Keeping children safe and protected from child sexual abuse is EVERYONE’S responsibility.
Claudia C. Kitchens, CEO
In the wake of a series of child sexual abuse scandals — from the Vatican to immigrant detention centers – let’s expand the narrative beyond vilifying the perpetrators to constructive actions we can all take to help prevent abuse that will make for a healthier and safer world.
1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday. Those are the numbers consistently supported by national studies, and yet we are shocked again and again when we hear the horrific stories of child sexual abuse committed by trusted adults and trusted organizations.
Here are the disturbing facts: Seldom is child sexual abuse perpetrated by a stranger lingering around a park or playground – that’s only 10%. A trusted family friend or staff from a trusted institution accounts for about 60% of the child sexual abuse perpetrators. Family members account for the remaining 30% of sexual abuse on innocent child victims.
No longer can we assume that our children are safe when left alone with a family friend, member of the clergy, teacher, doctor, coach or other child-serving professional. At the same time though, we recognize that developing relationships with caring adults is very important in each child’s life. So how do we navigate the wise path confronting this difficult issue which makes so many uncomfortable to discuss or acknowledge?
Fortunately, there are things we can do as individuals—some basic safety steps we can take—to reduce the risk to children. This starts with becoming educated about the issue and knowing that abusers look for opportunities to be around children and in one-on-one situations with children. We need to talk about it openly, and learn about and stay alert to the signs a child is being abused. We tell parents to “trust their gut” if something doesn’t seem right in a situation.
Together, we can raise public awareness, insist that the organizations in which we are involved educate their staffs, have a zero-tolerance policy and when allegations arise they are confronted in the open. Make certain that every child who experiences sexual abuse receives evidence-based, trauma-informed therapy which research demonstrates successfully helps children to heal.
For the past 23 years, Kristi House has been serving sexually abused children with best practice therapies and providing the family with supportive services and advocacy. Many families fall into crisis when a child discloses sexual abuse, so a wide array of help is often needed. For the victim, untreated child sexual abuse has profound, lasting effects on them through adolescence and into adulthood. Research has shown a strong relationship between PTSD, substance abuse, running away, suicide, academic problems and major health problems and child sexual abuse. But we know that these outcomes can be prevented when children receive trauma-informed mental health treatments like those provided every day at Kristi House and at no cost to the families.
Prevention through education is the ultimate solution to ending child sexual abuse. This year, Kristi House trained over 7,500 Miami child-serving professionals, parents, and children in ways to keep children safe, identify strategies to reduce potential abuse opportunities, and in what to do if child abuse is suspected. Additionally, we were in schools across the county training children on how to keep themselves safe.
Kristi House began a major prevention initiative this year that brings personal safety training to children, child-serving professionals, parents and others in schools and the community with a heavy focus on Spanish-speaking audiences. “Child Safety Champions” is a three-year program supported by Florida Blue Foundation to help children stay safe. The program covers all types of child abuse and exploitation, in addition to bullying, cyber dangers and exposures to violence. Delivered as a comprehensive, research-based education program, Kristi House teaches and empowers children and adults to prevent, recognize, and respond to various unsafe situations and resulting child trauma.
There is much to be done, but together we can heal and protect our future.
If you have a question or would like further information, or would like to bring safety training to your school or other venue, contact Dawn Thompson, Chief of Operations, Education & Partnership at (305) 547-6834, or DThompson@kristihouse.org.
Claudia C. Kitchens
Chief Executive Officer