We have been inundated with stories about the Penn State sex abuse scandal for days now. This high-profile story has shown the national spotlight on the revolting epidemic that is child sexual abuse. It is surprisingly common, but it is a crime of secrecy. One reporter correctly said, “It’s everywhere, but it’s nowhere.” It takes an incredible amount of courage for a victim of child abuse or child sexual abuse to come forward. This is largely because approximately 90% of those who abuse children are in places of authority, or they are someone the child knows and loves, like a family member, or someone the family trusts.
Often people are afraid to get involved in such matters. However, it is incumbent upon us to do so. Children are not able to protect themselves in these situations. They are scared and embarrassed or may even think what is happening to them is somehow normal. It is everyone’s responsibility to protect our children – to give them a voice. Children should be told about “safe touch” and “unsafe touch” and they should know what to do if unsafe touching has occurred. Alabama’s Mandatory Reporter law outlines those who have the legal obligation to report abuse as well as how to do it. However, anyone can report suspected child abuse by calling the Department of Human Resources (274-5200) or Law Enforcement (911).
For those who have been abused, there is hope. Across the country, Children’s Advocacy Centers are available to coordinate all aspects of child abuse investigation and provide medical and mental health services to victims and their non-offending family members. The Blount County Children’s Center is one such Child Advocacy Center, serving all of Blount County. We work hand-in-hand with law enforcement, the Department of Human Resources, the District Attorney, health care providers, juvenile justice, the school systems and other agencies to ensure each child receives the best care possible to promote healing and ensure safety.
Each of us holds the moral and ethical responsibility for the safety of the children around us. Each of us should learn the sometimes subtle signs of child abuse (visit www.childwelfare.gov). And each of us should report suspected abuse so that another child doesn’t have to live in fear and torment.
Jim Ed Clayton
Blount County Children’s Center