The statistics are startling. An estimated one in four girls will be molested by the time she turns 18. One in six boys will too. The great majority of sexual abuse is done by someone the child knows - either a relative or family friend. A U.S. Department of Justice study released in 2000 showed that 34.2 percent of attackers were family members and 58.7 percent were acquaintances. Only 7 percent were strangers.
"Your child is much less likely to be molested by someone that's peering in through your kitchen window. They're far more likely to be molested by someone who's sitting at your kitchen table," said Dr. Jerry Dunn, the executive director of the Children's Advocacy Services of Greater St. Louis.
Learn more about the Children's Advocacy Services of Greater St. Louis here: www.stlouiscac.org/
Read about the signs to look for: www.preventchildabuse.org/help/recognize_warning_signs.shtml
Dr. Dunn says that when a child reveals that he or she experienced abuse, the parent's first response should be to ask the child to tell you a little more. However, Dr. Dunn cautions parents against asking to many questions - saying parents can inadvertently cause more trauma or compromise an impending criminal investigation.
Instead, Dr. Dunn says to call police immediately. If possible, contact the jurisdiction the alleged abuse occurred in.
Praise the child for telling, even if there was a delay in reporting the abuse. Dr. Dunn says avoid asking your child why he or she didn't tell sooner.
Then, call the child abuse hotline.
Information about Missouri's hotline can be found here: www.dss.mo.gov/cd/can.htm
In Illinois, click here: www.state.il.us/dcfs/FAQ/faq_faq_can.shtml
Dr. Dunn says that the hotline will help activate a team that will meet with the child for a forensic interview. At the advocacy center, a forensic interviewer talks to the child in a play room while investigators watch behind a one-way mirror. The interviewer wears an ear piece so that a detective on the other side of the mirror can communicate with the person talking to the child. The interview is recorded and could be used later in the criminal investigation. Dr. Dunn says she prefers to limit the number of times a victim has to tell their story because repeated questions could cause additional trauma.
Often, the team will determine if the child needs to undergo a medical exam and therapy.
Dr. Dunn says there are steps all parents should take to keep the lines of communication open with their children. Discuss who can touch private parts and under what circumstances (e.i. explain who can give baths and explain who can help keep the child clean and healthy).
Talk to your children about not keeping secrets. Often, an abuser will tell the child the contact is a secret or a private game.
Dr. Dunn recommends teaching children the anatomically correct names of private parts to avoid confusion. She says this makes disclosure easier because there is no mistaking what a child means when she says, "he touched my vagina".
Sexual predators are often good at seeking out children who may be in vulnerable situations. Watch the video to hear more from Dr. Dunn.