all things social work

CSA: US must deal with child sex-abuse epidemic

on January 8, 2012


By Tammy Lerner

10:02 p.m. EST, January 1, 2012

With the frenzied media coverage surrounding the Penn State and Syracuse University child sex-abuse scandals, one would be hard-pressed to find a soul who doesn’t have an opinion on these cases.

Questions such as “Should JoePa have been fired?” and “Why did the victims take so long to come forward?” seem to have replaced the traditional “How about this crazy weather?” as conversation starters. In the past weeks I’ve heard these questions hotly debated in grocery store checkout lines, department stores and restaurants.

Such lively banter and public opinion are to be expected as a result of any alleged heinous crime involving an adult, insidious sexual abuse of children and the ensuing concealment of it by adults in positions of power, right? Surprisingly, notably absent from those impromptu exchanges was discussion involving the root of the real problem: child sex abuse as the nation’s worst public health epidemic and how to stop it.

Until now, where have the public outrage and media coverage been on this issue? And where have most of our state legislators been?

How severe do statistics have to become before people start talking and thinking about child sex abuse in real terms? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines tell us it is a public health epidemic, with one in four girls and one in six boys being victimized before age 18. Pennsylvania alone has more than 3.1 million victims. Nationally, it is more than 49 million. A child today has a greater chance of being sexually abused than of being in an automobile accident or breaking a bone.

As parents, we’re willing to pay hundreds of dollars and give up countless hours to shuffle our kids to driver-training classes in the hopes of preventing auto accidents. From a young age, we teach our kids about safety and first aid in an effort to prevent broken bones and boo-boos. Both are good preventive measures. However, when it comes to something much more prevalent, yet no less grave — the prevention of child rape — our society has staunchly refused to push aside its discomfort with the issue long enough to open a public dialogue about the mess we’re now facing because of it.

Pretending it doesn’t exist is not the answer. Avoidance is a predator’s best friend. It’s what gets kids abused, steals away their innocence and changes who they are and who they would have grown up to be. Silence breeds child sex abuse, and the abuse is like cancer. It silently grows, replicates and manifests itself in too many ways to list.

Metaphors aside, on a biological level, scientific research suggests the trauma of child sex abuse often changes neuronal development in a child’s brain, which often leads to learning disabilities, endocrine problems, autoimmune diseases and other long-term health complications and diseases.

Additionally, scores of victims struggle with substance abuse, depression and trust and relationship issues — any and all of which tend to infiltrate the workplace — affecting their ability to be financially self-sufficient. Monumental expenses also are incurred by overcrowded correctional institutions, where an overwhelming number of inmates are child sex-abuse victims.

As a taxpayer, I’m angry as hell that I’m stuck with a $35 billion per year tab, compliments of the pedophiles of America.

As a survivor, I’m angry as hell that someone I loved with all of my being greedily and flippantly stole the innocence of my mind and body, with complete disregard as to how it would forever change my life and the lives of those who love me.

I’m angry too, that I feel re-victimized by my state. Pennsylvania has some of the worst child protective laws in the nation, with antiquated statutes of limitations, mandatory reporting, sovereign immunity laws, and barring expert witnesses in sexual abuse cases.

One positive that has resulted from the Penn State case, in which former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky is accused of 52 counts of child sexual abuse, is that the nation and world are watching and waiting.

If we are wise, we will use this moment to be an impetus for positive change. I’m hopeful that in the year ahead a new public understanding of child sex abuse, its impact (social and economic) and the need for everyone to act will help pass newly introduced legislation in Harrisburg, such as House Bills 878 and 832.

As John Salveson, my mentor and founder of the Foundation to Abolish Child Sex Abuse, has said, “Outrage is easy. Outrage is comfortable. Outrage makes us feel good about ourselves and our moral superiority. But unless it is transformed into real action, outrage is useless.”

I hope you choose to act. Our children — our future — depend on it.

Tammy Lerner of New Tripoli is vice president of the Foundation to Abolish Child Sex Abuse Inc.

Copyright © 2012, The Morning Call


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