Hiding In Plain Sight: Who Is At Risk?

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(WLNS) – April is Child Abuse Prevention Month but one form of abuse is less noticeable because it’s one that hides in plain sight: Child Sexual Abuse.

One in 10 children will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday.

That’s according to a study from the non-profit “Darkness to Light”.

When you hear that statistic you may think that this could never happen to your child but the numbers suggest otherwise.

Child sexual abuse is something we’ve talked about before on 6 News through the stories we learn and deliver in our newscasts. 

It’s also part of the storylines for dozens of movies and television shows.

But the real story of child sexual abuse goes far beyond the stories you see in the comfort of your own home and oddly enough, it’s the same place where most children are molested or exploited for the first time.

In fact, according to the Department of Justice, 90 percent of children are sexually abused by someone they know and trust.

And in most cases, their parents know the abuser too.

“It could be almost anybody,” Alex Brace said. He’s the executive director of Small Talk, which is a child advocacy center in Ingham County.

“It could be a family member, a friend, a teacher, someone who has access and they have power. I think parents are often just shocked that someone they knew and they trusted could harm children in this way.”

Mary Pulido is a doctor of social welfare.

She’s also the executive director of the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

“First of all, they’re master manipulators,” says Dr. Pulido.

She says perpetrators gain a child’s trust in order to start abusing them.

“They fool people, they make friends with the parent, they cozy up to people but they often seek out children who are loners and isolated,” she said. 

You may not believe this could happen to your child, but statistics show, no child is 100 percent safe from being violated or exploited.

“The ages between 7 and 13 children are particularly vulnerable,” adds Dr. Pulio.

When it comes to gender, studies show that 1 out of every 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday.

Race also plays a role with African-American kids at twice the risk of sexual abuse when compared to their white peers.

“The chances of finding physical findings are slim,” says Dr. Pulido.

While experts are getting a better understanding of who is abused Dr. Pulido says the signs and symptoms aren’t always easy to spot.

“So you’re looking for behavioral changes, you’re looking for a child that’s all of a sudden depressed, that’s failing in school, a child that’s throwing tantrums, that has precocious knowledge of sex, you have noticed a shift change in how they operate, suicidal behaviors or cutting.”

However, it’s the effects that emerge long after the abuse ends that are the most devastating and debilitating.

“Research has shown over and over again that there are really serious consequences to child sexual abuse there’s depression, there’s anger and aggression,” Dr. Pulido said.

Because of that, Dr. Pulido says her biggest advice to parents is this:

“If you think something’s not right with your child act on that instinct,” insists Dr. Pulido. “Go with your gut feeling; if something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. And if you’re concerned about someone’s behavior: explore it and know who you’re leaving your child with.”

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