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Recent news stories about sexual abuse of children in Alexandria and elsewhere should do more than make us disgusted and angry.
It should make us act.
Consider something that happened in Duluth about a year ago: A 70-year-old man was arrested for sexually abusing a 7-year-old girl who was being cared for at a child care business run by the man and his wife.
When an investigator asked the man, “Why a child?” The man replied, “Because it’s easy.”
Sadly, statistics indicate just how “easy” it is: More than 39,000 sexual assaults are estimated to be committed each year in Minnesota — the majority against children. One in four girls and one in six boys will have been abused by the age of 18. Some estimates put the number of childhood sexual abuse survivors in America at 39 million.
But there are things a community and families can do to make it harder for individuals to sexually abuse children. Ted Thompson, executive director of the National Association to Prevent Sexual Abuse of Children, offered this advice in a Prevent Child Abuse Minnesota newsletter:
• We can make prevention of childhood sexual abuse a public policy priority. We can call legislators and prosecutors to express outrage at abuse. It would greatly enhance our ability to expose offenders if we would eliminate statutes of limitations, both criminal and civil, for the sexual abuse of children.
• We can educate our communities. People need to know that sexual abuse of children by someone known to the child is exceedingly more likely to happen than the more high-profile, but rarer, stranger-abduction and rape.
• We can come forward and address abuse we know about or suspect. It is likely in most cases that someone knows abuse is happening and needs to have the courage to come forward. Because sexual abuse is often perpetrated by people we know, this can be difficult.
• We can improve our ability to educate families and professionals to prevent as well as recognize, report and respond to abuse. We need to provide model curriculum to prepare professionals to recognize abuse; and understand that factors such as substance abuse, poverty and unemployment can significantly contribute to the risk of children being sexually abused.
• Parents can communicate with their children every day. We can teach children that sexual advances from anyone, including other family members, are not OK, and also teach them how to conduct themselves in sexually appropriate ways with others.