TREASURE VALLEY — Shocking stories about child sexual abuse at the hands of youth service professionals made national headlines in recent months.
The stories left people wondering how such incidents can happen with trusted adults.
The fact is sexual abuse of children is so prevalent that the “Enough Abuse Campaign” of Massachusetts claims “each of us probably knows someone who has been victimized or who has abused.”
Officials with the campaign call child sex abuse a “silent and violent epidemic.”
Child advocates in the Treasure Valley say knowledge, procedures and attitudes about child sexual abuse can go a long way toward protecting kids from assaults that can leave them with life-long emotional scars.
When a child is sexually abused, its impact is so strong it damages the entire community, Idaho Children's Trust Fund Program Developer Wickes MacColl said.
Part of the challenge of preventing child sex abuse comes from the low incidents of reporting of the crime and the stigma associated with it. Victims are threatened by offenders not to report incidents and adults are reluctant to report suspicions because of fear of false accusations. The topic is often not brought up between parents and children.
“Most child sex abuse is not talked about. Most of it is buried,” Idaho Children's Trust Fund Executive Director Roger Sherman said. “Most people who are abused as children don't talk about it or don't talk about it for years and years.”
Child sex abusers work to gain trust of kids, adults
Those who sexually abuse children often work expertly to “groom” children and adults into gaining their trust. They take time to convince children and adults they are harmless, safe and beneficial to kids, often by volunteering to help children. That's one way they gain access to youth in a variety of venues where kids gather.
“To groom is to entice others to believe and trust you by manipulative tactics,” MacColl said. “Grooming the parents or the organization is part of the plan. Everybody has been seduced to a place where they trust the perpetrator.”
Most child sex abuse offenders are people who the child and the parent know.
“Very little child sexual abuse occurs with strangers,” Sherman said. “Very little of it occurs with the guy on the street corner or whatever stereotype you want to have. That's the rarest of incidents.”
Can more be done for prevention?
Many child service organizations, from schools to sports leagues to churches, have policies to prevent sexual abuse. But do they go far enough? Not always, Wickes MacColl of the Idaho Children's Trust Fund said.
MacColl said organizations should train adults on how to take steps to make environments safe, such as following the rule of threes, which requires at least three people in every interaction with a child to prevent one-on-one encounters.
The Caldwell YMCA trains every employee, or 450 to 600 people a year, in child abuse prevention, including prevention of child sex abuse.
The Idaho Youth Soccer Association does state and national background and sex offender checks on its coaches and volunteers, Executive Director Craig Warner said. They also avoid one-on-one situations between coaches and any of the 15,000 youth members of the association across the state. The Nampa Parks and Recreation Department has similar policies.
Local Episcopal churches use a training program called Safeguarding God's Children, an in-person, day-long class that teaches about methods used by child sex abuse offenders and how to protect against them. The church has used the program for about ten years.
Preventing child sex abuse at churches can bring unique problems, Episcopal Bishop of Southern Idaho Brian Thom said, because people assume active church members are well-intentioned.
“It's hard because the church is trying to be trusting all the time,” Thom said. “We give everybody the benefit of the doubt.”
A training program called Stewards of Children, created by the Darkness to Light organization, is available to parents and people who work with children through the Idaho Children's Trust Fund. It's a 2½ hour curriculum geared specifically to child sex abuse prevention. Call the Idaho Children's Trust Fund at 386-9317 for more information.
Idaho schools child abuse prevention requirements
All teachers and non-certified staff at Idaho's public schools must pass criminal background checks that include presentation of a fingerprint card to the Department of Education.
• Idaho Code 16-1605 requires school employees to report suspected abuse, abandonment or neglect involving a child under the age of 18. Abuse, as defined by Idaho law, includes the physical, emotional, mental, sexual or other general injury of a minor child where such injury is not the result of an accident and where such injury harms or threatens the child’s health, welfare and/or mental and emotional
More facts about child sex abuse from Darkness to Light
People who abuse children look and act just like everyone else. In fact, they often go out of their way to appear trustworthy to gain access to children.
Those who sexually abuse children are drawn to settings where they can gain easy access to children, such as sports leagues, faith centers, clubs and schools.
One in five children are sexually solicited while on the Internet.
Nearly 70 percent of all reported sexual assaults (including assaults on adults) occur to children ages 17 and under.
The median age for reported sexual abuse is nine years old.
Approximately 20 percent of the victims of sexual abuse are under age eight.
Fifty percent of all victims of forcible sodomy, sexual assault with an object and forcible fondling are under age 12.
Most child victims never report the abuse.
Sexually abused children who keep it a secret or who "tell" and are not believed are at greater risk than the general population for psychological, emotional, social, and physical problems, often lasting into adulthood. It is also likely that you know an abuser. The greatest risk to children doesn't come from strangers but from friends and family.
Thirty to forty percent of children are abused by family members.
As many as 60 percent are abused by people the family trusts
Nearly 40 percent are abused by older or larger children.