Secrecy surrounds the sexual abuse of children. Kids are often too scared or ashamed to tell an adult that they've been molested. In fact, it's estimated that only one in 10 children reveal when they are victims of sexual abuse.
That's why when children tell someone they're being abused, adults need to listen and take appropriate action – and report allegations of sexual misconduct to law enforcement.
It's not uncommon for parents or caretakers to want to deal with the alleged abuser privately and keep it within the family. This is the wrong way to deal with the problem. That's because the child won't be adequately protected from the abuser in this scenario. The perpetrator could also go on to molest other children.
Children who have been sexually abused also need professional therapy, something they likely won't get if the problem is swept under the rug.
Some parents are even skeptical of their child's claims of abuse - especially when another loved-one is being accused. But children, especially young children, tend not to lie or exaggerate about the details of sexual abuse.
Parents or caretakers may also be reluctant to contact law enforcement because they fear that doing so will subject the victim to more distress.
While this concern is understandable, the system is more sensitive than ever about protecting a child from further trauma. Contra Costa Health Services, the county health department, and its partners make sure kids are treated in a coordinated and compassionate way. Local law enforcement agencies refer cases of abuse to our sexual assault response team, which includes doctors and forensic nurse examiners specially trained to deal with young victims.
Many victims end up at the Children's Interview Center, a place where kids alleging sexual abuse can tell their story in a safe environment. When children arrive at the CIC, they're met by a victim's advocate who guides the child and family through the interview process.
The goal of the CIC is to get all the information needed from the child in just one interview. This prevents kids from having to repeat their story over and over, which can be upsetting. The victim is interviewed by a trained forensic interviewer. The CIC records the interview while representatives from law enforcement and Children & Family Services watch from a viewing room. Victims also may be sent to a specially-trained pediatrician to conduct a medical evidentiary exam.
Kids who have been abused usually need professional counseling to cope with the emotional and psychological trauma they've suffered. In Contra Costa, we offer therapy for victims and their families to help them process the confusion, shame, fear and anger they may feel. This therapy is usually covered by public funds available for victims of crimes.
Discovering that a child is being sexually abused is devastating. But things can get better if a parent or caretaker do the right thing once a child reveals the abuse. The road to recovery for victims of abuse only begins when they get the professional help they need.
Dr. Carpenter is a pediatrician at Contra Costa Regional Medical Center who specializes in dealing with survivors of child abuse.
Healthy Outlook is written by the professional staff of Contra Costa Health Services, the county health department. Send questions to series coordinator Dr. David Pepper at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more health information, go to www.cchealth.org.