We must protect our children from sexual abuse

Published 2:26pm Saturday, April 13, 2013

By Susan Keith

Selma City Council representative for Ward 3

Some months ago, we watched in dismay as a man of high morals and esteem lost his job and the respect of a community-at-large for failing to protect child victims of sexual abuse. Joe Paterno — coach, global sports legend, professor, father, grandfather and all around putative good guy — was unable to fluidly navigate the system designed to protect children.

If a man of Paterno’s stature – and I have to believe that in Centre County, Penn. he received every degree of respect and awe that Nick Saban would receive in Tuscaloosa — has trouble in the system, what about the rest of us?

There is nothing at all pleasant about dealing with cases of child sexual abuse.

One of the most uncomfortable aspects of child sexual abuse cases is that you can’t take the sex out of them.

In a perfect world, this would be something children would have no knowledge of or exposure. Our world is much, much less than perfect.

While we cannot possibly keep our children safe 100 percent of the time, we can — we must — give them tools to help them stay safe. We do this by teaching them that we will believe them when they tell us someone has done something awful. Even if it is someone we love. Child molesters are often family members or trusted friends.

Children need to be taught that it is okay to be assertive with adults to protect themselves. Family rules about secrets, knowing who safe people are, safe code words and safety plans should be clear with the children.

Know who your children are going to be with when they are not with you. Above all, make sure your children know not to go with someone they don’t know.

Parents, understand this: Wherever children are, there are people who exploit children.

Unfortunately, sexual abuse can be hard to recognize. Many of the symptoms are also indicative of other trauma a child can experience.

A few signs that can indicate concern and should be addressed include:

  • Sudden behavioral changes
  • Self-harming behavior
  • Depression
  • Sudden decrease in self-esteem
  • Withdrawal from people and activities
  • Nightmares and sleep problems
  • Age inappropriate sexual knowledge, awareness, or acting out

If you suspect a child has been sexually abused, you should call one of the agencies listed below. Law protects all those reporting such worries or incidents, acting in good faith.

Ignoring these situations will not make them go away. It means the abuse continues happening to that child. It means it will happen to other children. Child molesters don’t stop on their own volition.

The good news is you do not have to make any determination about the situation. There are trained professionals who will work with the people and pertinent agencies involved to determine the truth and the course of action.

Unaddressed and untreated, victims of child sexual abuse typically wrestle lifelong issues such as addiction, psychosomatic illnesses, subsequent victimizations, poor life choices and a plethora of other ails.

Let’s put an end to sexual abuse and let the healing begin.

  • To report any kind of abuse of a child, call the Department of Human Resources at 874-1400.
  • To report the sexual abuse of a child call the Child Advocacy Center at 872-5200

You may also report cases of child abuse or maltreatment to the:

  • For cases within Selma city limits or the Selma Police jurisdiction, call the Selma Police Department at 874-6611.
  • For those cases throughout Dallas County, call the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department at 874-2530.
  • For those cases within the 4th Judicial Circuit, call the Office of the District Attorney at 874-2540.

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