I learned about sexual abuse during my freshman year at a Catholic high school in Massachusetts. A few religious clergy would seek out the “cute” boys and sexually molest them. I was warned to stay away from these creeps by the upperclassmen at my all-boys school.
It seemed rather repulsive to me that religious brothers would teach us about the word of God one moment and perform oral sex on kids later in the day. I wondered back then, as I do now, why responsible adults never did anything about this. It took almost 50 years for my high school to acknowledge and apologize for this conspiracy of silence.
Parents are more hypervigilant today about the potential risk of sexual abuse by teachers, coaches, clergy and other adults who spend time with our children. These professionals develop a trusting relationship with our kids that can be used to sexually exploit them.
Are our kids safe around such trusted people? Research just published in the Journal of American Academy of Pediatrics has some good news for parents.
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Our kids are much safer around youth workers than they are around friends and family.
Based upon a telephone survey of youth ages 10 to 17 years of age, and of caregivers of children 0 to 9 years old, the overall rate of abuse by individuals in youth-serving organizations was less than 1 percent. In the overall population, about 10 to 20 percent of our kids report being victims of sexual assault.
This new research is reassuring to parents. While cases of sexual abuse by teachers or youth workers get lots of publicity, they are statistically uncommon. Our kids are much more likely to be sexually exploited by an older sibling, stepfather or live-in boyfriend than they are by their soccer coach or teacher.
Many years ago, we mistakenly cautioned kids about “stranger danger,” urging them to avoid interacting with anyone unknown. However, the more appropriate conversation is to talk with them about people they know and trust.
The dilemma is how to give our kids the knowledge to keep them safe without undermining the trust they have with family and friends. These are difficult discussions that should occur often throughout our kids’ childhoods.
While we can take solace in the fact that our children are less likely to be sexually exploited by youth workers, the fact that any abuse occurs is still concerning.
Continue to talk with your kids about this issue. It’s all about keeping them safe, particularly from people they trust.
Dr. Gregory Ramey is the executive director of Dayton Children Hospital’s Pediatric Center for Mental Health Resources. Email: Rameyg@childrensdayton.org.