Eating disorders, PTSD, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, teen pregnancy, suicide, prostitution and serial rape all have something in common. They all rear their ugly heads in the lives of victims of childhood sexual abuse. As an NFL player going into my 11th year in the league, one of my goals is to make discussion of childhood sexual abuse a common conversation, and April's Child Abuse Awareness Month is a good time to jack up the conversation.
Nationally, 25 percent of girls will be sexually abused before the age of 18. One in six boys will be sexually abused before age 18. Those statistics are the most conservative you will find; in certain communities, the numbers are much higher. An estimated 39 million in the United States have experienced the shame, guilt, and pain of childhood sexual abuse -- including my own beautiful bride.
Through the pain of my wife's experience and my desire to protect my daughters and the next generation, I started the Heath Evans Foundation with the mission of fostering hope and healing to victims of childhood sexual abuse. We do so through providing free counseling to victims and families in my hometown of West Palm Beach, Florida and my current city of New Orleans. We also accomplish our mission through doing all we can to raise awareness about this silent epidemic. This year, we launched ImAVictim.com as a way for anonymous victims to break their silence and tell their story -- many for the first time. The stories will break your heart. They'll also make you realize that we need to bring this problem out in the open -- both to provide solace and healing to victims and to create an atmosphere where perpetrators are exposed and fully prosecuted.
Raising this uncommon conversation to a larger public level will also inform a larger percentage of parents, youth workers, teachers and the general public about the warning signs that a young person may have endured sexual abuse. Rarely is a child or young person able to immediately share such an experience with an adult, because of both the physical and emotional trauma and the conniving of a shrewd perpetrator. Fortunately (and sadly) some common signs often signal that a child has been victimized. Making the public aware of those signs can get a child the help they desperately need sooner rather than later. I often make the analogy that a child who has been sexually abused is very much like a person who has been cut deeply. If the wound is quickly cleaned, stitched, bandaged, and attended, there will still be a scar but the wound will heal and the long-term effects will be minimized. However, if the wound is not treated, the wound will fester, the scar will be more pronounced, and even when professional treatment is finally administered, the whole body will have been infected, a limb may be lost, or the treatment must be intensive and drawn out. So knowing the signs is an important part of treatment on a societal level.
Now, you are probably thinking that victims are "not in your circle" or your kids are "not at risk." WRONG! While statistics reveal that certain socioeconomic demographics are more likely to fall victim to childhood sexual abuse, my own personal experience, along with that of countless others, proves that this epidemic affects everyone. White, black; rich, poor; city, country -- 25 percent of girls (does your daughter have four friends?) will be abused. One in six boys (does your son play baseball? Play in the band?) as well. Are you thinking of the dirty old man giving away candy on a street corner? Between 80-90 percent of children are sexually abused by someone from their own family (30-40 percent) or by a close friend or someone trusted by the family (50 percent). And 40 percent are abused by an older or larger child whom they know. Facts like these scare me, as a father of two daughters. They should scare you, too.
So let's get this conversation going. Don't just read this article. Send it to friends; share it on Facebook; bring it up at the coffee shop; print it in a newsletter. It will make people uncomfortable -- count on that! It will also make people aware. It will also make children safe. So go out on a limb and make it your conversation today.
For more information about the Heath Evans Foundation, visit www.heathevans.org.