Commentary by Toby Stark
As we read headline after headline about members of our community being arrested for child molestation, child exploitation and/or child pornography, I have a very important message to the people of our state: Keep up the good work!
Child sexual abuse is not new, nor is it necessarily happening more. What is happening is that children and adults are breaking their silence and speaking up. Silence and shame are a perpetrator’s most powerful weapons, so when we shatter that silence and wipe away that shame, we start to win the battle.
One in 10 children is sexually abused by their 18th birthday, and the sad truth is, 90 percent of those children are abused by someone they know, love and trust. Does that mean we go through life not trusting anyone with our children? Absolutely not. What it does mean, is that no one can be exempt from our child protection measures. Our children aren’t ‘safe’ with so-and-so because they are well-known, have a great reputation as a coach, are philanthropic, are wealthy, are related to us, etc.
For example, because 80 percent of all child sexual abuse happens in one-on-one situations, one of the most effective prevention measures is minimizing the time your child spends alone with other adults or older children. That means minimizing one-on-one time with all adults and older children, not just the ones we don’t know that well or the ones of the opposite gender.
This is also a great opportunity to educate and empower your children. Without going into details (especially regarding child pornography), this is a time to tell your children that this music teacher or coach or celebrity touched kids’ private parts inappropriately and remind them that their bodies belong to them, they have the right to say “no!” to unwanted touches from anyone, and to tell you about any touches that make them uncomfortable.
So, keep up the good work! Keep up the momentum of education and empowerment we are starting to create in our communities. Keep up the courage it takes to disclose or report abuse. And keep up the determination to do something about this.
Toby Stark is the executive director of Chaucie’s Place, a child advocacy center that focuses on the prevention of child sexual abuse.