I think we could all agree that childhood sexual abuse is a difficult subject that can be very hard to talk about. Yet, considering it is a matter of safety for one of our most vulnerable populations, it is imperative that we ensure that we are informed and aware. Let’s start with the fact that Idaho is a mandated reporter state. Idaho code states. “Any physician, resident on a hospital staff, intern, nurse, coroner, school teacher, day care personnel,social worker, or other person having reason to believe that a child under the age of eighteen (18) years has been abused, abandoned or neglected or who observes the child being subjected to conditions or circumstances that would reasonably result in abuse, abandonment or neglect shall report or cause to be reported within twenty-four (24) hours such conditions or circumstances to the proper law enforcement agency or the department”. By “other person” that means all of us. The result of failing to do this can be misdemeanor charges being filed on someone failing to report. Ifeel the reason that such a penalty exists is because, the resulting damage that children are forced to endure, when it could have possibly been prevented is unacceptable and should not be dismissed by any of us.

We also know some things about the resulting damage of this horrible crime. Sexual abuse has a negative impact on children’s educational attainment (MacMillan, 2000), later job performance (Anda et al., 2004), and earnings (MacMillan, 2000). Adult women who were sexually abused as a child are more than twice as likely to suffer from depression as women who were not sexually abused. Adults with a history of child sexual abuse are more than twice as likely to report a suicide attempt. Females who are sexually abused are three times more likely to develop psychiatric disorders than females who are not sexually abused. Adults with a history of child sexual abuse are 30% more likely than their non abused peers to have a serious medical condition such as diabetes, cancer, heart problems, stroke or hypertension. These are just some of the researched and proven impacts that can be present. It doesn’t take much thought for any adult to be able to think of numerous negative impacts that would be possible for these victims in childhood, as well as in their adulthood.

There are many reasons why a culture of silence has taken hold around this subject. It is also time that we recognize how this culture of silence has done a great dis-service to those who are victims of childhood sexual abuse. The shame and guilt that can be attached to childhood sexual abuse must be something that we all help to put an end to. Shame, guilt and fear are all major contributors to the culture of silence and has a direct impact on a victims or witness being willing to disclose and/or report. The FBI states, “Like rape, child molestation is one of the most underreported crimes: only 1-10% is ever reported”. Among CSA survivors, 16% of female victims never disclosed the abuse, whereas this proportion rose to 30% for male victims. Some victims tell someone about CSA in childhood {30-58%), but many delay disclosures for years or until adulthood (42-75%) and some never disclose at all (28-60%) (Ullman, 2003).

Reasons for not disclosing are varied and include:

n fear of not being believed

n fear of being blamed for the assault

n embarrassment/shame

n wanting to protect others

n fear of losing one’s family

n temporary amnesia

n feelings of responsibility

n threats from the abuser

Being believed is paramount; it is logical to surmise that the ability to prosecute, face one’s abuser, and subsequently prove the allegation leads to lower levels of PTSD. If a survivor discloses and receives a negative response it can be expected the individual will experience worse psychological outcomes. Those who disclose and receive a low negative response experience a low level of PTSD, while those who disclose and receive a high negative response experience experienced a high level of PTSD. (Walsh et al, 2010. Ullman, 2010).

The time to talk about this subject is now, we need to begin to change the culture of silence.

Our children are far too precious and of too great a value for us not to. The culture of silence only serves to create a climate where perpetrators are enabled and given an environment where they can thrive.

We must see ourselves the agents of change, willing to take on this task and make a difference for them and for their future!

On September 19th at the Oregon Trail Center,m you will have an opportunity to hear from a survivor who didn’t stay silent. Deondra Brown is a childhood sexual abuse survivor, who has become an outspoken and important advocate against sexual abuse. She will be sharing her story and education on this topic. Please look for more information in upcoming issues.