The idea that adults might be sexually attracted to children is so offensive that most parents prefer not to think about it.
They should. By conservative estimates, one out of 10 children is sexually abused each year, often by a trusted authority figure—a teacher, camp counselor, priest or relative—or by the parents themselves.
In Pittsburgh, a 24-year-old secretary is serving five years on probation for molesting the four-year-old girl for whom she baby-sat. A former mayor of a New Mexico town was convicted recently on five counts of sex crimes involving young girls.
And a Roman Catholic priest in charge of youth affairs at his church in suburban Los Angeles confessed to between 20 and 30 homosexual encounters with minors.
Sexual child abuse cuts across all social, economic, and racial strata of our society.
And as one former Alabama prosecutor who used to indict child molesters believes, “it is probably the most common serious crime against a person in the United States.”
It is also the perfect crime. In every respect, children are singularly vulnerable victims. They can be easily persuaded to cooperate with molesters and are then too afraid or ashamed to talk about it with their parents.
On that rare occasion when a sex offender is reported and convicted there is an excellent chance that the courts will intervene on his behalf and that he will soon be walking the streets again. For decades, the criminal-justice system has accepted the psychiatric consensus that child molestation is a treatable illness, a viewpoint that rarely results in a full prison term for offenders.
But that consensus is now crumbling, largely under pressure from organizations such as Society’s League Against Molestation (SLAM) and its offshoots around the country.
Citizens’ groups argue that the best way to treat child molesters is to keep them locked away from their prey.
Sadly enough, though, up to two-thirds of all child molestation cases never come to light, but the number of reported incidents has grown rapidly since the mid-1970s. And research has shown that:
- Only 10 percent of the child sexual abusers report that they molest a child who is a stranger.
- They molest children close to them, mainly children in their family or children in their social circle.
- Most child molesters, 90 percent, report that they know their child victims very well.
- According to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS), an estimated 9.3 percent of confirmed or substantiated child abuse and neglect cases in 2005 involved sexual abuse (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). This figure translates into over 83,800 victims alone (USDHHS).
Other studies suggest that even more children suffer abuse and neglect than is ever reported to child protective services agencies. Statistics indicate that girls are more frequently the victims of sexual abuse, but the number of boys is also significant.
There are 39 million adults living in the U.S. who have survived child sexual abuse. Today, more than three million American children are victims.
Unfortunately, however, most of today’s children will never tell. They feel ashamed that this has happened to them. These children are uniquely vulnerable, and courts are often lenient toward offenders.
Sexual abuse is the product of sick people in a sick society. But there is no single profile that accurately describes or accounts for all child molesters. There are many variables among individuals in terms of their personal characteristics, life experiences, criminal histories, and reasons for committing such offenses.
One common misconception is that molested children grow up to become child molesters themselves. But, in fact, most childhood sexual abuse victims do not go on to become perpetrators.
Few criminal offenses, meanwhile, are more despised than the sexual abuse of children, and few are so little understood in terms of the number of offenses committed, the proportion of the population who commit offenses, and the risks of re-offense.
The effects of sexual abuse extend far beyond childhood. Sexual abuse robs children of their childhood and creates a loss of trust, feelings of guilt and self-abusive behavior. It can lead to antisocial behavior, depression, identity confusion, loss of self-esteem and other serious emotional problems.
It can also lead to difficulty with intimate relationships later in life. The sexual victimization of children is ethically and morally wrong.
Top o’ the morning!