Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Sexual Child Abuse in 2010

Former Penn State football coach, Jerry Sandusky has been accused of molesting several young men while working as a football coach at Penn State. In the light of this most recent scandal, coupled with the the much larger child sexual abuse scandal by the Catholic church, it raises questions, in my mind at least. How much of a problem is child sexual abuse in our country? Is this pattern of abuse getting worse, or are more victims showing the amazing courage to come forward and tell the truth about their trauma? 

Nearly everyone thinks that they would know a child molester if they saw one. As epitomized by Stanley Tucci's role in The Lovely Bones (2009), it is the the awkward, creepy neighbor, with the comb-over and big mustache. He is a loner, has no children of his own and is obviously a serial-killing child molester! He has it written all over his face. In actuality, most people who prey on children are not strangers, nor do they have any outward appearance of their emotional state. The Center For Missing and Exploited Children, a non-profit organization has a wealth of data and resources on their web site for law enforcement, attorneys, parents and educators. One of the publications that they provide is the "registered sex offender map" which gives rates of sexual predators by state. It might surprising to some to learn that the state of Florida has the highest rate of sex offenders per capita at 55,999 (or 300 per capita). The state of Michigan comes in second with 47,329 (with a higher per capita rate of 447). The state with the highest number of sex offenders is California with 106,216 (or 285 per capita) but given that the land mass of the state is much larger, that figure can be deceptive. "The myth of the typical child molester as the dirty old man in the wrinkled raincoat has been reevaluated based on what we have learned about the kinds of people who sexually victimize children. 

The Center For Missing and Exploited Children (CFMEC) published a comprehensive portrait of who child molesters are (and are not) in 2010. "The fact is child molesters can look like anyone else and even be someone we know and like. In my opinion, however, the growing preference today to refer to sex offenders against children as predators has mitigated this recognition and progress" (Center For Missing and Exploited Children, 2010). The CFMEC report goes on to say that while there is a small fraction of dangerous predators who prey on young people, the more likely occurrence of an inappropriate encounter with a child is more likely to come from someone that the child knows and trusts. "Acquaintance molesters are still, however, one of the most challenging manifestations
of sexual victimization of children for society and professionals to face
" (Center For Missing and Exploited Children, 2010). Acquaintance molesters, they say, are harder to detect because they often times infiltrate voluntary positions where they can gain access to children in a casual setting. "The acquaintance molester, by definition, is one of us. He is not simply an anonymous, external threat. He cannot be identified by physical description and, often, not even by 'bad' character traits. Without specialized training or experience and an objective perspective, he cannot easily be distinguished from others" (Center For Missing and Exploited Children, 2010). This would explain why someone like Jerry Sandusky or a parish priest would be beyond reproach in their access to and interaction with children and probably why, when an accusation of molestation or child rape has been leveled, that it comes as such a complete surprise.

Is child molestation and child rape more prevalent that it once was?  It is hard to say. There is plenty of data to support that with the advent of the internet and chat rooms, that men have easier access to children pretending to be older and more sophisticated then they actually are. This scenario, of older men getting caught picking up young girls on the internet, famously plaid out in Chris Hanson's To Catch a Predator series only reinforces the "stranger danger" myth. There obviously are men trolling for children on the internet and on the city streets, but the actual instances and circumstances of proving a sexual violation with a child are much more difficult for prosecutors, police and CPS officials to prove. "How does an investigator prove intent or motivation? Can a crime have more than one motivation? Can we determine motivation from the offender? We know offenders are more reluctant to admit sexual motives than other types of motives (e.g., profit, revenge, anger, power). Does the offender always know his motivation? Potential ways to address this problem will be discussed later in this publication" (Center For Missing and Exploited Children, 2010). The motivations for violating children is as varied and broad as the types of children violated. It is not a simple offender/victim scenario, and this is likely to come to light as the Jerry Sandusky case becomes more public. 

The Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports that:
  • Approximately one in seven youth online (10 to 17 years-old) received a sexual solicitation or approach over the Internet. 
  • Four percent (4%) received an aggressive sexual solicitation — a solicitor who asked to meet them somewhere; called them on the telephone; or sent them offline mail, money, or gifts.
  • Thirty-four percent (34%) had an unwanted exposure to sexual material — pictures of naked people or people having sex.
  • Children revealed 27% of these episodes of unwanted exposure to sexual material to a parent or guardian.  Children reported 42% of the distressing encounters – episodes that made them feel very or extremely upset or afraid – to a parent or guardian.

  The Center for Missing and Exploited Children also reports that "the sexual victimization of children is overwhelming in magnitude yet largely unrecognized and under-reported. Research indicates that 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 10 boys will be sexually victimized before adulthood" (Center For Missing and Exploited Children). That figure is staggering if true. But, as we have seen in the above paragraph, "sexually victimized" is a very broad term. That can span from unwanted attention from adults to child pornography, child prostitution, molestation, rape, and sexual harassment and stalking. The NY Times reported recently that a high percentage of students, grades 7 - 12 reported being sexually harassed in school. "Over all, 48 percent of students surveyed said they were harassed during the 2010-11 school year. Forty-four percent of students said they were harassed 'in person' — being subjected to unwelcome comments or jokes, inappropriate touching or sexual intimidation — and 30 percent reported online harassment, like receiving unwelcome comments, jokes or pictures through texts, e-mail, Facebook and other tools, or having sexual rumors, information or pictures spread about them" (NY Times, 2011). This is not to confuse the issue of sexual harassment and sexual victimization, as defined by the CFMEC. It is instead, meant to demonstrate that there is a spectrum of sexual impropriety which is affecting generations of young people. And this says nothing of the age of sexting, wherein some young people are being charged with child pornography charges. 

If there is one bright spot in my sickening expose of child sexual abuse, it is this - child sex abuse is not the greatest threat of abuse facing our young people. The unfortunate statement to be made is that it is actually neglect by primary parents which is the biggest problem for young children in all 50 states. According to a Child Maltreatment 2009 report, neglect was by far the largest problem facing children. The data was collected and analyzed by the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS), which is a database for law enforcement and child protective services. According to the 2009 report, powered by NCANDS data:  

People reporting sexual abuse: The three largest percentages of report sources were from such professionals as teachers (16.5%), law enforcement and legal personnel (16.4%), and social services staff (11.4%).
Anonymous sources (8.9%), other relatives (7.0%), parents (6.8%), and friends and neighbors (4.9%), accounted for nearly all of the nonprofessional reporters. 
Children must commonly abused: Victims in the age group of birth to 1 year had the highest rate of victimization at 20.6 per 1,000. Children of the same age group in the national population.
Victimization was split between the sexes with boys accounting for 48.2 percent and girls accounting for 51.1 percent. Less than 1 percent of victims had an unknown sex.

Most common types of maltreatment: More than 75 percent (78.3%) suffered neglect;
More than 15 percent (17.8%) suffered physical abuse;
Less than 10 percent (9.5%) suffered sexual abuse; and
Less than 10 percent (7.6%) suffered from psychological maltreatment.

Most common offenders: Four-fifths (80.9%) of duplicate perpetrators of child maltreatment were parents, and another 6.3 percent were other relatives of the victim; Of the duplicate perpetrators who were parents, four-fifths (84.7%) were the biological parents of the victim;
Women comprised a larger percentage of all unique perpetrators than men, 53.8 percent compared to 44.4 percent; and

Four-fifths (83.2%) of all unique perpetrators were between the ages of 20 and 49 years.

This figures, while helpful at a glance, only give the most obscure picture of child maltreatment in the United States. If you wanted to look at outcomes of reporting of child sexual abuse by state, you could. The U.S. Health and Human Services has a lot of data online in reports and interactive web sties that allow for users to select and aggregate their own data. For example, I wanted to compare the rates of child abuse amongst five states. I chose Arizona, Arkansas, California, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Ohio and Texas to look at across the board. What was interesting (to me) was to see how varying types of abuse were reported for each state. No two states seemed to share a common thread of abuse or neglect in 2009. 

