News reports, blog posts, TV interviews, social media posts and more have covered recent reports of Josh Duggar, oldest of the Duggars to appear in their reality TV show “19 Kids and Counting,” admitting that as a juvenile he repeatedly sexually abused his sisters.
When high profile cases like these surface and more people become aware of child sexual abuse, it’s important to be clear about the facts surrounding the issue.
Here are 19 facts about child sexual abuse to keep in mind as media coverage continues.
- Over 50 percent of calls to Maine’s sexual assault crisis and support line relate to incidents of child sexual abuse. These calls range from concerned parents or caregivers to adult survivors of abuse.
- The majority of offenders are known to the child.
- Many child sexual abuse victims never tell, or delay telling, about the abuse. Many children do not tell because offenders successfully convince them that they will get in trouble or no one will believe them. The closer the relationship between the victim and the offender, the more difficult it is for the victim to come forward.
- Because child sexual abuse is so underreported, it can be difficult to understand the actual scope of the problem. Best available research suggests that one in four girls and one in six boys are victims of sexual abuse before they turn 18.
- There is no profile for someone who offends against children. Portrayals of sex offenders in popular culture may make us think that we could easily identify a sex offender. However, offenders are often respected community members with access to children.
- Being sexually abused as a child does not cause people to become sex offenders.
- Juvenile sex offenders who access effective treatment generally do not go on to reoffend. Reoffending rates over several years of study show that about 10 percent of juveniles go on to reoffend.
- Child maltreatment (which includes physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse and neglect) cost the United States approximately $124 billion in 2008.
- The signs of child sexual abuse vary, and it’s important to recognize that the absence of signs and symptoms. For a list of signs and symptoms, visit the Maine Network of Children’s Advocacy Centers.
- Prevention is possible. We know that there are many risk and protective factors associated with child sexual abuse, and protective factors include a supportive family environment and social networks.
- Setting and respecting boundaries within a family, such as privacy in dressing, bathing, sleeping and other personal activities can help prevent abuse. This helps children understand the boundaries of others and helps them set their own.
- Using the proper names of body parts can help your child understand their body, open the door for them to ask questions, and provide a space for them to tell you about any behavior that could lead to sexual abuse.
- Demonstrating boundaries is a great way to show children how to say “no.” Teach children that their “no” will be respected, whether it’s in playing, tickling, hugging or kissing.
- There is such thing as age-appropriate sexual behavior. Being aware of these behaviors will help parents and concerned adults understand what is appropriate and what is not.
- It’s not up to the children in our lives to protect themselves from abuse. The evidence is clear that programming for children does not prevent child sexual abuse, but it is important because such programs provide children tools to respond if they are abused. Maine’s sexual assault support centers provide prevention programming to thousands of children each year.
- Adults can prevent child sexual abuse. If you are worried about another adult’s behavior, there are steps you can take, including learning about child sexual abuse and warning signs, learning to have conversations about the issue, and speaking up to create safety plans and make a report.
- There is support available to you, whether you experienced child sexual abuse yourself, you are worried about someone in your life who has, or you are concerned about a child in your life. Maine’s sexual assault support centers are available to answer questions and provide support and advocacy to you.
- In addition to sexual assault support centers, Maine has an increasing number of children’s advocacy centers, which are designed to bring law enforcement, child protection, prosecution, mental health, medical and victim advocacy, and child advocacy together to conduct interviews and make team decisions about investigation, treatment, management and prosecution of child sexual abuse cases. Children’s advocacy centers help increase prosecution rates and reduce the cost of child sexual abuse investigations.
- The most effective kind of prevention happens before there is a victim to heal or an offender to punish.
The Duggar cases aren’t going to be the last high-profile child sexual abuse cases in the media. The first step toward prevention is knowing the facts – and working toward turning the tide of child victimization. We can pretend it’s the Duggar’s religion and culture, but let’s be real. It’s our culture, too.