Exposed and Uncovered – Child Sexual Abuse in Your Community: How it Happens, How to Respond Part I

 

By Laura Young, Youth Advocate, Umbrella

On Friday, June 9th a local St. Johnsbury counselor was arrested for sexual assault of a child (a 14 year old young man) and recording a sex act of a minor. Many of our community members have been left reeling and angry. How can a man with that level of trust in the community rape a young boy? Not to mention the question lying in the back of our heads as advocates and concerned community members-how many more children did he violate?

I recently watched the movie Spotlight which covered the way that the Boston Globe brought to light the sexual violence occurring within the Catholic Church in the early 2000’s. I couldn’t help but think of this movie as I think of the actions of the counselor in St. Johnsbury. In both situations, the priests and, in this case the counselor, used their standing in the community to cover up their actions.

At this point, when I think of those in authority who abuse children there’s so much I could say. I could keep you reading for days but I will try and sum up just a few (okay, seven) of my thoughts on how this happens and what to do if your community has been affected by child sexual abuse.  Here are three of my thoughts…watch for Part II for the rest!

  1.  An abusive person from outside of the family is generally a trusted, well liked member of a community and of a child’s life.

First, it is important to note that, according to the National Sex Offender Public Website, 30% of perpetrators of child sexual abuse are members of the child’s family.

Of the 70% that are not family members, we tend to have this image in our minds of a perpetrator of a man in a white van offering candy to small children. Although sexual abuse by strangers does happen (10%), the truth is that 60% of perpetrators of child sexual abuse are people well known in the victim’s family or the surrounding community. Someone with the communities’ trust and respect. Perhaps we like to think of the man offering candy as a way to protect ourselves from thinking that we may give our trust to someone who could violate our child but this is not the (horrible) truth. Taking a look at the National Center for Victims of Crime’s website we learn that “3 out of 4 adolescents who have been sexually assaulted were victimized by someone they knew well.” This includes individuals that their family and community knew well too.

Often, perpetrators look for places to work or volunteer where they will be around children. They will make an effort to get close to the child’s caregiver and earn their trust or look for a child who does not have actively involved adults. They may intentionally be a friend to families who are having family difficulties and they may hang out in places where children frequent, they may offer to coach or mentor children etc.

Also, people who are seeking to abuse children may use their ties to religious organizations, sports or schools (or in St. Johnsbury’s case their work in a counseling office) to their advantage. Within these organizations, children are taught to trust and respect whomever their authority is (as they should be able to do). Additionally, by being involved in the community, especially in religious organizations the perpetrator has established themselves as someone who shares certain values which causes some parents and some community members to naturally be more trusting of this individual because they hold them to a higher moral standard.

  1.  A sexual predator will groom their victim and their victim’s family as well as the surrounding community

Grooming is an action that a sexual predator takes in order to earn the trust of a child and the trust of a child’s caregivers. This action (grooming) is an intentional action that a perpetrator takes which involves well thought out effort, time and relationship building on the part of the offender towards the victim and the community. A sexual predator will look for ways to earn the trust of the community by actively being involved within the community and painting themselves as a trustworthy, caring individual. Just as a predator will gain the trust of the child and break down their emotional and physical guards before perpetrating their violence against that child, so a predator will gain the trust of the community and the child’s guardian.

The perpetrator will use this to their advantage and further manipulate this relationship by giving the child something special-maybe gifts, special opportunities, time and attention and/or maybe by making the child believe that they are the only one who really understands how they are feeling.

To learn more about grooming, check out this video:

And another on internet grooming:

  1.  A perpetrator can use their standing in the community and their relationship with the child to prevent disclosure.

A perpetrator can use the power over a child by controlling that child’s ability to disclose sexual abuse. A child might be more resistant to share about abuse when the perpetrator verbally manipulates them into secrecy, especially if the abuse occurred from someone that they see their parent or trusted adult respecting and admiring. Additionally, a
perpetrator can also form a skewed relationship with the child where the child may feel guilty for disclosing abuse because they genuinely care about the person who is abusing them.

For more information on responding to child survivors of sexual abuse and ways to help protect kids, please check out the links below:

 

 

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