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How Often Does Child Sexual Abuse Get Reported?

Not nearly as often as it should. Most child abuse victims never report the crime or get help in coming to grips with this life-changing trauma. They move into adulthood with a broken heart and low self esteem. Much misbehavior and acting out can be traced to an incident which occurred which left the child feeling confused, betrayed and angry.

In an attempt to cope with the confusing reality of what has happened to them, many children develop survival skills or behaviors that will help them to cover up what they are really feeling. Families, friends and society sometimes see and judge the problem behavior when it is actually a symptom of the internal pain which has never been addressed.

The number of reports is rising each year due to mandatory reporting laws, better public education and greater public awareness of the problem. Over the last 30 years many key developments in law enforcement have made it easier to deal with victims and their families with greater understanding, making it easier for them to come forward and ask for help.

In the Commonwealth Fund Survey of the Health of Adolescent Girls, they found that of sexually abused children in grades five through twelve, 48% of the boys and 29% of the girls had told no one about the abuse-not even a friend or sibling. If indeed, sexual abuse happens to one in four children, yet only 1.8 cases are reported per 1,000 children you have to wonder why.

The most common reasons given by victims for not reporting these crimes to authorities:

1. They feel no one will believe them, as the perpetrator has told them repeatedly.

2. They are so consumed with self-blame and shame that it happened to them.

3. A parent or another adult believes them, but doesn't want to involve outside parties. They feel it is a private matter and they will just keep the child away from the individual who was hurting them, so as not to disturb the family unit or community.

4. The child or the family is afraid of reprisal from the assailant.

There is always hope and assistance for recovery:

Even if your child or you made a decision to not report it at the time abuse happened, please check out the resources in back of my book: Aware, Assertative but Not Afraid-Protecting Your Children From Sex Abuse and Finding Help if It Has Occurred. I have included almost 100 resources for help. There are so many different methods and techniques to help you heal and gain greater understanding of what has happened to you or your child. No one deserves to suffer from painful memories. Healing is possible no matter how long ago the abuse took place. There is help, guidance and tools available to assist both victims and perpetrators overcome painful pasts and look forward to a future full of hope and promise.

Every state has a child-protection agency that is responsible for investigating sexual-abuse complaints. Any incident, or suspected incident, should be reported to this agency and to the police. Go with the child and then refrain from talking about the incident in front of people who really don't need to know. When you report it to the police, ask for an officer trained in dealing with children and ask for a private place to discuss the situation. Children are usually a little bit more open with someone who does not remind them of the perpetrator. Stay with your child and support him/her as they answer questions.

What should a parent do:

Tell them again and again, that they are not at fault. Reiterate that it is the job of adults to protect children, not hurt them. Reassure them that you believe them and will support their efforts and those of the police in seeing this never happens to another child. Most offenders molest more than one child; especially in cases of incest. Breaking the silence and reporting the perpetrator to the authorities or a trusted adult will protect other children. Be sure to tell your child it takes courage to speak out when things are wrong, and you are proud of them for stepping forward.

© Judy H. Wright, Parent Educator and PBS Consultant -

This article has been written by Judy H. Wright, a parent educator and PBS consultant. You will find a full listing of books, tele-classes, and workshops listed at You have permission to use the article providing full credit is given to author. She may be contacted at 406-549-9813 or

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