A recent study, performed on behalf of “Lauren’s Kids” this past April, both reveals and confirms some disconcerting sexual abuse data.
Lauren’s Kids, a South Florida 501(c)(3) founded by Lauren Book (a victim of sexual abuse for 6 years), “educates adults and children about sexual abuse prevention through in-school curricula, awareness campaigns and speaking engagements around the country and the world.”
The study’s conclusions confirmed and validated that which those of us who have served as Child Protection Professionals already knew…a staggering percentage of Floridian children admit to having been sexually abused prior to the age of 18. 1 in 3 females and 1 in 5 males surveyed made this admission.
While sexual molestations such as the alleged incidents involving Josh Duggar and former Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, generate significant media interest, the majority of incidents that occur go unreported. The Sachs study claims that 59% of females and 47% of males surveyed stated that their molestation/abuse went unreported.
Sexual abuse, which does not require physical contact, leaves the deepest and most mortifying of wounds…wounds that often never heel. Suffering sexual abuse dismantles one’s self-concept and shatters self-esteem. Victims are made to feel a sense of worthlessness…a feeling that often leads to self-injury and/or suicide.
While victims of such abuse desperately require counseling from trained professionals, this study revealed that only 1 in 5 children received counseling to address this trauma.
Lauren Book believes that 95% of childhood sexual abuse is preventable through education and awareness. While that is speculative and subjective, as well as an extraordinarily high number, I am in agreement that a need to educate parents, caregivers and children exists regarding types of abuse, potential for abuse, the need to report and the importance of intervention.
Many years ago, while serving as a Family Services Counselor for the Florida Department of Children and Families, I received instructions to investigate allegations of sexual abuse made by a 17-year-old female. Although I had participated in investigations of childhood sexual abuse so many times before, this particular incident was so troublesome that I recall it to this very day.
Mom greeted me at the door as I arrived unannounced. Reasonably shocked and alarmed by my visit, she allowed me to enter. She chose to sit at where the modular, perpendicular sofa pieces met…ironically pressed into the corner of the couch. This was but the first corner that she would be wedged into that day.
The two parents were raising four daughters, ages 6 to 17…the eldest was not the father’s biological daughter. Nevertheless, mom met her current husband during her pregnancy with this first child and “dad” has been present since the child’s birth…”raising her as his own.”
A day prior to my visit, this eldest child disclosed sexually-inappropriate behavior during a conversation with a friend…allegedly that her step-father had climbed into her bed and fondled her. Additionally, she indicated that this had occurred several times in the past. Her friend subsequently reported the offenses to a school staff member who, as mandated, contacted the Florida Abuse Hotline.
It was now my burden to interview the 3 other siblings and to share this horrific information with an unknowing and uninformed mother.
Over two decades later, I regretfully recall mom’s harrowing expression…the desolation in her eyes…her diminished posture…the emptiness of a woman now needing to choose between a husband of 16 years and her first born.
As part of our safety plan, dad was asked to temporarily leave the home so as to ensure the safety of the children and to allow for the completion of the investigation. Sadly…and shortly thereafter…I found dad’s vehicle parked after midnight, in the family’s driveway…resulting in the instant removal of all four children.
I have chosen to share this particular investigation so as to illuminate the plight of families struggling with issues relating to childhood sexual abuse. Familial sexual abuse isn’t about an incident but rather about the dynamics of the entire family. It breeds secrecy…embarrassment…fear. It crosses all socioeconomic lines.
Numerous studies have revealed that most parents and caregivers prefer to deal with familial sexual abuse internally…keeping their issues within the privacy of their own home. They often feel confident that they can address and resolve the issues, are fearful of shame and ridicule from others, and go to great lengths to avoid judicial involvement. Families often question the credibility of the child.
Additionally, many children have revealed, to me, threats made by perpetrators…threats to kill a family pet…threats to hurt or kill the child…too many threats to even recall and list.
Lauren Book is committed to teaching children how to seek help. She strives to educate the community as to what constitutes childhood sexual abuse. She insists that everyone understand that Florida law requires everyone to report such abuse:
Florida Statute 39.201(1)(c) Any person who knows, or has reasonable cause to suspect, that a child is the victim of childhood sexual abuse or the victim of a known or suspected juvenile sexual offender, as defined in this chapter, shall report such knowledge or suspicion to the department in the manner prescribed in subsection (2).
The Sachs Media Group survey went on divulge that, of the children surveyed, 30% of female respondents and 14% of male respondents indicated that their first sexual experience was forced upon them. Moreover, 34% indicated that the abuse that they suffered was at the hands of a family member or friend. According to the Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public web site (Dru Katrina Sjodin was a 22 year-old University of North Dakota student raped and murdered by a recently released Level 3 registered sex offender) 75% of female rape victims (minors and adults) knew the identity of the offender(s).
With nearly 2 million adolescents in the United States having reported sexual abuse, and an untold number of unreported victims, we owe it to our children to protect them and to expose all known cases of sexual abuse.
For additional information…for purposes of education…to learn how to discuss sexual abuse with your child(ren)…or to search the National Sex Offender registry, please visit the Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Web Site (part of the U.S. Department of Justice) at nsopw.gov. To report abuse, neglect or abandonment of a child in the State of Florida, please call the Florida Abuse Hotline at (800) 96-ABUSE or (800) 962-2873. Florida Statute 39.202(1) states that “all records held by the department concerning reports of child abandonment, abuse, or neglect, including reports made to the central abuse hotline and all records generated as a result of such reports, shall be confidential.”