It is estimated that one in four girls and one in six boys is sexually abused. Even though it is thought that strangers would be the main threat to children this is not so, approximately 30 to 40 percent are abused by members of their own family. Through Internet contact, one in five children is sexually solicited. So now the question: how do we as a community protect our most innocent members.
Many children do not tell anyone out of the fear of not being believed, it might embarrass or cause problems within their family, or the abuser may threaten to hurt the child or their family if they tell. We need to look for ''warning signs'' that a child may be or has been sexually abused. The signs of child sexual abuse are not always obvious: they can range from having physical complaints such as stomachaches, headaches and bed-wetting. They may begin to have emotional issues, such as depression, exhibiting new fears, lashing out, suddenly not wanting to be left alone or with certain people to name a few. Sexual behavior or language with other children or objects may begin. They might begin to withdraw by not wanting to pursue activities they are usually part of. The child can begin to ''self-mutilate'' by cutting themselves. Then there are of course the symptoms that would involve their genital or anal area, these include pain, redness or even to the point of infections.
There are different types of sexual abuse the first one that generally comes to mind are sexual acts done to a child or making them engage in acts with the abuser. In addition, other forms of abuse may include: child prostitution (trafficking); making pornographic films using a child; Internet stalking, or engaging in sexual behaviors online.
Online predators are an ever-growing problem. A person is completely anonymous and therefore a child does not truly know who they are talking to. Many times it is in fact an adult pretending to be a child just to win over the trust of the victim. Chat rooms, instant messages and emails are the most common ways a predator can contact children.
Back to the question of how to protect our children. This can be dealt with in different ways.
As parents, if you find that your child has been abused you need to first contact the Department of Social Services or the police department, who will begin to investigate the incident. Secondly, counseling needs to be sought out for both the victim and family members to help deal with the abuse. The child needs to know that none of this is their fault.
Preventative measures can be as follows: Talk to your children about their day (concerns, friends, etc.). Doing this helps them to feel free to talk to you about anything which in turn will help if they ''need'' to talk to you such an uncomfortable, sometimes unapproachable topic.
Children need to be monitored by their parents. Get to know your children's friends and their families. Do not be so open to allowing your child to visit another house until you get to know them and feel it is a good situation to leave them with. Know where they are going, who they are going with and what they will be doing.
Children need to be made aware that if an incident they are uncomfortable with does occur they need to immediately tell someone who they trust and who can help. They need to understand that they are allowed and should say ''no'' to someone who is doing bad things to them.
We need to advise our child that even though a person is a neighbor, teacher, family member, or a stranger they can still be abusers.
Since the Internet is such a big part of everyone's lives, children can definitely be lured into dangerous situations. They need to know about Internet predators. Their Internet usage should be monitored and limited until they are of age to truly understand its danger.
We as a society must act on any suspicion of abuse, sexual or otherwise. Reporting a suspected incident will cause it to be investigated which will in turn possibly help save another child. People need to be taught skills to develop nurturing, nonviolent relationships and to protect themselves from violence. Behaviors and values in our society that support or tolerate sexual violence, as well as other forms of violence need to be changed. We need to work together and take action to stop sexual violence in our communities.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, a month set-aside across the nation for every community to focus upon the problem of sexual violence and ways we can work together to eradicate it. To do this, we must speak out against sexual violence and know ways to prevent it from happening.
The Chautauqua County Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault would like to encourage residents of Chautauqua County to join with us to promote community involvement about an issue that affects all of us.
The Chautauqua County Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault is devoted to coordinating a countywide collaborative network to address the needs of those affected by interpersonal violence. Through their unified efforts the coalition membership is committed to providing education, support and assistance, in a consistent, sensitive and nondiscriminatory manner. The coalition is facilitated by Project Crossroads that is an educational partnership between the Jamestown Police Department and Family Service of the Chautauqua Region. For more information about how you can become involved, or for available services, please contact Project Crossroads at 483-7718.
If you have been a victim of sexual assault and/or domestic violence in Chautauqua County, contact The Salvation Army Anew Center Crisis Hotline at 800-252-8748. Operators are available seven days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days per year.