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Children have to be protected from other children, family, and friends

Vanessa Williams has had a successful career despite a rocky start.
Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

During her Oprah's Master Class feature Vanessa Willams (singer/actress) disclosed that she was sexually abused by an older girl when she was 10 years old. Like most victims of sexual abuse she kept her abuse a secret from everyone, including her parents, well into her adulthood. Williams confessed to following another pattern of behavior common among abuse victims. She became sexually curious much earlier than she should have and she also became sexually promiscuous.

Willams stated that while she knew what happened to her was wrong, at the same time it felt good to her. It is exactly that feeling of pleasure that child molesters, even the young ones, often rely on to manipulate and keep their victims silent. Once they introduce sex to an inexperience child they count on being able to use guilt, fear, or shame to keep them quiet. Frequently it's a combination of all three negative feelings that causes children not to tell someone what has happened to them. So the abuse often goes undetected.

Most responsible parents know they need to protect their children from adult predators. But many parents fail to recognize the threat that other children pose to their children. Children that have been sexually violated sometimes become victimizers themselves. Many of them are not mature enough to consider the serious consequences of their actions. Once they've been introduced to sex they may look for opportunities to repeat the part(s) of the sex acts that were pleasurable to them. Some of the easiest victims for them to take advantage of are younger children. Understanding Juvenile Sexual Offending Behavior: Emerging Research, Treatment Approaches and Management Practices, published in December 1999 states, "Sexual aggression perpetrated by young people has been a growing concern in the United States over the past decade. Currently, it is estimated that juveniles account for up to one-fifth of all rapes and almost one-half of all cases of child molestation committed each year (Barbaree et al, 1993, Becker et al, 1993, Sickmund et al, 1997)."

Children who are exposed to abuse or pornographic images in the home or other places may consciously seek out opportunities to act out what they've seen or experienced. Without performing a psychological profile on every one of a child's friends, there is no way for a parent to know which ones are "safe". What is definite is that once a child has been abused sexually, the damage to his or her psyche can not be undone. The National Sex Offender Public Website provides the following information:

  • As many as 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 7 boys will be sexually abused at some point in their childhood.
  • Most perpetrators are acquaintances, but as many as 47% are family or extended family.
  • In as many as 93% of child sexual abuse cases, the child knows the person that commits the abuse.
  • Approximately 33% of sexual assaults occur when the victim is between the ages of 12 and 17.
  • Statistically, 82% of all juvenile victims are female.

Exercising the following habits may decrease the chances that a child will be victimized:

  • Have age appropriate conversations with children about sex (or at least about appropriate and inappropriate behaviors).
  • Become educated on how to recognize signs of sexual abuse.
  • Avoid leaving children alone with strangers, or in homes that are likely to be visited by strangers.
  • Avoid leaving young children with older children unsupervised.
  • Do not allow small children to play unsupervised.
  • Be mindful of adults and children that are always trying to separate a child from his or her parents, or who's always trying to be alone with a child.
  • Do not allow children to go on overnight trips without a parent or trusted family member being present.
  • Do not assume that a child will voluntarily report abuse; ask them (age appropriate) direct questions.

The National Sex Offender Public Website states, "Children might imply something has happened to them without directly stating they were sexually abused—they may be testing the reaction to their 'hint'. If they are ready, children may then follow with a larger hint if they think it will be handled well." Parents and guardians have to make it a priority to know what's going on with their children.

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