After several decades of public allegations, child sexual abuse scandals are still difficult to look at and hard to understand. The legal system has yet to confirm how many children were affected by institutionalized sexual abuse traditions. Brave adults continue telling their previously hidden stories of long-term sexual abuse. The public has heard thousands of allegations, excuses, and a few confessions, but they often trigger more questions than answers.
It took years for the public to accept widespread child sexual abuse as a fact of American life. Only occasionally do you hear doubt about the stories and questions as to why abusive acts take so long to surface. To gain perspective on the issue, consider which of the following is a reason why victims often fail to report abuse?
- The abuser asks the child not to tell.
- The child is too ashamed to let anyone know.
- The child feels too guilty to say anything.
- The child believes it’s their fault.
- The child fears no one would believe them.
- The child doesn’t understand what’s happening.
- The incidents make them question their sexuality.
- The children fear for their lives.
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The Answer: All of the Above
A group of child psychologists who studied child sex abuse crimes documented the reasons for delayed reports in a National Institute of Health-published report, Child Abuse. The physicians call child sex abuse “… a stark reality worldwide.” When they discuss the reasons why children do not report the incidents, they cite all of the reasons listed above. The reasons why children fail to report sexual abuse are as common and varied as the sexual crimes committed against them. They are often tied to adult expectations. These expectations have always helped abusers hide in plain sight and continue abusing for years.
As illustrated by victims’ statements, the idea of child sex abuse often seemed unimaginable to their parents. Parents expected honorable behavior from the leaders in their children’s lives, so they gave them unrestrained access. When parents did become aware of abuse, they often reported it to administrators and church leaders, who parents still trusted to take appropriate action. However, as we now know, the church often ignored the abused child and addressed the problem by merely moving the abusive clergy member to another parish where they had the opportunity to commit the same crimes in a new location.
Traditionally, abuse revelations play out behind closed doors. As the Catholic Church scandal was so explosive and the child victims were adults, many of the details have become public knowledge. Website volunteers at Bishop-Accountability.Org have spent years collecting and cataloging relevant data. The organization has posted numerous affidavits, letters, and statements that provide the victims’ abuse recollections.
In these first hand accounts, the reasons children failed to report fall within the above categories but often reflect more sinister issues.
- He was afraid his father would kill his abuser: When a young boy finally revealed the years of abuse, his father had suspected it all along. At one point, he had threatened to kill the priest. The young boy never confirmed his father’s suspicions because he feared for the priest’s safety. As he explained, “my dad would have carried out his threat.”
- The priest was a guest in her home and she was afraid of the effect it would have on her family: A priest who was not yet ordained abused a young girl while he was a long-term guest in her family’s home. In her affidavit, the young victim explained, “he told me don’t tell Mom.” The girl said nothing to her mother because she was afraid of him and of the effect the abuse would have on her family. Her mother later attended the priest’s ordination as his special guest. The victim explains that her mother was proud of him “as if he were her son.”
- “Under the guise of spiritual counseling” Three grown women accused one priest of sexually abusing them when they were young girls. They alleged that he justified his acts as “…spiritual counseling sessions…” He told them they were brides of Christ and described himself as “the second coming of Christ.” The priest eventually acknowledged that allegations against him were true.
- “You wouldn’t want anyone to find out about this.”: One prolific abuser found boys through a newspaper ad that promised help for boys who were “confused about their feelings.” The priest raped the young victim during his first visit. When the victim decided never to go back, his abuser called him repeatedly. The child finally responded when the abuser made his vague threat. He eventually returned to his abuser’s home because he was afraid he would tell his family.
A Not-so-Hidden Phenomenon
Scholars, educators, social workers, and child psychologists have studied the child sex abuse problem. It’s so pervasive, the Center for Disease Control addressed public concerns by issuing a guide entitled Preventing Chile Sex Abuse Within Youth-Serving Organizations. The agency recommends a balance of caring and caution. The World Health Organization’s World Report on Violence and Health called child abuse “a serious global problem.” They further suggest that sexually abused children rarely come forward unless their abuse involves violence.
Both girls and boys have revealed decades-old tales about long-standing abuse affiliated with Catholic Church, schools, organizations, social events, and services. Sexual abuse scandals aren’t exclusive to the Catholic Church. They’ve occurred in youth organizations, family situations, and in both public and private schools. Since the 1980s, scouts have made public allegations against the Boy Scouts of America. Some documented incidents date back to the 1930s.
A Sex Abuse Attorney Can Help You Present Your Case
If an adult abused you as a child, it’s not too late to tell your story. Even if years have passed, California laws allow you to present your case and seek the long-delayed justice you deserve. You can learn more about your legal rights by consulting with a personal injury attorney. A complimentary legal consultation allows you to discuss your case with a knowledgeable advocate. Once you understand your rights, you can determine if you want to pursue your case.
Gomez Trial Attorneys
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San Diego, CA 92101