22 Aug Child Sexual Abuse: We Must Speak Up
By Jessie Keller
When 5-year-old Janie announced to her mom on the way home from a family picnic, “Michael made me play a game I didn’t like.” Her mother became concerned. Michael was Janie’s 12-year old cousin and had not been seen most of the afternoon. Janie went on, “He made me close my eyes and open my mouth…” As the details emerged of the rape and the sodomy little Janie had experienced that day unfolded, her mother, Rachel, knew she had to speak up. There are no words to express the horror when she immediately confronted the boy’s family with the news. The response from Michael’s father, Josh, “Oh No! Not again!” Again? He had done this before? Then to later discover that other family members knew and had decided to keep quiet, was almost too much to bear. This is the story of my cousin and the journey she began the day her daughter was sexually abused.
According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, “One in five girls and one in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse.” These statistics are only a best guess given that reporting of sexual abuse is often delayed, if reported at all. Boy victims are even less likely to disclose an event, and the rape culture of the United States often teaches males “…to be proud of early sexual activity, regardless of whether it was wanted.” . It is not hard to accept that only 16% of all rapes are reported.
Why It Continues to Happen
Rachel immediately took Janie to see a psychologist trained in child sexual abuse. At the time she had only spoken to her brother and her parents, who were complicit in keeping Michael’s history a secret. Through talking with the psychologist, she decided it was best to tell her two sisters, Kim and Sarah, about the abuse despite them both living hundreds of miles from Michael and his family. After all, what would happen if they came to visit with their children and did not know? As family members she determined they should know. As soon as Kim heard the news, she told Rachel that she, too, had been raped as a child. It was a gut punch to hear that is was their brother Josh that had raped her from the time she was 3 until she was 12, almost every night. When Rachel confronted Josh about Kim’s claim, he declared it had been mutual. When Sarah heard the news, she revealed their father had raped her as a child repeatedly, and that their mother knew. As more and more information came to light, a dynasty of sexual abuse and cover up took shape. Multiple generations of abuse gone unaddressed and left to fester. If only someone had spoken up years ago, maybe Janie would have been spared.
When asked, most people are insistent they would speak up if they knew of sexual abuse. In reality they usually do not. We all intend to do the “right thing”, but sometimes follow through is difficult. Who wants to rock the boat? I have actually heard people say, “I lived through it, she will be ok too”. It is easy to come up with reasons not to tell:
- Maybe it’s not true
- The accused seems so nice
- I don’t want the attention
- It is embarrassing
- What if my parent, friend, father, husband, priest… has to go to jail
- I don’t want to shame the victim
- Belief nothing will happen anyway (only 97% of rapists walk free)
- There isn’t enough proof
- It wasn’t a serious crime
The Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Abuse reports, “Not all survivors find it necessary to report sexual assault to the criminal justice system in order to move forward from their experience. In fact, some feel that the criminal justice system re-victimizes them in its process. Some survivors find that the services provided by a rape crisis and recovery center or similar provider are the only services they feel comfortable pursuing. “
When sexual abuse of a child occurs, shame immediately sets in and a lifetime of PTSD usually follows. A severe lack of self-esteem, depression, and over sexualized behavior are a few of the effects of sexual abuse. The effects are far reaching and long lasting. There are usually signs of trauma by all family members when a child is sexual abused.
Stop it from Happening Again
When we start to speak up and stand for victims who are far too young to know how to process these crimes, we can change the statistics. We must start to prosecute these cases. When our society begins to hold predators accountable, the incentive to abuse will decrease; by only making 5% of abuses answerable for their crimes, we have given them a free pass.
After it Happens
Janie is now a happy 12 year old and is thriving. This is because someone finally spoke up. Janie was given the proper help after her assault. Michael is now 19 and has also had the treatment to make his life hold value and promise. Janie’s parents fostered an atmosphere of listening long before it happened, so she felt comfortable in relating her experience. Rachel guided Janie in reporting to the police and she remains her champion today. She made certain Janie knew she was not at fault and that she was allowed to talk about it anytime she needed to. It was never a dirty secret, she was never an invisible victim. Janie is the hero of this story; she did what is so hard for adults: she told someone.
There is not a person on earth who will take better care of your children than you. We all must push embarrassment and discomfort aside and shout from the rooftops the truth. It is our responsibility to be involved in our communities and speak to our community council’s, mayor, and governor’s office, etc.. Never has there been a time when being heard is is so easy. Use technology to your advantage, be the mama bear and protect those babies! From the Mama Bear Effect, “…the more comfortable we feel talking about this issue with friends & family – the less ignorance silences this issue and the harder it is for predators to operate… Some people may consider the issues surrounding child sexual abuse and feel it’s “too big” to tackle. That things will never change because it requires so many people to care and to get involved. The truth is – you can take responsibility for your children, your friends & family, your community. You have a voice, and when exercised, it can most definitely create positive change.”
Jessie Keller comes from the western slope of Colorado. As an adult she lived in Utah and immersed herself in volunteer and advocacy work for the East Millcreek community and Granite School District. In 2012, she moved to Dallas Texas, where she continues her volunteer work in the Plano Independent School District. Jessie has over 15 years of experience as a volunteer and advocate for children.
Jessie has been married for 20 years and has 3 children. She plans on graduating from Brigham Young University Idaho in the spring of 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in Marriage and Family studies.