I cannot go into specific details because this is an open case being investigated… but I have a warning for you… to everyone who is a mother, father, aunt, uncle, grandparents or close friend to a child…
What I want you to know is this… my daughter was touched inappropriately while at a sleepover at a friend’s house.
In case you missed this… my daughter was touched inappropriately – as in sexual assault– while she was sleeping at a friend’s house.
Do you feel ill? I do. It makes me cringe every time I think about it. And I am sure you are thinking we are not good parents for not seeing the signs… or that we probably didn’t know this person well? Or they were new to town? Or they had to have had a previous arrest record? Or any number of other hypotheses, but guess what, none of this is true.
You cannot imagine the horror when we found out, and you cannot imagine the time we have spent re-thinking was there something we missed? This was a person we have known for several years and trusted. Our kids have played together on many, many occasions at each other’s houses. They have participated in activities together. We have shared meals as families and friends, attended social programs and events.
I am writing to warn you that no matter how much we warn our children about “stranger danger” the most likely culprits of sexual assault on a child is a known family member or friend. A “trusted” individual. And now I have learned the hard lesson of the statistics around child sexual assault. Here are some that I found during my research (many are from the following website if you want to learn more: http://cachouston.org/child-sexual-abuse-facts/)
• While children of all ages are at risk for abuse, the most common age for sexual assault on a child is between 7-13 years.
• 1 in 4 women are sexually assaulted before the age of 18.
• 1 in 6 boys are sexually assaulted before the age of 18.
• That the estimates are considered to be much higher because so many sexual assaults go unreported or are not believed. The primary reason that the public is not sufficiently aware of child sexual abuse as a problem is that 73% of child victims do not tell anyone about the abuse for at least a year. 45% of victims do not tell anyone for at least 5 years. Some never disclose (Smith et al., 2000; Broman-Fulks et al., 2007
• Most sexual abuse of children occurs in a residence, typically that of the victim or perpetrator.
• That 99% of sexual assault cases are deemed true. The 1% may be children who are too young and are coached to tell a story that is untrue, or when parents are in a divorce/custody battle.
• Children do not lie about this… how could they possibly make up the horrific stories they tell … and honestly, in most cases I believe grown women and men don’t either.
• Sexual assault happens in every socio-economic group, every race, every religion – NO ONE is spared. There is no “it doesn’t happen in my neighborhood, or in my church, or in my school, or among my friends,” because it does. It happens all the time.
Isn’t it awful that it has taken 35 women up to 40+ years to come forward on a magazine cover to say that they were drugged and sexually assaulted/raped by Bill Cosby? Many never came forward or did and they were not believed. They are now speaking up and for the first time lifting some of the burden they have carried for decades. I pray that their telling of their stories will help raise awareness around sexual assault of adults and children.
While we are devastated, I know that my daughter is one of the lucky ones. We believed her, and we are taking care of her, and we are making sure she feels safe even when she is having nightmares nightly. We are getting her therapy, and helping her cope with feelings of anxiety and PTSD, but it is not easy and we have a long road ahead of us. We may have to testify in court if the case goes to trial, and it could drag on for some time. We are trying very hard to focus on what we need to do now for our daughter. We notified authorities because we don’t ever want to hear that this person hurt another child again – ever.
The one thing I am grateful for, and this is something you can do, is talk to your child about what is appropriate and inappropriate touching. Make your son or daughter aware of their “private parts” and explain that even if a doctor were to check them in an office setting that a parent or nurse or other adult should be present. Teach them that if it makes them feel “uncomfortable” that they should listen to their feelings and do whatever necessary to get out of the situation, call a parent, and tell them the truth.
As I have shared our story with some close friends we have learned of others who were assaulted as children. Some never told a soul. Can you imagine carrying that around your entire life, affecting your future and relationships with others? And sadly they did not all get believed when they did try to speak up. This is just heartbreaking to think of these children dealing with this alone.
Let’s wake up and realize that this is happening and make a commitment to stop this pattern of abuse NOW. We have to do more to protect our children.
And the hardest lesson we have learned from this is … that our children are truly never safe, even when we have tried so hard to find good friends and families and establish relationships with people we thought we could trust.
Please hug your child(ren) and have a serious conversation with them. Tell them in age appropriate terms what they need to know… and repeat it often. You can start as young as 4 or 5 years old (or younger). I am so thankful that I did. I know that it helped prevent a terrible situation from being even worse. I hope by reading and sharing this story, you will never have to live through what we are going through now.