- Politics and Social Issues»
- Crime & Law Enforcement»
The rape of the innocents -- child sex abuse
Child sex abuse -- thirty years as a protection worker
The bleak statistics
Official statistics published by child protection agencies are far too low.
In 1999, The McCreary Adolescent Health Survey in Canada estimated sexual abuse of girls at 35% and boys, 16% of the national adolescent population. Similar studies in the United States (Gorey & Leslie 1997) reported an estimate of 22% of girls and 5-10% of males. In 2005, the overall published rate for child sexual abuse is estimated at between 15-20%.
In 2001, a conference of child protection workers collected data from all ten Canadian provinces and 23 American states and came up with the horrific statistics of 4 out of every 10 girls and 1 out of every 10 boys. But these numbers, disturbing as they are, reflect only the reported cases, and as any worker in the field knows, this is only the tip of the iceberg.
In 2003, a similar conference of international child protection workers estimated the worldwide ratio as 7 out of 10 girls and 4 out of 10 boys as having been sexually molested before the age of sixteen. Most professionals believe even these figures are conservative.
The wide disparity of published statistics suggests we have no reliable figures with which to measure this sickness in our society.
More bleak statistics
80% of abusers hold a position of trust with the child, the father figure (father, stepfather, mother’s partner, grandfather) and of this 60-80% were abused themselves.
The average incestual relationship lasts seven years.
75% of the mothers of these victims had no idea these abusive relationships existed.
80% of prostitutes (male and female) report childhood sexual abuse.
It is estimated that less than 25% of child sexual abuse is ever reported to law-enforcement or child protection authorities.
Child sexual abuse is found in all economic and ethnic strata of our society, from the very wealthy to the very poor, and equally distributed among all cultures and races.
We do not know if these figures represent a growing incidence of sexual abuse of children, because no studies had been published prior to the late 1970’s.
Do these statistics and facts surprise you?
They did me, and I have thirty years experience as an outreach worker in child protection. I worked with the victims.
If the statistics are to be believed, for every ten women who read this hub, seven of you will have personal experience as a victim, and for you men, four of you have stories of your own.
Being a woman, I chose to narrow my scope here to females; also because as an outreach worker, I specialized in working with girls. I do not doubt for a minute the pain and horror experienced by the boys is any less traumatizing, but I cannot speak to it with the same degree of experience.
At first, I had trouble believing that 70% of the women in the world had been victims of sexual abuse. I started my own private experiment, and discussed the subject with women I know. So far, out of fifty-six conversations on the subject, I’ve met two who have not been subjected to some form of childhood sexual interference. Whether it was inappropriate touching by some family friend, long-term fondling, a request for manual manipulation, oral sex, or full penetration -- violation of the worst kind – one incident or ongoing -- they had been abused. Some of them said it was the first time they’d spoken of it; some cried as they did so and some talked freely about the experience, apparently reconciled and healed. My little unscientific research project led me to believe one thing: the statistics are not inflated. If anything, they do not come close to the scope and reality of the issue.
Statistics are cold. Statistics are dry. I’m going to attempt to put the human faces in place for you here, and if this subject is disturbing to you, if you have difficulty even thinking about this, read no further.
This kind of work, even as a volunteer – the idea of paid intervention is a new one – is done with the highest degree of confidentiality, so obviously names, locations, anything that can identify a victim has been changed.
Four of the hundreds of victims I have known
Jane was thirteen when I first met her.
The chain of events that led to the arrest of her abuser was set off by her aunt, to whom she’d finally confided her ordeal. The aunt, in turn told the mother, the mother called the police, and a police officer who’d worked with me in the past, called me in.
My job was twofold: help Jane articulate her experiences and then protect Jane, act as her advocate during the legal process and stand between her and law-enforcement and the prosecutors’ office, and in this case, like so many, sometimes between her and her mother.
Her abuser was her father. It had gone on for four years. Her mother had difficulty with the situation and vacillated between rage toward her husband, and anger, jealousy and guilt toward her daughter.
