By Francesco Cesareo, Ph.D
Chair, National Review Board
“We live in a safe neighborhood and have good friends. I don’t believe sexual abuse could happen in this environment”
All too often, parents believe that where they live is the most important determination in preventing child sexual abuse. However, facts say otherwise. April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. In this month, prevention is highlighted and prevention begins with awareness.
People who abuse children often look and act like everyone else. But their behavior can gives us clues if we know what to look for. Offenders often go out of their way to appear trustworthy. They seek out settings where they can gain easy access to children, such as sports leagues, faith centers, clubs and schools. They frequently give children gifts. They allow them to do things parents would not allow them to do, making the child feel complicit in the abuse and therefore less likely to report something. They may spend more time with children then with adults. They often are more excited to be with children. It is also likely that you know an abuser. The greatest risk doesn’t come from strangers but from friends and family. Knowing these behavior clues can keep children safe.
Know the facts about child sexual abuse.
- As many as 60% are abused by people the family trusts.
- Family members abuse 30% to 40% of children who are abused.
- About 75% of child pornography victims are living at home when they are photographed. Parents are often responsible or aware of it.
- Youths are 2.5 times more likely to be raped than adults.
- About 35% of victims are 11 years old or younger.
- 9% of 10-17 year olds receive a sexual request while on the Internet.
- 1 in 5 children are sexually solicited while on the Internet.
- Over 90% of children who are commercially sexually exploited have a history of child abuse.
Sexually abused children who keep it a secret or ‘who tell and are not believed’ are at greater risk than the general population for psychological, emotional, social and physical problems, often lasting into adulthood. It is important to let your children know they can tell you anything. It is just as important to believe them when they tell you the unthinkable.
Responsible adults need to know the facts, recognize the signs of grooming, and educate children about these realities. It is the responsibility of adults to keep children safe.
Francesco Cesareo, Ph.D., is president of Assumption College, Worcester, Massachusetts. He is in his first year as Chairman of the National Review Board, a lay body that collaborates with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to prevent sexual abuse of minors by persons in the service of the Church.