Child Sexual Abuse
Hundreds of thousands of our children are sexually abused every year. We say it's a terrible thing, we say that we that we want it to stop, but we have done virtually nothing about it. We've focused most of our attention on a small group of abusers and have almost completely ignored the rest. It’s a curable problem, but until we decide to take it more seriously, it will only get worse.
The level of child sexual abuse in the United States is significantly higher than what the average person thinks it is. In 1986, the National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (NIS) reported that there were 133,600 cases of confirmed child sexual abuse. In 1992, the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System reported that there were 130,000 cases of confirmed child sexual abuse. Unfortunately, that estimate was low because it omitted data from California and two other states. In 1993, the Fifty State Survey of Child Abuse and Neglect reported that there were approximately 150,000 cases of confirmed child sexual abuse. Finally, David Finkelhor, (Ph.D. co-director of the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire) estimates that the actual number of child abuse incidences is upwards of 500,000 every year.
From our limited statistics, we can see that the number of children who are sexually abused each year is increasing, not decreasing. Additionally, if we assume that the number of confirmed cases of child sexual abuse from the above agencies is a reasonable accurate, then the estimated number of confirmed cases of child sexual abuse (from 1986 through 2013) is over 4,000,000. Further, if we include the estimated number of unreported incidences of child sexual abuse, then the number of children who are hurt every year is considerably higher.
What we know so far about child sexual abuse in America is that less than 15% of abusers are strangers. That means that more than 85% of the abusers are already known to the child. We know that roughly 1/3 of the abusers are juveniles themselves. We know that roughly 60% of the abuse comes from the child's social circle and 25% are their own family members. Note that the percentages (33% + 60% + 25%) don't add up to 85% because of the overlap in definitions.
We don't have a national study of child sexual abuse by those who have authority over children. However, a federal report, based on the findings of Hofstra University professor Shakeshaft, estimated that, in California alone, approximately 422,000 children will be sexually abused by teachers before they graduate (that is, over their 12 year education). That’s an average of over 35,000 children, in California alone, who are sexually abused by teachers every year.
Is the problem of child sexual abuse
really that serious in our schools? Ask
the sponsors of California S.B. 131 (2013).
That bill would have exempted all public school teachers and school
administrators from civil suits by sexually abused children. While the governor vetoed the bill, it’s
still a good indication of the perceived severity of child abuse in public
With respect to child sexual abuse from other authority figures (e.g. religious), it's estimated that Catholic clergy have abused upwards to 14,000 children over the last 40 years - that's an average of about 350 children every year, for 40 years. Little is known about child sexual abuse from clergy of other faiths.
The media has led us to believe that Catholic clergy is a major source of child sexual abuse. Following their lead, we've emphasized the prosecution of Catholic clergy. While it's important to stop child sexual abuse from all sources, it's also clear that most of our efforts been wasted because even if we eradicated all abuse by Catholic clergy, it wouldn't even begin to solve the problem.
Clearly, we need to keep the pressure on all sources of child sexual abuse. However, in order to be more effective in our fight, we need to attack larger sources of child sexual abuse, in particular, those from the child's family and social circles.
Our studies show that the family setting is responsible for roughly 25% of all child sexual abuse. The family setting is where the child is supposed to be the safest. Unfortunately, it’s where the child is sometimes the least safe.
It’s reasonable to assume that if children were universally valued by the family, then child abuse in the family would never happen. It’s also reasonable to assume that because so many children are being abused by the family, children are not universally valued by the family. Our lack of valuing children is demonstrated in our fight for the right to prevent pregnancies and our right to abort those children when our preventative measures don’t work. It is also demonstrated in our affirmation of those who cohabitate, because cohabitation undercuts the stability of the family, which our children need.
Our fight for the right to contracept, abort, and cohabitate, has led us to see children as an obstacle to our happiness. That's a problem because when some of us decide to have a child, we are not able to make the switch from preventing children to welcoming them. For many of us, having children has become just another milestone in our life, something that we do when we get older. That's a problem.
Child sexual abuse in the family circle is the most difficult to fix because it requires a considerable reorientation of parental values. The lives of many parents have been centered around themselves, as in “what will make me happy?”, and “what do I want?” The lives of these parents need to be oriented around what's best for their children, that is, the child's safety and happiness, even at the expense of the parent’s own happiness and comfort.
A child’s social circle also includes their authority figures, such as school teachers and religious leaders. Obviously, when your child is in their care, you want them to be safe. Yet, sometimes when they are under the authority of this group, they are not safe from child sexual abuse. Children are especially vulnerable to this group because, at their age, they quickly accept and trust those in authority over them.
Teachers and religious leaders are in a position to do a lot of good for our children. While parents pass on their values to their own children, teachers and religious leaders are able to pass on their values to many more children. While that can be a good thing, it can also be particularly harmful because children are not critical thinkers and quickly accept whatever they’re being told as being true.
For example, when children are told by teachers and religious leaders that most “life-styles” are acceptable as long as they make you feel good, they (the children) give their feelings a higher priority. That’s a problem because when children understand that most sexual behaviors are acceptable, they quickly understand that all sexual behaviors are acceptable as long as it makes them feel good. That understanding leads to an even more serious problem because, when the children become adults, they will easily rationalize that any sexual behavior is okay, even if it involves children.
So what are we to do?
For a more permanent solution, we need to fix the underlying causes of the problem. Specifically, we need to change from the "me generation" to the "we generation." We need to change from loving ourselves to loving others, where love means to be concerned about, and work for, the good of others. We need to learn how to value others. Until we do this, the problem of child sexual abuse will continue to grow.
We need to expose and prosecute all confirmed cases of child sexual abuse. We also need to keep the pressure on all of the potential problem areas that we already know about. But, most importantly, we need to rebuild a value system that will promote the universal valuing of others, including children.