Opinion

Trust your ‘gut feeling’ when it comes to child abuse | Sound Off

By Margie Porter

Now that April’s “Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Child Abuse Prevention Month” reminders are behind us, it’s all too easy to compartmentalize those sad abuse facts. Unfortunately, we need to be “aware” each and every day. We can enjoy the beauty of spring and our wonderful life on Whidbey Island, but we must also face the simple truth that we are not exempt from violence in our community.

During the past several weeks we have been faced with the sad reality that horrific things do happen on Whidbey. We’ve read it in the newspapers and seen it on the news. There was the guilty verdict in a horrific case of child sexual abuse. That was followed by allegations of abuse against young boys by a Cub Scout leader. And most recently, a volunteer in a local church is accused of molesting young boys.

You may ask, “Why do these things happen here?” or, “Is it worse here than anywhere else?” My response: “Why would we be different than anywhere else?” Yes, we live in a beautiful place, but it’s not a perfect world. While we can’t change those who offend, we can protect those who are at-risk of being abused.

Did you know that approximately 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually assaulted before the age of 18? Or that in up to 90 percent of all child sexual abuse cases, the child knows the offender? We can’t change what has recently happened, but we can work to prevent these horrific things from happening in the future.

Offenders spend a great deal of time and energy in the process of “grooming” to gain trust and have easy access to the victim. They give the victim bribes, gifts, special privileges, excessive compliments, use their position of authority (coach, boy scout leader) and later continue to manipulate with threats and guilt to maintain secrecy (“If you tell anyone, you’ll destroy the family”).

It’s up to all of us to pay attention to our children and watch for signs that a child is being abused. Here are some things you should watch for:

THE CHILD …

• Shows sudden changes in behavior (angry, overly compliant, passive or withdrawn) or in school performance.

• Has not received help for physical or medical problems brought to the parents’ attention.

• Has learning problems, or difficulty concentrating, that cannot be attributed to specific physical or psychological causes.

• Is always watchful, as though preparing for something bad to happen.

• Lacks adult supervision.

• Comes to school or other activities early, stays late, and does not want to go home.

• Citizens Against Domestic and Sexual Abuse (CADA) staff are working hard to end violence in our community through “Healthy Relationship” presentations in the middle and high schools. We also have a trademarked “Hands and Words Should Not Hurt” program in the elementary schools. But we can’t do it alone. It takes the whole community to make a difference and our children deserve a life free of violence and fear.

Trust your “gut feeling” and act on it if you believe a child is being abused. Parents, talk regularly with your children and let them know they can and should say “NO!” to anyone who makes them feel uncomfortable.

For those who have suffered domestic or sexual abuse, or for family members of victims, CADA staff are here to help. We have a 24-hour crisis line, provide advocacy and support, court support and many other services. All of our services are free and confidential. Just call  675-2232 or 1-800-215-5669.

Margie Porter is executive director of Citizens Against Domestic and Sexual Abuse.

 

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