“Can I Help?”

I’m breaking my own rule again and writing about things I see on the news.  On Monday, May 6, 2013, three women were rescued from a house in Cleveland, Ohio from which they were being held captive.  Few details have been discussed yet about what happened to these women during their ten plus year incarceration, but one of the women did come out of the house with a little girl.

Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michele Knight.  These are names we all need to remember.  They need to be engraved on our collective conscience just as Jacy Dugard and Elizabeth Smart have been.  We need to remember them just as we do Shawn Hornbeck.  (I’ll admit, even living in St. Louis when Shawn Hornbeck was found, I couldn’t remember his last name.)

I used to believe that children who were kidnapped were held in dirty houses or closets and abused incessantly.  From what I’ve learned in talking to people who were kidnapped and got away, this is often true.  Often though, children are forced into child sex trafficking.  These children are seen as disposable.  Their families may never forget them, but the people who took them, sell them and buy them give no thought to who they could have been.  The pimps see them as a profit and the people who buy them see them as an object.

While it is my hope we never forget the names of these children who have been found, it might do us all a little good to consider those whose names we don’t hear or remember.  There are thousands of children who are kidnapped and do not return.  The stark reality is that often we do not ever even hear their names.  If they are local, we may hear about them briefly, but then they drift into the background and we hardly ever give them another thought.  Here’s the link to The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. There are international sites as well.

We try to convince ourselves that the only thing we need to fear is stranger danger.  All of these children named above were taken by people they did not know.  We try very hard to convince ourselves that the danger is out there – lurking in the bushes, hiding in the shadows and no one that we know would ever do anything like abduct and rape a child.  That is the sugar coated pill we all try to choke down.

Statistically, this is completely untrue.  As stated on D2L.org, only 5% of children are sexually abused by strangers.  Here are some other statistics from Darkness to Light which are helpful to know.

  • Family members commit 39% of the reported sexual assaults on children (Snyder, 2000).
  • 56% of those that sexually abuse a child are acquaintances of either the child or the family (Snyder, 2000).
  • Only 5% of sexual abuse is perpetrated by a stranger (Snyder, 2000).
  • The younger the victim, the more likely it is that the abuser is a family member. 50% of those molesting a child under 6 were family members. 23% of those abusing a 12-17 year-old child were family members (Snyder, 2000).
  • 34% of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by juveniles. In fact, 7% of sexual abuse is perpetrated by youth under the age of 12 (Snyder, 2000).
  • The younger the child victim, the more likely it is that the perpetrator is a juvenile. Juveniles are the offenders in 43% of assaults on children under age 6. 14% of these offenders are under the age of 12 (Snyder, 2000).
  • Homosexual individuals are no more likely to sexually abuse children than heterosexual individuals.\ (Jenny, et. al., 1994).

In connection with these statistics, here are some other names I would like you to remember.  Jennifer Carmer Phelps, Rachel Komlo and Jackie Lawrence Gutschenritter.  We all survived childhood sexual abuse and rape.  We were all abused by people that we knew.  These are people I know who have survived to tell their harrowing tale of abuse.  Some of our offenders were criminally charged, but most of us never experienced that and kept our hidden secrets buried deep with in us.

We were all groomed to be quiet.  We were groomed to comply and not rock the boat. We struggled with depression, addiction, poor self-image, lack of confidence, relationships that were not good for us and sometimes abusive, mental illness, and so many things we were not expected to survive.

Somehow, though, we did survive.  In my opinion, we have become pretty amazing people.  We have all also chosen to speak about our abuse.  It is no criticism of other survivors who do not speak out; this is just what we have decided to do.

And we have all decided to be happy.  This is also no criticism of people who can never get to that point.  Sometimes, it is too much of a struggle to get to that point and the fear and pain are too great and the help to get there is too inadequate.

So, I offer this challenge.  It is easy to see the stories on the news and be happy.  I am ecstatic that Amanda, Gina and Michele were found.  When you can, watch the news for the joys and the tragedies.  Get a book by a survivor of sexual abuse, whether they were kidnapped or abused by someone they knew.  Once you’ve been able to read a survivor’s story, get to know one.  You won’t have to look nearly as hard as you think.  We’re everywhere; and we all have a story to tell, especially to a willing, listening ear.

What you hear will break your heart, but it will also lead you to a story of survival through unimaginable pain and silence.  I hope it gives you hope and encourages you to dream big.

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