A perpetrator may be a church faculty member, camp counselor, parent, coach or cousin. The victim may be an athlete, a preacher’s kid, a student, or a neighbor.
What do they all have in common?
Child sexual abuse, which is defined as any sexual act between an adult and a minor, or between two minors, when one exerts power over the other.
According to statistics, about 1 in 10 children experience child sexual abuse before the age of 18. Youth are the victims in 66 percent of all sexual offenses reported to law enforcement. Ninety percent of children are abused by someone they know — 30 percent by a Family member and 10 percent by someone the Family trusts. Only about 10 percent are abused by strangers.
In a Stewards of Children class, April 10, at the Soldier Support Center, adults learn how to prevent, recognize and react responsibly to child sexual abuse. The class is facilitated by the Family Advocacy Program, Army Community Service, with resources provided by Darkness to Light, a national nonprofit dedicated to ending child sexual abuse.
When Monica Burton, an Army spouse, realized that a thin line separated her from someone who was investigated for child sexual abuse, she decided to sign up for the class.
As a mother of three children; ages 13, 9, and 7 years old, Burton said it was important to take the class, “to be able to minimize their risk and be able to report it if I see something.”
She wants to also teach her children to look for the behavior of pedophiles. One such behavior is grooming — a process by which an offender gradually draws a victim into a sexual relationship and maintains that relationship in secrecy.
Grooming behaviors include isolating the child, filling the child’s unmet needs or the needs/roles within the Family, treating the child as if he or she is older, gradually crossing physical boundaries and becoming increasingly intimate or sexual.
Indicators of a child who has been abused include having nightmares, bedwetting, falling grades, displaying cruelty to animals, having a tendency to run away or self-harm; experiencing anxiety, headaches or chronic stomach pain; displaying emotional signals such as withdrawal, fear, depression or unexplained anger; use of alcohol or drugs at an early age.
Physical signs may present as bleeding, redness and bumps, scabs around the mouth, genital or anus, sexually transmitted diseases, abnormal vaginal or penile discharge and urinary tract infections. Additionally, displaying sexual behavior and language that is not age-appropriate can be an indicator.
Stewards of Children attendees learn five steps to protecting children:
Learn the facts. It is likely that one knows a child who has been or is being abused
Minimize opportunity. Eliminate or reduce isolated, one-on-one situations to decrease the risk of abuse
Talk about it. Have open conversations with children about their bodies, sex and boundaries
Recognize the signs, both physical and emotional
React responsibly. If a child discloses sexual abuse, or if it is discovered or suspected, listen calmly, believe the child, affirm the child’s courage and seek the help of a professional trained to talk with the child about abuse. Once child sexual abuse is suspected, adults have an obligation to report it.
“Contact military police to make a report,” said Krista Melton, a contract employee who helps facilitate Stewards of Children.
If the person lives off-post, he or she should contact 911, the local police department, sheriff’s office, or the Department of Social Services or county DSS, said Melton.
To contact the Fort Bragg Military Police, call 396-0391, 396-0392 or 396-0393. To reach the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office, call 323-1500. In cases of emergency, 911 works in outlying counties.
For more information about FAP classes, call 396-5521 or visit https://bragg.armymwr.com/us/bragg/programs/fap.