In Charlevoix County in 2014, thirty people were arrested for Criminal Sexual Conduct, most of these involving child victims. This is more than were charged with delivery of marijuana, breaking and entering, assault and retail fraud. More people were charged with Criminal Sexual Conduct than for possession of cocaine, heroin, ecstasy and methamphetamine combined.
The number of arrests are frightening but even worse is the fact that experts estimate that 1 in 10 children are sexually abused before their 18th birthday. Youth are 2½ times more likely to be sexually assaulted than adults. Nationally children are victims in 2/3 of all sexual offenses reported to law enforcement.
Michigan’s child protection law labels certain occupations as “mandated reporters” who are obligated to contact police or the Department of Human Services when they suspect abuse of a child, but the reality is that if we are going to combat sexual abuse against children, we all need to be involved.
While no one sign means that a child was sexually abused, there are certain behaviors that may be indicative of sexual abuse.
These include nightmares or other unexplained sleep problems, regression such as bed wetting or thumb sucking, sudden changes in eating habits, sudden mood swings, new or unusual fears of certain people or places, refusing to talk about a secret shared with an adult or older child, seeming distracted or distant at odd times, exhibiting adult-like sexual behaviors or knowledge and leaving clues that seem likely to provoke a discussion about sexual issues.
If you see the indicators of sexual abuse in a child, don’t ignore them. Report your concerns to the police or to the Michigan Department of Human Services at 855-444-3911. They will take your concerns seriously and will investigate.
If a child initiates a discussion with you about sexual abuse or hints at it, it is important not to respond emotionally or negatively as the child may shut down.
Listen calmly and lovingly, not asking leading questions or interrogating, but asking open ended questions, not rushing. Affirm that the child has not done anything wrong and that they are courageous to talk about it. Follow up the discussion immediately by contacting the police or the Michigan Department of Human Services.
In 90% of sexual abuse cases, the child and the child’s family know and trust the abuser. As frightening as it may be, many abusers often become friendly with potential victims and families, earning trust and gaining time alone with children.
Therefore it is important to spot the signs that a certain adult may be a risk to children. Do they make others uncomfortable by ignoring social cues about personal or sexual limits and boundaries? Do they have a “special” child friend, maybe a different one from year to year? Do they spend most of their spare time with children and have little interest in spending time with adults?
Do they insist on hugging, kissing, wrestling with or otherwise touching a child even when the child doesn’t want the contact? Do they frequently walk in on children while in the bathroom?
These are all warning signs that should cause concern. Do not entrust your children to people who exhibit these behaviors. The most effective tool against child abuse is prevention.
Information for this article was from Darkness to Light (www.d2l.org), the Child Sex abuse Prevention and Protection Center (www.stopitnow.org), the American Psychological Association and the U.S. Department of Justice.