By Joyce Prusak
Executive Director of Coffee County Children’s Advocacy Center
Have you ever thought that people who abuse children would look weird and strange – that something about them would just be off? Think again. Perpetrators can often look and act just like everyone else. Neighbors, friends, and family members can be abusers. Abusers are people you trust, often charismatic and friendly. If something about a person doesn’t feel right, however, trust your “gut feeling.”
Child sexual abuse may start like this: Maggy, 5, sometimes spends the night with her friend, Sarah, also 5. Maggy’s parents know Sarah’s parents really well, and they trust Sarah’s parents. Teaching Maggy to have good manners, Maggy’s parents tell her she should do what Sarah’s parents ask her to do when she spends the night at their house. Sarah’s father often plays with Maggy and Sarah – he seems really cool to Maggy. Sarah’s father plays hide and seek and shows secret places to Maggy. While playing, he sometimes touches her. At first, he seems to touch her by accident. Maggy doesn’t realize he’s doing anything wrong and doesn’t tell anyone. And then those touches happen more often, until he has found a way to touch her private parts.
Preventing child abuse begins with learning the facts. As dry as statistics can sometimes be, having information about perpetrators’ behavior helps us stay knowledgeable and alert.
Only 10% of sexually abused children are abused by a stranger, and that means we need to limit the time our children spend one-on-one with other adults or older children, even if they are people we know and love. About 90% of children who are victims of abuse know and trust their abuser. About 30% of children who have experienced sexual abuse are abused by family members, according to Darkness to Light.
The younger the child experiences abuse, the more likely it is that the offender is a family member. According to data examined by Darkness to Light, of those abusing a child under 6 years old, half were family members.
Family members accounted for 23% of those abusing children ages 12 to 17.
About 60% of children who are sexually abused are abused by people the family trusts.
Often, offenders abuse multiple children. Seventy percent of child sexual offenders have between one and nine victims, while 20% have 10 to 40 victims.
It’s also important to remember that older, more powerful children can be perpetrators. Nearly 40% of children who are sexually abused are abused by more powerful children.
The younger the child victim, the more likely it is that the offender is a juvenile. Juveniles are the offenders in 43% of sexual abuse cases involving children under age 6. Of these offenders, 14% are under age 12.
Juveniles who commit sex offenses against other children are more likely than adult sex offenders to offend in groups. They are also more likely to offend at schools and to have more male victims and younger victims. Early adolescence is the peak age for youth offenses against younger children.
A small number of juvenile offenders – about 10% – are younger than age 12. Females represent 7% of juveniles who commit sex offenses.
Be alert and pay attention if an adult tries to create an opportunity to be alone with a child. And yes, if you get an odd feeling about someone, no matter what he or she looks like, trust your feelings. Often, perpetrators are good at disarming adults as well as children.
This information was compiled with data from Darkness to Light, “the only evidence-informed, adult-focused child sexual abuse prevention trainings proven to increase knowledge and change behavior,” according to www.d2l.org.
The Coffee County Children’s Advocacy Center offers free child abuse prevention training based on Darkness to Light resources, thanks to a grant awarded to the center. For more information about the training and child abuse prevention, visit coffeecountycac.org and follow Coffee County Children’s Advocacy Center on social media. To report suspicions of child abuse, call 1-877-237-0004.