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Commentary: Child sexual abuse must not be silenced

Child sexual abuse is an often taboo subject that is difficult to talk about. Like all forms of sexual victimization, child sexual abuse is often hidden, can cause shame, self-blame and mostly happens by someone well known to the child. When a child is abused by a caregiver, lines of trust are blurred as they are manipulated and silenced for the gratification of another. Child sexual abuse may be a single encounter or it may be ongoing for weeks, months or even years. Because of their great ability to adapt and resilient nature, children often show no physical signs of child sexual abuse. It is often unwitnessed by others and well hidden by the offenders. The damage however, is still done and can have long lasting effects.

Statistically we know that one out of every four girls will be a victim of sexual violence before the age of 14. Not to be left out, one out of every six boys will also be sexually violated before the age of 16. We also know that Native American women and girls are 2 ½ times more likely to be raped in their lifetime as compared to their non-Native peers. (Note: This statistic is directly related to historical trauma and is not a reflection of culture.) With that being said, sexual violence happens in Minnesota. It happens in large cities, in small towns, it happens to the rich and it happens to the poor, it happens in silence and when we are least expecting it.

Getting help for victims, survivors and the caregivers of those hurt by sexual violence can feel complex anywhere, but especially in rural areas like Park Rapids. Sometimes admitting a child was abused can make a non-offending caregiver feel shame and guilt for not being able to recognize, prevent or stop the abuse from happening in the first place. Sometimes admitting what happened is difficult because we feel we will be the targets of blame, gossip and unfair judgement. Sometimes reports to law enforcement are not even made because of the fear of lost friendships, jobs or social status. There are many fears that keep this topic taboo, and in the midst of our silence, are children who are holding very deep dark secrets.

Support Within Reach Sexual Violence Resource Center is a local agency in Park Rapids and serves victims and survivors of sexual violence in six counties. Support Within Reach is extremely excited to support a Child Abuse Prevention Council event: “Sock it to Child Abuse” at Monika’s Quilt shop on Thursday, May 19th from 9 AM-5PM. There will be door prize drawings, and goodies and coffee will be served. Additionally, they will have representatives to answer your questions regarding child abuse. How do we recognize it, how do we stop it and most importantly, how do we make it safe for all victims and survivors to talk about? Financial donations as well as personal care items will be collected and distributed to local agencies by the Child Abuse Prevention Council.  We encourage you to come in to Monika’s Quilt shop for this event. Just look for the socks outside the quilt shop. For more information on child sexual abuse or to speak with a sexual assault advocate, call Support Within Reach at our local Park Rapids office at 218-237-0300 or our toll free number at (800) 708-2727. All our services are free and confidential. There is hope and healing from sexual violence.

(Laura Huss and Kelly Brevig are with Support Within Reach Sexual Violence Resource Center in Hubbard County)