Naturally the subject of child molestation is disturbing to any rational person; even as a journalist this subject invokes a sense of anger and frustration for me. But what about the survivors? I have witnessed victims of child molestation suffer from psychological seizures and suffer horribly from guilt or shame.
What are the solutions? In my research on this story I discovered Darkness to Light (D2L.org), an organization dedicated to raising awareness and educating adults to prevent, recognize and react responsibly to child sexual abuse. In an interview with CEO, Jolie Logan, I wanted her thoughts on Sean Sheppard's story and wanted to know why people commit such unspeakable acts with the most innocent members of society. What is the reasoning behind child molestation and what resources are available to victims and their family members.
Can you briefly describe the mission of Darkness to Light?
Darkness to Light's mission is to empower people to prevent child sexual abuse. We work to bring the issue to the forefront of public consciousness and to educate adults to prevent, recognize and react responsibly to child sexual abuse through our training programs, including the award-winning Stewards of Children.
How common Is Sean Sheppard's story in the United States?
Sexual abuse of children in the United States is alarmingly prevalent. It is estimated that at least 1 in 10 children are sexually abused, and most experts estimate even higher percentages of 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys. It's an awareness and denial issue. The chances of a child being sexually abused are far greater than a child experiencing a serious sports injury, being in a car accident, developing type 1 diabetes, autism, childhood cancer or failing in school. Yet, it's likely if you ask parents what their greatest fears are for their children, being sexually abused would not make the top twenty concerns.
What can society do to prevent child sexual abuse?
We need to change our culture to one that does not tolerate the sexual abuse of children. It's about education, awareness, and organizational policies. There are common sense steps that each person can take, as demonstrated through our Seven Steps program (free at D2L.org).All adults need to be involved in the prevention of child sexual abuse. This includes understanding when and where abuse is likely to occur, red flag behaviors of perpetrators, talking to kids about abuse, and recognizing the signs when abuse may be occurring. Organizations that serve youth must understand that policies and procedures are absolutely necessary to protect children while in their care. Perhaps the simplest answer is...we need to keep talking about the issue.
How common is it for youth on youth sexual attacks, in this case the abusers were under the age of eighteen?
An estimated one third of all reported instances of child sexual abuse are perpetrated by youth under the age of 18. (Snyder, 2000).
What are some of the symptoms that abused children exhibit as adults? Do they tend exhibit common symptoms or is each person different?
There are common symptoms or effects of abuse; however survivors of child sexual abuse can and do live inspired, fulfilled, happy lives, as proven in the case of Sean Sheppard. The severity of impact is influenced by many different factors and does tend to be different for each person and situation. If a survivor tells of the abuse, is believed, supported and treated, they are less likely to suffer negative long-term consequences. If the abuse is not recognized early or treated responsibly, affects can manifest through substance abuse, sexually risky behavior, relationship problems, chronic illness, suicide attempts, joblessness or lower incomes, obesity and much more.
One of the most common feelings survivors share is that of guilt; they believe it is somehow their fault. The only one to blame for sexual abuse is the abuser.
Do you know the statistics of child molestation by race? Is one group higher then the other?
Approximately 22 percent of the total number of annual reported cases are African American (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2010). It is important to note that this number does not include unreported cases; it is estimated that 62 percent of children never tell of the abuse.
Do family economics come into the equation?
Child sexual abuse is more likely to affect children in low income households. This is suspected for a number of reasons. Predators seek out low income families because they believe it may be easier to distract or gain trust through with gifts, money, car rides, free babysitting and other offers of assistance. Abusers know it is easier to prey upon children whose parents may be distracted by problems such as not knowing where their next meal might come from or how they're going to pay the electric bill.
It is important to know that child sexual abuse occurs across all socio-economic, racial, religious, and ethnic groups.
There may be a person reading this article and they have been victim of abuse, what is the first step they can take on the road to recovery?
Effective evidence based treatments are available and can make an enormous difference. Contact your local Child Advocacy Center (CAC). Our referral line can connect people with local resources at 866-FOR-LIGHT (866-367-5444)
Is there recovery for these adult survivors of child abuse?
Yes, absolutely. Please reach out. Get help. Find someone who specializes in treatment. Know and believe you are not to blame.
The tragedy that comes with writing this article is knowing that many Americans know someone who has been the victim of child molestation. This is also a topic that makes people uncomfortable and very angry. If I were a parent and someone violated my child I have no idea how I would react. Heaven help the person if they were in arm's reach of me .
During my interviews it became clear I needed to know more about the black community's perspective on child molestation, but who to ask? I could have consulted a black psychologist or psychiatrist who could have provided much medical dialogue and the full scientific scope of the problem. But I did not wish to seek a scientist on this issue, I felt the need to gain the perspective of someone with whom black America is familiar, but someone who people could relate to due to her "regular-joe" upbringing. I decided to ask Sherri Shepherd , co-host of the daytime talk show "The View" and seek her thoughts as community leader, wife and mother. Why does she think there is fear in reporting child molestation and how do we open a constructive dialogue, not just in the black community but in all communities?
I had an opportunity to pose this question to Sherri Shepherd from ABC's talk show The View and here is her response:
One reason is that many of us were born into a cultural of children should be seen and not heard. Some Parents were taught by their parents who were taught by their parents who were slaves, that you don't ruffle the feathers, and that they would rather a child endure whatever, than have another family member be incarcerated. Not realizing that the whatever is much more devastating than anyone can imagine.
We also don't have a lot confidence in the authorities: Law enforcement, child protective service etc., so that also affects how comfortable we are speaking with the authorities.
Realizing that the majority of kids that get molested feels that it is their fault, along with shame, those kids have no idea what to say or do to try to report anything, & add that with the lack of education, it is a complete recipe for disaster that leads to Non-Reporting of Molestation.
We also are uneducated to the proper channels to go thru to report molestation. I believe some times we fear that the amount of time it would take to actually see some results maybe too long, allowing things to get worst before an actual change is made.
It does all come back to be educated and knowing what rights you have and teaching our kids what is acceptable, and what is not acceptable even if it's a family member or friend of mommy and daddy.