Jane’s arms and thighs were criss-crossed with scars; she was a cutter: one who hurt herself physically to lessen the emotional pain. She was overweight, unkempt and unclean, a common form of self-defense for abused girls. Having finally decided to talk and fight back, she was almost eager to speak to me.
“It started when I was nine. He said I had to obey him. He bent me over the back of the couch and forced his you-know-what into my bum.” Her face crumpled and an inward look stole into her eyes. “It hurt and I screamed. He put my face in a pillow and kept banging into me, and the whole time he said, ‘You belong to me,’ over and over.” She was quiet for a moment then, her expression grew hard. “That was the first time. He did that a lot. He showed me pictures of people doing stuff, said that’s what girls do for the men they love.”
She related four years of anal and oral penetration. His favorite theme was anal penetration while he pulled her hair. She said, “I’d try not to scream, but he wanted me to. He liked that, so if I didn’t cry and scream he’d hurt me in other ways ‘till I did. Sometimes my tongue would bleed from trying to be quiet.” She suddenly looked defiant. “I didn’t want to give him my tears. I didn’t want him to have that, but most of the time I couldn’t help it.”
Why didn’t she tell someone sooner? “He said if I told anyone he’d leave and our family would get broken up. I didn’t want my family gone. What about my brothers? They love my dad.” For the first time, tears streamed down her face. “So do I. Now my family is broken up and it’s all my fault.” The tears increased. “I just had to tell someone. I didn’t know my aunt would tell. I should have stayed quiet.”
When the father was arrested, he told the police officers, “It’s not like I took her virginity.”
Yes, her hymen was intact, and that means she’s still a virgin, so what’s the crime?
This SOB pleaded guilty to the charges – nine months later. Nine months, during which time he hounded his family, tried to reconcile with his wife, attempted to persuade his daughter to recant, and twice visited with his three sons, leaving them confused, distraught and hostile to their sister.
Jane’s mother divorced him as soon as he was imprisoned (nine-year sentence), immediately found a new partner – on the internet – and moved across the country with her children to live with this relative stranger. When I called eighteen months later, Jane no longer wanted to speak with me.
Her mother did. “Jane is nothing but problems these days. She’s a total slut, sleeping with anyone who wants her. My boyfriend says she should go to foster care.”
Personally, I thought that would be a good idea and said so. Perhaps then, this poor child would get the help she so desperately needs. Were she still in the same jurisdiction, I’d foster her myself.
Betty was twelve. She’d run away from an unhappy foster home, trying to get back to her birth family, had been missing for four months and finally surfaced in a youth protection center, twelve hundred miles from her home.
“I was too scared to put out my thumb for a ride by myself and met this man who looked okay and he said I could hitch-hike with him. We got a ride to another town and he bought me some supper. He wanted to go play pool for a bit with some guys he knew and said I should wait for him in the lobby.”
She shook her head, took several great gulps of air, and went on. “When he came out of the tavern, he said he’d met some friends who’d give us a ride the rest of the way and I could go sleep in their car until they were ready to go. When we went out back, two guys grabbed me, put something over my mouth.”
She was now trembling in every part of her body. “I saw them give the man I thought was helping me some money, and then I passed out. When I woke up, I was tied up in the back seat. I started to cry, but one guy reached over and hit me, and told me to shut up. We drove for hours and hours.”
When she arrived at some unknown destination, she was carried into a house, and thrown into a windowless basement room with a mattress on the floor, a bucket to pee in and no water. This would be her home for the next four months. A few hours later, she was taken from that room, stripped, thrown into a tub of water and then taken to another room. She described for me the bright lights, a bed, a camera and three men. She was raped by two of them, while the third recorded the event on film. Afterwards, she was returned, bloody and traumatized to the little room. She received no attention, not even a chance to wash herself.
Over the next ten weeks, she was rented out to anyone wanting to rape a twelve-year-old girl. She believes she was raped fifty to sixty times. When her captors decided her spirit was broken and she was passive and terrorized enough, they put her out on the street to work. One night, she was approached by an outreach worker and taken to a safe haven. That outreach worker called me.
Although with time, Betty was able to allocute her experiences well enough to lodge a sworn statement with local law-enforcement, her captors and rapists were never found or arrested.
