Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Reality of Child Sexual Abuse & Exploitation in the U.S. in the aftermath of the Sandusky Verdict

In light of the Sandusky verdict Tuesday, it might be tempting for us to try to put the entire scandal, the entire hideous thought of what happened in that town behind us. But I’d like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that that was just one case out of thousands. That every day in our country there are thousands of children, thousands of victims, millions of survivors, living out the same terrible life story as Sandusky's victims.
I am not here to debate the sentence, not here to give voice to Sandusky via his statement, not to rehash the case or trial. I am here only to ask what of the others and where do we, as a society, go from here? As Judge John Cleland told Sandusky at his sentencing “The crime is not only what you did to their bodies but to their psyches and their souls and the assault to the well-being of the larger community in which we all live."
“The larger community in which we all live?” Offenders do not offend in a bubble. They do not offend only their victims. It is time for the larger community to see this not as an individual crime, not as a family issue, but as a public safety issue, as a societal ill that every single person can help to eradicate if only… if only they grasp the reality of the problem, if only they are willing to stop turning away at the terrible thought of what is happening to children, if only they will stand up with the person next to them and say, “enough! – I’ve had enough and I am going to do something about it.”
Although the following statisticsare not easy to read, please take this step and learn about child sexual abuse and exploitation. When we open our eyes to the truth we become better educated and can begin to address this societal epidemic and put an end to it.
What is Child Sexual Abuse?
·      Child sex abuse includes body contact, such as kissing and oral, anal, or vaginal sex. Sex abuse can also include “flashing” or showing private parts, forcing children to watch pornography, voyeurism (trying to look at a child’s naked body), pressuring children for sex, having sex in front of children, and exploiting children for pornography or prostitution.
·     “Child-on-child sexual abuse” occurs when a prepubescent child is abused sexually by another child or children. Often, the child perpetrator has been sexually victimized by an adult previously. “Inter-sibling abuse” occurs when one sibling molests his/her own sibling.
How common is it really?
·      In the United States, approximately 1 out of every 4 girls and 1 out of every 6 boys is sexually abused.
·      Approximately 1.3 million children in America are sexually assaulted each year. There are an estimated 60 million survivors of childhood sexual abuse in America.
·      A 2004 study revealed that 9.6% of public school children, accounting for 4.5 million students, have experienced sexual misconduct, from being told sexual jokes to sexual intercourse by educators. Offenders include teachers (18%), coaches (15%), substitute teachers (13%), principals (6%), and student counselors (5%).
How does it affect victims?
·      Sexual abuse, or any kind of abuse, negatively and permanently affects the physical development of a child’s brain. These physical changes result in psychological and emotional problems in adulthood. 
·      Women who were sexually abused as children reported significantly lower SAT test scores than women who were not abused.
Is most abuse reported?
·      Most children do not tell anyone they have been abused, and those who do tell often have to tell several people before any action is taken.
·      It is estimated that less than half of all sexual assaults on children are reported to the police.
·      Children may not reveal sexual abuse because they feel shame or guilt, they worry no one will believe them, they fear being removed from their home, and they or their family may have been threatened. Very young children may not have the language skills to report the abuse or may not understand they are being abused.
·      The generally lower rate for male sex abuse may be largely inaccurate due to underreporting. Because men are traditionally encouraged to be physically strong and competitive, male victims may be more hesitant to report sexual abuse because they feel they are “less of a man.”
Who are the abusers?
·      According to the APA, women are the abusers in about 14% of cases reported among boys and 6% of cases reported among girls.
·      Male offenders who abused girls have an average of 52 victims each. Men who molested boys had an average of 150 victims each.
·      Approximately 23% of reported cases of child sexual abuse are perpetrated by individuals under the age of 18.
·      Approximately 60% of sexual abusers are known to the child but are not family members, such as family friends, babysitters, or neighbors.
·      Approximately 30% of sexual abusers are family members, such as fathers, mothers, brothers, uncles, or cousins.
·      Researchers estimate that 20 million Americans have been victims of parental incest as children.
Child Pornography
·      Child pornography is one of the fastest growing Internet businesses, increasing at an average 150% per year for each of the last 10 years. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) reports that it has reviewed more than 51 million child pornography images and videos.
·      There is a clear link between possession of child pornography and the actual violation of children. The NCMEC estimates that 40% or more of people who possess child pornography also sexually assault children.
·      Of the arrests for the possession of child pornography during 2000-2001 in the U.S., 83% had pornographic materials of children between ages 6 and 12, 39% had material involving children between ages 3 and 5, and 19% had material of toddlers under the age of 3 or infants.
Pedophiles & Child Molesters
·      Not all pedophiles are child molesters, and some child molesters do not meet the clinical definition of a pedophile. Pedophilia is a clinical term that describes a person who has had repeated arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors related to sexual activities with children for at least six months. Pedophiles do not necessarily have to act on their urges. Child molesters have the same attraction to children, but they act on their urges.
·      According to Dr. Herbert Wagemaker, an estimated 4% of the population suffers from sexual attraction toward children.
·      The re-arrest rate for convicted child molesters is 52%.
·      Between 250,000 – 500,000 child molesters reside in the U.S. today.
·      Child molesters come from all backgrounds and social classes. However, most molesters (1) are male, (2) work in an environment surrounded by children, (3) befriend the parents first and then gain the child’s trust, and (4) attend events such as sports, camping, and video arcades.
·      According to the FBI, approximately 1 in 10 men have molested a child, with little chance of being caught (3%). Additionally, the FBI estimates that a child has almost a 25% chance of being molested.
·      The FBI estimates that there is a sex offender living in every square mile in the United States.
While these statistics are alarming, our intent is not to be alarmist. The Monique Burr Foundation for Children works very hard to educate and empower both children and adults through our Speak Up Be Safe™ program and through our community resources like this blog.
It is our hope that the legacy of Jerry Sandusky, for both his victims and for the community at large will be one of “education and empowerment.” Prevent Child Abuse America published a “Call to Action” Tuesday that we hope every American Citizen will read and we are happy to share it!
Every American citizen needs to get involved and act to protect all children whether it affects us personally or not.  All children deserve to be safe from sexual assault and exploitation.  And all adults can either be a part of the problem or a part of the solution. Today, now, you get to make the choice.  Please follow our blog and Facebook page to learn more and become a partner with us to protect all children!  Thank you for your bravery and your dedication!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Identifying, Intervening, Surviving, and Preventing Bullying – The Final Post in a Series: Each of Us Can Write Our Own Story.

