When you lose your parents, you’re an orphan. When you lose a spouse, you’re a widow. There’s no word for expressing the pain of losing a child.
I have never lost a spouse or a child, but I think the same level of disgust, sadness, and horror should be applied to child sexual abuse as there is no word to describe how bad it is accurately. To do that to a child is beyond awful, and unfortunately, the problem is getting worse. While reporting is going down, that only tells us that fewer people are reporting, not fewer cases. In some parts of the country, the reporting on cases is getting worse.
The effects of this pandemic are multifold. Children who suffer this fate sometimes do this to other children as adults, thus creating a cycle. The emotional scarring costs America $9.3 billion in lost economic output and increased resources to mental health, child welfare, special education, violence, and crime. Kids don’t have the words to describe why this is wrong, but they know it’s wrong, and they don’t know what to do either. When you don’t have the words to express your feelings, it turns into anxiety.
Thankfully, I have no personal experience with the subject. Regardless, due to my passion for the subject, I researched and wanted to share different actions that governments could take to address this pandemic.
First, do no harm. I recently spoke with advocates at Voices for Children, a group centered in Genesee County, Michigan, that works as a voice for children. When it comes to child sexual assault, their most critical suggestion for how to help children is not to force them to face their abusers in court. Let advocates do forensic interviews or at least let them video record child testimonies outside of the courtroom. Children should be as far away from their rapists as possible.
Second, allow for ethical reporters instead of mandated reporters. In most states, for example, teachers are required to report any case of sexual assault. There is precedent for allowing anyone to report sexual abuse and making it simple for people to do. The burden should not solely fall on teachers.
Another option for prevention is to end the statute of limitations for adults to accuse their abusers. In some states, there are limits on how long someone has to report sexual abuse. Due to the stigma, children grow up and never say it. When some decide to do so, the window of opportunity has passed, and the abuser got away with it (and is likely continuing to do so).
There is a hotline for reporting sexual abuse, but few people know about it. It’s 1–800–843–5678. The phone number should be promoted to children either through advertising or at school.
Finally, this would likely be the most controversial option, but kids should be taught why this is wrong, how to speak up about it, and what to do if they know someone in this situation. This might come across as “Sex Education,” but it’s autonomy education.
They should be able to fight back.