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What adults can do to prevent and end child sex abuse: Part I

With so much horrible news about the exploitation and abuse of children in America, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the scope of the problem. Most of us would like to do something to help, especially if it will directly protect the children we personally know and love. But what can we do?

Thankfully, there are child advocacy organizations in Pennsylvania and across the nation working to educate the public about preventing, recognizing and responding to child sexual abuse. One of those groups is an organization called "Darkness to Light" (D2L). On its website, the non-profit discusses a five-step plan that responsible adults can follow to do their part, and it starts with understanding the facts.

In school and while watching television most of us grew up with the "stranger danger" warnings. In some ways, this campaign has done a disservice because it perpetuates the idea that unfamiliar adults are the only ones to be feared. Sadly, in more than 90 percent of child sex abuse cases, the victim knows his or her abuser. The abuser is more likely to be a family member or family friend than a stranger.

Child sex abuse is also more prevalent than you may realize. Statistically speaking, it is likely that each of us knows at least one victim and maybe even one perpetrator. By some estimates, about 10 percent of children are sexually abused before reaching age 18. Of those victims, approximately 35 percent were 11 years old or younger when the abuse occurred or began.

As D2L explains in its literature, step 2 is about minimizing opportunity for abuse. In recent decades, many schools and youth organizations have begun to adopt policies that limit one-on-one contact between kids and adults. This is because more than 80 percent of sexual abuse occurs in one-on-one situations in isolated areas.

In general, risks of abuse may be reduced if:

  • Youth organizations always have more than one adult present in a room with children
  • Groups and individuals meet only in rooms with windows and windowed doors
  • All adult volunteers and paid staff have gone through criminal background screening and passed
  • Organizations are transparent in how they operate and are open to observation and unannounced visits by parents

Please check back next week as we continue our discussion. In the meantime, if you want to learn more about Darkness to Light, please visit the organization's website.

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