So we’ve come to the end of our blog series about bullying. We’ve learned what the different types of bullying are, how the law defines bullying and cyberbullying, what the signs are of someone who is being bullied and someone who may be bullying others. We’ve also learned how to get involved and intervene to stop bullying and things others are doing to prevent it. Finally we’ve given you some additional resources and websites you can visit to learn more about bullying and bullying prevention.

So when it came time to end the series, the question was, how do we end it appropriately? It seemed technology was ever present in bullying, and we were using technology to deliver this message, so technology seemed an appropriate topic to end on.

It’s often hard to even keep up with technology. The terminology even changes frequently… Internet safety, cyber safety, tech safety, digital safety. Kids’ lives include so much technology such as the Internet, cell phones, gaming sites and consoles and more. Sadly, for most adults, our children are far better educated about technology than we are. It feels as though we almost have to become an IT expert to know how to keep up with up with it all. Or we could find and befriend an IT expert or Apple Genius. Either way, adults need to become educated and empowered because the other people who are as educated as our children are the predators.

But looking at this another way, the other benefit we see to adults becoming educated and empowered regarding digital abuse and digital safety is how society would then be able to turn around and use technology for great things, to change the tide and go against predators and offenders. What a great day that would be. Kids could make prevention PSAs and videos and adults could come together to support children. Schools and communities could stand together and make prevention videos and use them as teaching tools; the media could actually present stories of hope, helping one another and reaching out for good causes rather just the doom and gloom we usually see.

