Let's Protect Children 365 Days of the Year

Soft toys are stacked in a room at the Teddy Bear Clinic, where abused children are treated, in Johannesburg, Friday, Feb. 8,
Soft toys are stacked in a room at the Teddy Bear Clinic, where abused children are treated, in Johannesburg, Friday, Feb. 8, 2013. In a country where one in four women are raped and where months-old babies and 94-year-old grandmothers are sexually assaulted, citizens are demanding action after a teenager was gang-raped, sliced open from her stomach to her genitals, and left for dead on a construction site last week. (AP Photo/Denis Farrell)

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and I'm delighted that this issue receives well-deserved attention this time of year. However, what is needed in this country is not so much a special emphasis during one month of the year, but rather a deep commitment to the protection of children and their childhood every single day.

This April I'm particularly hopeful about a societal shift toward the well being of children. Over the past 20 years, the National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect demonstrates more than a 40 percent decline in child sexual abuse. In the past, sexual abuse held deep stigma for the victim and little in the way of accountability for the offender. Today, there is widespread societal intolerance for the sexual victimization of children. This shift has been the result of sustained, evidence-supported sexual abuse prevention efforts over many years, coupled with effective intervention and longer prison sentences for offenders.

Created nearly 30 years ago, Children's Advocacy Centers (CACs) ensure victims of child sexual abuse are taken seriously and that they receive needed treatment. In addition, CACs hold offenders accountable in an effort to enhance community safety. Each year, more than a quarter of a million children receive caring services from the more than 750 CACs in the United States. And, equally important, these CACs provide prevention education to more than 500,000 individuals to help end sexual abuse across the country.

Every individual can take action to reduce child sexual abuse. First, if you have an abuse history yourself, and many adults do, seek help and speak out. Many survivors carry their heavy burden alone and face life-long health consequences as a result. If you are suffering from the trauma of abuse, there is effective help available. To find a counselor near you, access RAINN's National Sexual Assault Online Hotline for a referral.

Second, whether you are a survivor or one blessed with a life free of abuse, you can learn the signs of abuse and how to report suspected abuse at www.OneWithCourage.org, a national prevention initiative. And, if you would like training for your civic group or school on how to prevent abuse, please contact your local Children's Advocacy Center. A searchable directory can be found online at www.nationalchildrensalliance.org.

Third, ensure that children who have been abused receive the evidence-supported mental healthcare needed to put them on the path to health and healing by urging your Members of Congress to support the reauthorization of The Children's Recovery From Trauma Act. This Act supports mental health treatment for children who are victims of trauma through the invaluable work of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.

This April, as we recognize National Child Abuse Prevention Month, let's commit to protecting children from abuse not only today, but every single day of the year. If we all learn the signs of abuse and how to prevent it, report it when we suspect it, seek help for those who have been victimized by it, and support public policy efforts that help those traumatized to rebuild their lives, then perhaps April will one day be the month in which we celebrate the end of abuse. Let's work together for that day.