The recent child sexual abuse scandal at Penn State University has brought an unpleasant subject to everyone’s attention. Child sexual abuse is not a topic anyone wants to think about or want to believe happens. It is a horrific crime against our most innocent and vulnerable population, and the damage is far reaching.
National statistics have said that one out of every four girls and one out of every six boys will experience sexual abuse before they turn 18 years old. In Denton County, there are approximately 700 children who come forward every year that make an outcry of sexual abuse. This means that at least two children are reportedly sexually abused in our county every day, and there are many more that have not been identified.
With the horrible mistake of not reporting made by the coaching staff at Penn State, it makes us wonder just how many cases go unreported in our own community. People either turn away, don’t want to get involved, or don’t want to get the offender in trouble. This is completely wrong thinking not to mention against the law.
If you suspect abuse, report it! Call the child abuse hotline at 1-800-252-5400 or contact the law enforcement agency in the city where the crime took place. Reports are kept confidential by the investigating agencies. Reporting abuse is key to stopping further abuse of children.
The Children’s Advocacy Center for Denton County is the organization that deals with cases of child sexual abuse. Children and teens are interviewed at the Center by professionals trained to get the information needed to investigate these crimes while not traumatizing the children. Forensic interviewers are trained to get details from children, without traumatizing them, while getting the information investigators need to do their jobs. The interviewers go through extensive trainings and peer reviews. They take their time with the children, do not pressure them, and let these children know this is not their fault and that they did the right thing by telling someone.
Professionals from law enforcement, Child Protective Services, the District Attorney’s Office, and medical professionals work with the Children’s Advocacy Center on the investigation, prosecution, and treatment of these cases. Weekly case review meetings are held at the Center where partner agencies share information and cases are discussed so that children and families get the assistance they need. These professionals work together as a team to be a voice for the child and to help hold offenders accountable.
Long term, free counseling is available for the children and their non-offending family members. Individual counseling, group counseling, play therapy, court preparation and other services are provided to help the children and families deal with the abuse and move forward. Eighteen group counseling sessions are held weekly, and over 600 children and family members go through counseling at the Center every year.
We have only begun to feel the magnitude of the Penn State crimes. There are many more victims who will still come forward. But, what if the first person who even suspected abuse would have simply reported it? How many more children could have been saved from this tragedy?
After 9/11, our country became very proactive, or reactive, to terrorism. We became vigilant about protecting our country, our airports, and our borders. Rightfully so. Don’t our children deserve the same protection and concern?
Hopefully, more people are alert to child sexual abuse and will now know how to react to protect children. For more information on how you can help, visit www.cacdc.org or call (972) 317-2818. To report child abuse in Texas, call 1-800-252-5400 or 911.
Dan Leal is the executive director of the Children’s Advocacy Center for Denton County.