I am well aware of child abuse and neglect statistics, but I struggle to really wrap my brain around them while wrapping my arms around my children. Who could possibly harm a child?
Then I'm yanked back into my reality. Abuse entered into my life as a small child. The touching started first and continued well into my teens. The neglect and emotional abuse continued into my adult life.
I frequently and openly share my story with others, yet very rarely does that lead to other women opening up (right then) about their stories of sexual abuse. So secretive. So painful. So difficult to talk about. Yet, I know that at least 25% of girls are sexually abused before their 18th birthday, so that means that at least 25% of women share my same story.
Keeping that statistic in mind, I know that children in every classroom, in every school, in every community are suffering. Neglected. Sexually, physically, emotionally and/or verbally abused. As I look at the children in my child's classroom, in our school, in our community -- they just seem so little, so happy, so well cared for. The children and their parents bring smiles to my face. We're happy. Our community, our school... It's such a happy family-oriented place.
Then I'm yanked back into my reality again. My abusers looked this happy too. My abusers held respectable jobs, led Girl Scouts, dressed as the school Santa, chaperoned parties and school events, chaired non-profit events, taught Sunday school, and filled the bleachers every weekend for kids sports. The abusers' children appeared to be enjoying typical childhood activities - summer camps, scouts, school plays, lots of sports, choir and band, church, and advanced academics.
Child abuse happens everywhere. In every community. Even mine. Across the board, regardless of race, religion, social, educational or economic status. Sexual abuse happens to 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys. 90% of sexual perpetrators are known to the victim, 68% are family members.
And sexual abuse isn't even the most common form of child abuse. Of all the different types of abuse, here are a few statistics: 59% of all abused children are suffering from neglect, 10.8% are being physically abused, and 7.6% are sexually abused. What this tells us is that neglect and physical abuse are more common than sexual abuse, and sexual abuse affects 20% of the nation's children. Staggering. Scary. Heartbreaking.
I reported my abuse the first time when I was nine years old. The person I reported to became my second abuser. Rather than protect, denial, neglect, and looking the other way set in. Eventually I was accused of seduction. I didn't tell anyone again until I was a teenager. I told a young married couple, but they simply couldn't believe that these fine, upstanding, involved people would do such a thing. The people I'd reported to had failed to protect me. I never reported again. Rarely does a child report more than once.
I did finally tell my little elementary school friends about the abuse --- when I was thirty-five. Most were shocked and heartbroken. One said that she'd always felt that something was wrong with me. Even as a young girl, she noticed a change in me. She'd noticed my insecurity, anxiety and nervousness. She'd noticed that it was worse when my abusers were around. What she didn't know was what to do. She did not know that she should share her concerns with her parents. She did not know that sometimes adults hurt children. She did not know that she could help save the life of a child.
There are so many reasons that our family organizes the for KIDS by KIDS bike-a-thon. We want to make the world safer for children. We want:
- to open up conversations about child abuse.
- to arm adults with valuable information to keep children safe.
- to prepare adults and children to act responsibly to reports or suspicions of child abuse.
- to direct hurting children and families to victim's advocacy centers and child abuse prevention services.
- to remove the blinders that cause us to think that our community is completely safe.
- to help children in need find loving foster homes and forever families.
See you at the bike-a-thon!