Betty went to a group home, received counseling, and did reconcile with her birth family but never returned to live with them (alcohol abuse). She lived in the group home until she aged out at eighteen. Later, aged twenty-two, she is married with two children.
“I still have the nightmares. To anyone who has never known what it is like to be seen as a thing, a thing only fit for whatever someone wants to do to you, the fear and the horror will never make sense. Many of my abusers threatened to kill me. They took pleasure in hurting me, beating me to get turned on. It took me a long time to regain my sense of being a person. That first outreach worker saved my life. The second helped me put it back together, and then it was my husband who saved my soul.”
Molly was only five years old. Her mother knew me personally, and knew of my work. She called me late one Saturday night.
“I don’t know what to do. Oh God, help me, please help me. I left her with her with my brother-in-law and ….” I heard a strange choked-off scream. “He raped my baby!”
Her husband was on a business trip. She wanted to go to a friend’s bridal shower, and the youngest of her husband’s three brothers, aged sixteen, had agreed to babysit while she went out. She returned home to find her daughter alone in the house, listless, semi-conscious, lying in a puddle of blood in her bed. It didn’t take much of an examination to understand what had happened.
I told her to go to the emergency room of the hospital and I’d meet her there. I called the police.
I left the mother with the two police officers and volunteered to witness the physical examination – this is important in child sexual abuse cases -- not my favorite part of this work, but one I’ve done many times.
I always had that strange sense of being in a dream when performing this service. Even while my eyes see it, some part of me cannot comprehend the need for the existence of a speculum that small.
Little Molly had already been fitted with an IV line and was receiving fluids to combat the shock. Her eyes were open but unseeing. She made no sound of distress or objection as her little legs were firmly strapped to the miniature stirrups. It wasn’t until the speculum was inserted that she reacted – and then only with a tiny gasp of surprise and pain. Her eyes glazed over, but rotated to me when I took her hand in mine.
She needed dozens of stitches to repair the rips and tears to her undeveloped vaginal canal. Her cervix was damaged, requiring surgery at some future date, once the other wounds had healed.
The rapist was arrested, but because of his age was charged as a youthful offender. His record would not survive his eighteenth birthday.
Her mother never forgave herself for blindly trusting a family member. Her husband was angry with everyone involved, and was arrested for assault when he beat his youngest brother, putting him in the hospital. His record would follow him all his life.
Alice was a ten-year-old victim of her grandfather’s abuse. It started when she was six and ended when she passed out in school one day, with a sudden high fever. She suffered from severe pelvic inflammatory disease and Chlamydia, which had gone untreated for a year or two. When I first met her, she was in a hospital bed with two IV lines, one in each arm, pumping her full of antibiotics.
“Granddad lives with us,” she told me. “And he always liked to touch me. He used to have me sit on his knee and tickle me so I’d wiggle around. He’d get all red in the face when we did that. I thought we were just playing.” Her innocence was heart wrenching. “He liked to give me a bath. He’d put soap on his finger and wash my inside. He said girls were dirty in there.”
I wanted to cry, but somehow managed to keep my professional demeanor. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard such a story – more like the hundredth.
How old was she when penetration began? Eight.
And she was only ten when her reproductive organs were so scarred by the inflammation of infection; she was rendered sterile.
Her grandfather was arrested, but denied the allegations. This sweet little girl, who still didn’t understand what had been done to her, ended up giving testimony by closed circuit television to a jury. I was with her. Just before the case was concluded, the defendant changed his plea to guilty and received a six-year sentence.
Four cases out of many. Four faces, names and lives that represent a tiny fraction of the whole.
What is an outreach worker?
Until the late 1990’s an outreach worker was a volunteer, who used a combination of training, natural ability with children, and personal experience with the issue to act as a first contact with victims of crimes against children. Ideally, this person had no concrete connection to law-enforcement, or any social agencies, therefore had no agenda other than the welfare of the victim. Lately, this role has been ‘professionalized’ to a degree, and may often be a police officer or social worker with special training.