One recent example of using technology to do good, a video from a news anchor in Wisconsin that has gone viral. In it, she replies to a viewer’s email she received about her weight, challenging him and also using the opportunity to support others who don’t feel good about themselves and who are being bullied. It’s a great example of technology being used for a great cause. It’s time to see more examples of both adults and children using technology to support others and spread good messages rather than people using technology to do bad or hurtful things. It’s time we all work together to use technology for good. It’s time we all write our own story about how we can get involved and do better. Thank you for joining us for our bullying series, we hope it was educational and helpful.

A final note – October is National Bullying Prevention month and we challenge you to get involved. Here is a calendar with  ideas listed each day (both large and small) of things you can do to stop and prevent bullying. We challenge you to pick at least one thing a week and do it – even better if you do several a week – to help stop and prevent bullying in your own school or community! Come back and tell us what you did, or post on our Facebook page. We’d love to hear from you.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Identifying, Intervening, Surviving, and Preventing Bullying – A Series: Get Involved to Stop Bullying - How You and Others Can Make a Difference!

As we stated in the last post, our goal in this series was to educate and empower parents, students, school staff, and anyone else interested in stopping bullying. Hopefully some of the resources we gave you in the last post will better educate you and give you some ideas if you want to learn more and do more to fight this social epidemic. But we also thought it might be helpful to give you some examples of how people are getting involved to bring awareness and prevention to their own schools and communities.

Kids are getting involved! On Friday, September 24th, more than 700 fifth graders from nine Miami-Dade area schools took a “Victory Against Violence” pledge led by Miami Police Chief Manuel Orosa. The pledge was against violence and bullying at the “Back Without A Bang” Youth Rally Against Violence created by the Do The Right Thing Program. Participants wore “I Took the Pledge” t-shirts and received laminated copies of the pledge. All of the students also signed a giant, 4x8 foot copy of the pledge, which will be sent to Florida Governor Rick Scott.

Law enforcement and education institutions are getting involved! On Saturday, September 15th, Polk County law enforcement agencies teamed up with Polk State College to educate and empower the community on a variety of crime prevention issues, including cyber safety and bullying. The Lakeland Ledger’s Kyle Kennedy stated, “Law enforcement officials highlighted bullying because they said it is considered a public health issue and one of the first forms of violence that many people experience. It can also be a factor in youth suicides.” There was also information on cyberbullying presented in various workshops.  Jay Best, a special agent with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, taught parents that it’s not easy to limit Internet time for preteens because of the necessity of using computers for homework, but that Internet time brings with it serious dangers. “Facebook in particular can be dangerous when used as a tool for harassment among students, or when youth are careless in giving out personal information and pictures to strangers,” officials said.
And businesses and communities are getting involved as well! On Tuesday, September 18th, Bright House Networks teamed up with Seminole County and News 13 to host a Town Hall meeting. Members of the community, especially teens from Lake Howell High School, attended and discussed methods to stop bullying. Later this fall, Lake Howell High will dedicate an entire month to stopping bullying. If you didn’t make it to that forum, News 13 is planning more “Stop the Bullying” town hall meetings around Central Florida throughout the school year, check their community events page for information.

And on October 27th at 9:00 am, at Lake Francis in downtown Madison, Florida there will be a 5K Run, Walk, Roll Against Bullying for the community and all schools including the community college will unite and take a stand against bullying. Businesses, churches and civic organizations in the community will partner to show that no bullying will be tolerated in Madison County.
This is just a very small sample of what people are doing to actively bring awareness to the issue of bullying and to talk about how they and others can stop bullying; however, the important point is that they are doing something. The Bully Project and big, elaborate efforts are important, as are educational programs such as our school curriculum Speak Up Be SafeTM.  It is important that we get our program into every elementary school to teach kids not to bully and prevent bullying before it ever starts.
However, if bullying is already happening or if you're willing to step up, small grassroots efforts in your own school or community are the real projects that will make a difference to the victims, the bystanders and the bullies. One person – you – can make a difference. You can stop bullying; you just have to be willing to get involved!