Fighting child abuse: How can we protect children from sexual assault?

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By Hellen Konyango

Following recent stories of children being abused by figures in their lives who are supposed to protect them like their fathers or religious figures, the devastating issue of child sexual abuse comes to the forefront. These stories raise the question, ‘what more should we do to stop sexual abuse against young girls and boys?’ In the United States, 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 6 boys falls victim to sexual abuse more often in the hands of a relative or family friend. Sexual abuse can be defined as a “sexual offense against a child, such as rape, sodomy, engaging a child in a sexual activity, or engaging a child in—or promoting a child’s—sexual performance.” Acts of sexual abuse include touching offenses such as fondling, touching sexual organs, making a child touch an adult sexually, attempted or actual sexual intercourse and rape. Considering the fact that every child is at risk of child sexual abuse, there are various factors that influence the rate of child sexual abuse, such as race and economic status. African American children are twice more likely to be experience sexual child abuse than white children, while children in low income households are three times more like to be victims of child abuse.

Silence among victims presents one of the biggest challenges to addressing child sexual abuse, for children fear that no one would believe what is happening to them. Wendolyn Colon, a sexual abuse survivor who shared her story in the New York Times, understands how hard it is for victims going through sexual abuse to speak up. Colon stated that “I know there are a lot of teenagers today who are going through similar stuff. But they’re not open enough to say what’s going on.”  That is why she wants to be a counselor to young girls who are experiencing sexual abuse but have nowhere to turn. Sylvia Coleman, a survivor of incest, created the Black Sexual Abuse Survivors website, an online support system for African American victims of sexual abuse. She realized the need for a national support system, especially for African American men and women who experienced childhood sexual abuse, when she was going through her own recovery and healing as a victim of incest. She first began with a workshop titled, “From Victim to Victor” from African men and women in 2003 and later launched the Black Sexual Abuse Survivors website to reach more sexual abuse survivors. Through the website, Coleman provides resources such as information on coping mechanisms and sexual abuse in the African American community.

Holding the perpetrators responsible for their crimes is important in preventing child sexual abuse, giving the law a key role in helping victims feel safe to speak out against the sexual offenders. Recently, a Hasidic therapist from Brooklyn was sentenced to 103 years for sexually abusing a young girl for years, starting when she was 12 years old. Justice John G. Ingram of State Supreme Court presided over the case and praised the bravery of the young woman, who came forward to give an emotional testimony against the therapist and asked for the maximum sentence to be given. The more perpetrators are punished for sexual offenses against children and victims continue to speak out, young girls and boys may be protected from child sexual abuse.

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