Law enforcement, including police and prosecutors are primarily concerned with ‘making a case’ against the perpetrators of these crimes, and are not always inclined to view the welfare of the child to be of first importance. Social agencies have a mandated policy of preserving the family unit, decisions to make as to whether or not to apprehend the child, and all the politics involved in these bureaucratic organizations, and as such, may not be able to consider the short-term best interest of the child.
Parents, particularly those dealing with incestual abuse, are often emotionally charged, in denial, enraged, and therefore ill equipped to assist the child. In most cases of familial abuse, the child has kept this terrible secret for so long a parent is the last person he/she will be comfortable confiding in.
An outreach worker comes into the situation as a stranger, but a stranger who understands, with many similar stories to share and most importantly, someone uninvolved in the situation. They do not carry the authority of the law that the child fears may break up the family, or put a loved one in jail. They are there only for that child.
An outreach worker is often the first person who hears the child’s story, and having gained her trust, must now stand between her and those who, however much they sympathize, do have their own professional needs of her.
Ideally, once the situation has normalized, inasmuch as it ever will, the outreach worker disappears.
I say ideally, but in the latter half of my thirty-year career, I fostered some of these children in my own home, some for a few weeks, and a few for several years.
This was very unprofessional, and a great weakness in an otherwise very professional career. My contacts with police officers, medical practitioners and social workers had been hard earned and carefully nurtured. I enjoyed an excellent reputation in the field, and many referrals from these professional. But I couldn’t maintain the required distance from some of the victims.
They became part of my family. I’m still in contact with some past clients. Some are friends, some are closer, some of their children call me Nana.
I no longer do this work. One day, not too many years ago, I woke up and started crying. I entered a profound depression that lasted for many months, during which I lived with a terrible fantasy in my head. I wanted to get my hands on some automatic weapon, line up all the child molesters and shoot them dead. It was time to stop.
Today, I use the knowledge I gained from these years in my writing. My first two novels are centered on these issues, in the hope that fiction may reach those that another dry sociology paper will not. I still attend conferences on child protection, engage in debates and discussions, write papers, give speeches but I no longer confront the victims.
I hope this article takes you beyond the statistics, to the heart of the human tragedies those sterile numbers represent. The chances are high that some of you reading this already know from you own histories, the terrible self-perpetuating problem that is child sex abuse. Thank you for reading, and bless you all.
NEW! A look at child sex-trafficking, a growing problem in America and around the world
- The Rape Trade -- child prostitution
Another FBI/local law enforcement agency initiative has recovered a number of child-victims of the sex trade. This time the media took notice. But some of the information given left me uneasy. Here's why.
Two articles related to this story
- 52 children recovered, 60 alleged child pimps arrested in crackdown -- but have you heard about it?
Today the FBI announced 52 children recovered during a crack down on the child sex slave industry, Did any of you hear about it? And why not? 100,000 children trafficked in the U.S. each year
- Incarceration, castration or execution -- attempts to control the dangerous, violent sex offender
Society looks at ways to control sex offenders, and finds no real workable answers, as recent events prove. A front line worker in the child protection field writes about the problem.
Link to related stories
A link to a related news story is provided to the right. Why is the media not reporting on the child sex-slave trade in America? Did you know the FBI estimates 100,000 American children are trafficked each year? Have you any idea what happens to them?
Another link to a new hub on violent, dangerous sex offenders and society's attempts to control them. The sex offender registry -- does it hinder or help law enforcement? Why did California miss the chance to lock up a predicate dangerous sex offender before he killed again? What are our lawmakers doing to protect our children?
A new Article -- Oprah's presents dangerous sex offenders confined to an island
- McNeil Island - facility for dangerous sex offenders -- Oprah April 12 2010 -- response to a request
On April 12, 2010, Oprah presented a documentary by Lisa Ling on the McNeil Island faciility for Level 3 sex offenders. Hubber Sablirab asked me to write a hub giving my opinion on this program, knowing of my history as a child protection worker.
Another new link
- This Bird Flew Away
This Bird Flew Away is scheduled for release in January, 2011. This is a tender, funny, heart-wrenching novel, describing one victims voyage from degradation and despair, to becoming a child protection worker, herself. Check it out.