Alabama Arizona Arkansas California Delaware  Florida   Illinois     Ohio      Texas
Emotional abuse 0.4 0.6 1.2 16.2 32.0 1.3 0.1 6.0 1.0
Medical neglect 0.0 N/A 7.3 -- 1.1 2.1 2.1 1.4 3.2
Neglect 36.5 69.8 61.7 76.9 41.4 49.3 68.1 43.7 78.5
Physical abuse 47.7 25.0 18.1 10.6 17.5 9.8 20.7 34.4 20.5
Sexual abuse 22.7 8.8 22.0 6.9 7.5 4.4 15.0 17.8 9.1
Other 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.1 8.7 52.5 0.0 0.0 0.0
Missing data 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0

The state of Florida had the highest rate of emotional abuse reporting with 32, compared with Arizona who had a reported emotional abuse of 0.7.

The state of Arizona had the highest rates of physical abuse reporting with 47.7. Ohio came in a distant second with a number of 34.4.  Arizona had the highest rates of sexual abuse reporting with 22.7.
And no state came in higher (in my sampling) than Texas for neglect at 78.5.

But what do these statistics mean? The HHS report notes that all of these instances of abuse are highly under-reported and this is merely the best data that we have to go on. The actual rates of neglect could easily be higher in another state if we had a more complete picture, but that is only possible when people report what they see and hear for investigation.

It would seem from the debacle at Penn State and the fallout which is ensuing, that the worst thing that you could do is to know that child abuse of any kind is occurring within your sphere of influence and fail to act. Early reports indicate that Joe Paterno's long and storied career at Penn State could easily be upended by his failure to report the child sexual abuse to the authorities at the time, although he did report the incidents to his superior as soon as he heard about them. Penn State University and their football program are no doubt learning the hard way, the realities which smacked the Catholic church a few years ago and continues to be a problem - it's not the crime that gets you, it's the coverup! 

Falsely reporting child abuse of any form is a very serious crime which carries very serious penalties up to $5000 fine and jail time. At the same time, if you or someone you know has been a victim of child sexual abuse, then you can report it. The Center For Missing and Exploited Children has a "push to talk" feature on their web site which will allow for you to confidentially report a sighting of child abuse. They also have a toll-free Hotline: (800) THE-LOST (800-843-5678) which you can call 24-hours a day. 

And the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has the following hot-lines which you can call at any time to report abuse to receive help: 

Child Abuse
Childhelp's National Child Abuse Hotline
800-4-A-CHILD (800-422-4453)

Child Care
Child Care Aware
Domestic Violence
National Domestic Violence Hotline
1-800-799-SAFE (800-799-7233)
TDD 1-800-787-3224
Runaway Youth
National Runaway Switchboard
National Human Trafficking Resource Center
National Human Trafficking Resource Center

Child sexual abuse and sexual violence cannot be completely eradicated, but there are actions which we can take to help prevent it from happening again in the future.


  1. With this child sexual abuse, What is needed most is a cure for the pedophile. With our past/present laws, nothing seem to be working which protects our innocent children and their rights to live a safe life, Today,more kids are missing, kidnapped, abused or found dead and nothing seems to be working. The pedophilia seems to be increasing each year as well.
    The government may have to reopen some of the hospitals and place the pedophiles there till they find a medical / physical cures which can help them live safely in society around innocent children. This sounds terrible but in the past, the people who were a danger to innocent children or had an incurable mental diseases, They had to be kept under constant medical supervision. 24 hours a day. Studies were conducted on how to help/cure them, medicines were prescribed on how to help them best, In time they could return and live safely in society, Many mental diseases were cured enough for people to return home and live a normal life. While it's terrible our kids are abused, it's also terrible pedophiles cannot find cures for their disease and the child abuse continues When the pedophile finds a cure, it protects our kids as well and both can live safely I think our society is too sex based as well, porn TV, Movies and they should clean this up too and see if it helps. I'm sure all these sexual images trigger some people with abnormal cravings and mental images and are kids are an outlet for this..

  2. Thank you for pointing out that female caretakers are a huge danger to many children.

    Also, that neglect is far more common than abuse is rarely understood.


Please be kind with your words. I have no intent to offend or ridicule with my blog. I will take into serious consideration, anything which is brought to my attention.