National abuse scandals uncover truths about assaults at home
by Staff Writer
Child sexual abuse is a crime that thrives in a culture of secrecy and shame. Media attention has rightly focused on Penn State’s apparent willingness to remain silent as the accusations against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky mounted. Sadly, Penn State’s failure mirrors society’s collective failure. Despite their personal experiences and overwhelming concern, many Americans are afraid to act, preferring instead to ignore the reality of child sexual abuse. According to one national study, only 6 percent of Americans contacted authorities when confronted with suspected child abuse, and fewer than half of respondents indicated they would be willing to contact authorities if they witnessed an act of abuse. It seems that most of us forget that it is our job as adults to protect the children around us, and that we are mandated by North Carolina state law to report suspected abuse.
We can find hope in the number of victims who have found the courage to come forward since Sandusky was arrested. On Nov. 14, the New York Times reported that 10 additional alleged victims had stepped forward to name Sandusky as their abuser. Two days later, NPR’s “Morning Edition” reported that as many as 45 adults from across the country had contacted lawyers, telling stories of abuse that had taken place decades before by adults they had trusted.
We should not underestimate how difficult and how vitally important it is to disclose abuse – even abuse that occurred in the distant past. Without an intervention, the trauma associated with child sexual abuse leaves long-lasting scars. Victims are more likely to develop anxiety, phobias or other major psychiatric disorders; engage in self-harming or risky behaviors, including cutting, anorexia or bulimia, or attempted suicide; and become dependent upon drugs or alcohol.
Child victims are more likely to be misdiagnosed with mental health labels such as ADHD or juvenile bipolar disorder. These children fail to receive appropriate interventions, and thus are far more likely to fail at school and ultimately drop out of the educational system altogether.
Finally, and perhaps most distressingly, without therapeutic intervention, child victims are at a higher risk for entering into a cycle of emotionally, physically, and sexually abusive relationships as adults – perpetuating a cycle of abuse that will continue to repeat itself in subsequent generations.
In disclosing the abuse, victims take the first step toward breaking the cycle. Thankfully, this community stands prepared to support them on that journey. If the victim is still a minor, Pat’s Place Child Advocacy Center in Mecklenburg County works in partnership with other community partners to offer a comprehensive, community-based response. The Child Advocacy Center conducts a forensic interview and a medical evaluation with the child in an appropriate, non-threatening setting. The Child Advocacy Center then coordinates the subsequent crisis intervention, advocacy, counseling and court support services.
Adult survivors of child sexual abuse can also find support. Agencies like United Family Services offer trauma-focused counseling and advocacy, working alongside survivors as they develop the coping skills necessary to rebuild lives of dignity and strength. Appropriate therapeutic intervention cannot erase an abusive past, but it can help a person understand that the abuse does not define them. That knowledge – whenever gained – empowers survivors to move forward with hope and healing.
Kathryn Firmin Sellers is the Region Director for United Family Services.
Where to find help
North Carolina Department of Social Services (Childhelp) 800-422-4453
Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services 704-336-3600
United Family Services 24-hour Rape Crisis Hotline 704-375-9900
United Family Services Domestic Violence Emergency Hotline 704-332-2513
Lake Norman United Family Services 704-655-8745