By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
While the mainstream media continues to sensationalize child sex abuse in the Church, the scope of the problem extends far beyond churches.
According to Susan Nielsen, associate editor of the Oregonian, the real shocker about child sex abuse isn’t that it involves so many clergy – but that the majority of the cases don’t involve churches.
“At least one in five girls and one in 10 boys experiences unwanted sexual touching or other sex abuse, based on federal data and research cited by the National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,” Nielsen writes. “Most of the bad actors in these cases are not priests or pastors. They are stepfathers, family friends, fathers and neighbors.”
Even worse, she says, is that “the majority are never held accountable.”
Traditionally, about 90 percent of victims don’t speak out for a variety of reasons. One reason is that it takes years for victims to outgrow the idea that it was somehow their fault. By the time they do, they’re teenagers or young adults, an age where most are not ill-prepared to take on the person who abused them. And because so many cases involve family, another threat to coming forward is the risk of losing other family relationships. If it was a coach, or pastor or teacher, other social relationships might suffer.
“Staying quiet is a rational decision,” Nielsen writes. “So is eventually speaking up years later, whether in a counselor’s office or a lawyer’s conference room.”
The alternative is to pay the price with compromised health and troubled relationships.
“Depression, anxiety, fear, post traumatic stress, trust issues, body image issues, relationship problems, suicide attempts — the list goes on,” says Kristi Kernal of Beaverton, a co-founder and board member of OAASIS, Oregon Abuse Advocates and Survivors in Service.
Nielsen believes the scandal in the Catholic Church in America is waning, with 2009 finding the lowest number of new allegations since 2004, according to the U.S. Bishops Conference. Even though the scandal was terrible for the Church and the faithful, the upside is that it is drawing the public’s attention toward a serious problem and helping to prevent further crimes by talking to children about abuse and lifting some of the fog of shame.
“This change may help the church recover and renew itself,” she writes. “More important, it will help victims — including the silent ones everywhere – to slowly heal.”
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