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Silent demon too often preys in Pennsylvania

As seen in the Scranton Times.

By Julia Munley

Sadly, allegations of child sexual abuse happen every day and have become something we read about almost daily in our local and national news; it is everywhere, from our churches to our schools and even in our own homes.

Last weekend, this issue was front and center with the Woody Allen/Dylan Farrow abuse story resurfacing 21 years after Farrow’s initial claims of abuse. One of the most shocking things about this story is that the alleged victim has been criticized and belittled by Allen’s PR machine, chiefly by his lawyer, Elkan Abramowitz.

While everyone deserves a defense and the presumption of innocence, including Allen, these attempts to isolate, demonize and subdue claims of child abuse should be excoriated. These very public intimidation tactics will undoubtedly impact other victims and lead to more unreported and untreated child sexual abuse and allow offenders to abuse others.

Like the allegations in the Dylan Farrow case, most child abuse comes from people children and teens trust, including schoolteachers, coaches, priests and family members.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that three of four adolescents who have been sexually assaulted were victimized by someone they knew well. The United States Department of Heath & Human Services Children’s Bureau Child Maltreatment Report 2012 stated that of all the cases of child abuse in the U.S., 9.3 percent were sexual abuse cases. According to that report, of the child abuse cases in Pennsylvania, 66.2 percent were sexual abuse, the highest percentage in the country.

According to the Children’s Assessment Center, the real prevalence of child sexual abuse is not known, because so many victims do not disclose or report their abuse. Although children of all ages, races, ethnicities and economic backgrounds are vulnerable to sexual abuse, the CAC also reports that family structure is the most important risk factor in child sexual abuse.

Children who live with two married biological parents are at low risk for abuse but the risk increases when children live with step-parents or a single parent. Children living without either parent (foster children) are 10 times more likely to be sexually abused than those living with biological parents. Gender is also a major factor in child sexual abuse; girls are five times more likely to be abused than boys.

Most child sexual abusers are men, and may be respected members of the community drawn to settings where they gain easy access to children, such as schools, clubs and churches. They come from all age groups, races, religions and socioeconomic classes. Some may establish a trusting relationship with the victim’s family to gain access to the child.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network provides these behavioral warning signs of child sexual abuse:

  • An increase in nightmares or sleeping difficulties.
  • Withdrawn behavior.
  • Angry outbursts.
  • Depression.
  • Not wanting to be left along with particular individuals.
  • Sexual knowledge, language and/or behaviors that are inappropriate for the child’s age.

According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, child sexual abuse has been reported up to 80,000 times per year. Studies by the Crimes Against Children Research Center found that children are most vulnerable to child sexual abuse between the ages of 7 and 13 and, over the course of their lifetime, 28 percent of U.S. youth ages 14 to 17 had been sexually victimized.

How can you protect your child from sexual assault?

The problem needs to be identified and the abuse stopped quickly. The best time to talk to your child about sexual abuse is now. Talk to your child about sexuality and sexual abuse in age-appropriate terms. If you talk openly and directly, it teaches a child that it is OK to talk to you when they have questions.

Be involved in your child’s life. Ask questions about their activities, both in school and after school. If they are involved in sports, go to games and practices to get to know the coaches and other parents. Get to know their friends and their friends’ parents.

Most importantly, let your child know they can come to you if they have questions or if someone is making them feel uncomfortable. When you empower your child to say no to unwanted touches and teach them that they can come to you with questions and concerns, you take critical steps in preventing child sexual abuse.

If a child discloses abuse, it is critical to stay calm, listen carefully and never blame the child. Reassure the child of your support and call for help immediately.

Call local authorities or the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-444-4435. If you need immediate assistance, call 911. Many communities, including Scranton, also have local Children’s Advocacy Centers that offer coordinated support services to victims of child sexual abuse. The Scranton Center can be found at

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