And for people who say ‘I would never let this happen to my kid’ it can be hard for them to see the signs because they just don’t want to believe it could happen.”
For more information call the Children’s Advocacy Center Osceola at: 407-518-6936, Ext. 235 or visit www.osceolakids.com.
Children’s advocates: Talking about abuse is key to prevention April 1, 2017 Charlie Reed For the News-Gazette