I see them on the news and in the papers everyday. Story after story of adults hurting, abusing, or trafficking children. I’m sure you do too.
Young girls raped in their own homes, schools, and neighborhoods. Babies attacked for crying too much. Toddlers used to hide or run drugs. Kids starved and beaten for punishment. Boys taken advantage of for their perceived weakness. Parents trafficking their own children for financial gain. It never ends.
I also hear the outrage and see the comments on social media condemning the abusers, who in many cases are the child’s own parents, or someone they trusted. As a Catholic, I know a number of people who have left the Church over the priest sex abuse scandals.
But the real story of child abuse, be it sexual, emotional, physical, is much deeper than the idea that “there are bad people out there.” Statistics tell us that one in four girls and one in ten boys will be sexually abused by age 18. If you have children, that means multiple kids in their school classroom. Multiple kids on their soccer team or cheerleading squad.
Even more than that, it means most of us actually KNOW an abuser. Stop and think about that for a moment. It could be someone in our neighborhood, someone in our social circle – perhaps even someone in our family. Child abusers are not that rare boogie man we’re all taught to fear. They are everywhere.
No one wants to hear this. No one wants to think their children aren’t safe from abuse. Yet they are not.
I have two young girls in Catholic school. Many would tell me they’re in greater danger there, considering the number of priests accused of sexual abuse. Yet I disagree, particularly for two reasons. First, research done by the Church has found that overall, about 2 percent of priests are/were involved in such abuse. That includes retired/ deceased religious. That’s about the same percentage as the general population.
Secondly, the Church has gone well beyond any other organization that has found itself embroiled in child abuse scandals. It stopped making excuses, started investigating, and set up advisory boards to study and deal with cases that surface. Pope Francis himself became intimately involved. ANY adult that comes in contact with a child on Church property must go through a training course and have a clean state police background check. That includes parents who work in the lunch room, parishioners who administer communion at Mass, cleaning staff, athletic coaches, grandmothers who visit a class to read a story – everybody. Clearance to work with children must be updated every three to five years.
Of course nothing is perfect. There is still a possibility of danger within the Church, but I know now that danger is also everywhere we go. We know this simply from what we see in the news. In addition to educating ourselves as adults, we must also find ways to teach our children to protect themselves, to be cognizant of what and who is around them at all times. This is difficult for kids – it’s their nature to focus on whatever is on their mind, and being conscious of what’s happening around them is usually not a priority. And it’s hard to teach this skill without generating fear as well.
Yet somehow we must. We cannot let them grow up in a dangerous world without the tools they need to survive. Unfortunately, this is going to mean doing some of those “right” things we would often just rather blow off.
We need to learn to control our own anger and behavior. We need to be frank with children about how sex is a beautiful act, but also how it can be used for evil. We must protect their childhood and modesty – girls shouldn’t look 20 at 14, and boys need to be taught that women are not simply for their pleasure. We adults need to pay attention to what we’re showing them. We worry about what books and lessons are age appropriate, but we never seem to worry about what entertainment is age appropriate. We must.
Take some time today to think about what your children are exposed to even in the smallest way. What are the lyrics of their favorite songs? How does their favorite singer dress or dance? Do they have friends that are much older or younger? Do they see inappropriate movies? Do you know and trust their friends’ parents? Who do they talk to online? Who are they playing games with over the Internet? What example do you set for them?
Kids of all ages are impressionable. Make sure they get the right message – that their bodies are their own and they should be on guard. As for those little ones who depend so heavily on adults, be vigilant. Be helpful to overwhelmed young parents. Stop telling yourself it’s safe for a seven year old to have unsupervised access to the Internet. Teach your sons how to respect girls and be gentlemen. Do what you can to keep them from becoming victims – or abusers.
Take that outrage you feel about the abuse we encounter everyday, and stop looking away. There are children who need you to care.