Debra Todd wrote in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in May 2010 that she had served as appellate judge for over 10 years, and she was astounded by the number of sexual abuse cases. As both a judge and a mother, she issues a "wake up call to mothers."
Ms. Todd reports that one third of the victims of child sexual abuse in Pennsylvania are under age 12 and one in seven are under age 6. She then discusses the "conspiracy of silence" that increases the already profound, long-lasting negative impact of sexual abuse.
Most sexually abused children - an estimated 88 percent - never come to the court's attention. They never disclose. They may show no physical signs of harm. And fear, secrecy, and feelings of shame keep children from seeking help.
Nearly all offenders - 96 percent - are male, regardless of whether the crime is committed against girls or boys. Ms. Todd reports that of those cases seen in court, a significant percentage involve abuse by the child's father, the mother's boyfriend, or the child's stepfather. She states this as the reason that her wake-up call is directed towards mothers. They need to "keep their eyes open."
When a child is under 7, almost half of the abusers are family members. Abusers are usually people that children know well and depend on. Twenty-six percent of childhood sexual abuse is committed by parents or caretakers.
As part of the wake-up call, Ms. Todd states that mothers are "too trusting." They are unaware of the dangers and unaware of the dangers of exposing their children to possible predators. Abuse often occurs when children are left alone or with an abuser. Sexual abuse often continues for months and even years. Sex offenders who victimize children are more than twice as likely to have multiple victims than sex offenders who target adults as victims.
Since the harm done to a child victim cannot be undone, the focus should be on prevention. Ms. Todd asserts that the topic of child sexual abuse must be brought out of the shadows and kept in public awareness. People often resist discussion of child sexual abuse because it is "uncomfortable." However, this is the only way to protect children from the "nightmare" of sexual abuse.
Ms. Todd urges all mothers to be vigilant
. She advises that mothers should:
- Never leave a child in the care of someone you do not know and trust completely.
- Be sure that your children know that they can come to you with problems and know that you will keep them safe.
- Teach children that they have the right to ay "no" to physical contact with others.
- Report any suspected child abuse to the police or to a child abuse hotline.
Ms. Todd concludes by asking: Where is the outrage for the thousands of children abused each year in their own homes? Where are their advocates? Abused children need a voice. They deserve protection. All those with voices should be heard speaking out and helping protect children, the most innocent and vulnerable members of society.