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Why Does Sexual Abuse Go Unreported?

In most instances of sexual abuse there is a common component: trust. The victim is manipulated by someone in a position of trust. Usually victims of sexual abuse know their abuser. Reportedly, upwards of 86% of all victims of child sexual abuse were abused by someone they knew. Most involve situations when the victim is manipulated into sexual contact, rather than being forced or threatened with physical harm. Occasionally, threats to others is used to manipulate the victim, such as threats to sabotage school records or performance or actions that will be taken against loved ones.

Frequently Known by the Victim

Because the perpetrators are frequently someone known to both the victim and the victim’s family, seeking help from parents, siblings or other family members is difficult. Parents may simply refuse to believe that Billy is being sexually assaulted by his baseball coach at out-of-town tournaments.

Organization Cover Ups

Many organizations cover up an abuser’s prior history of abuse. The history of abuse within the Catholic Church has only recently come fully into the light, and along with it, the history of concealment. These such efforts are not unique.

Most allegations are made by children with perceived limitations in perception and perhaps honesty. Therefore, organizations are seldom fully confident that a report of sexual abuse is legitimate. Accordingly, abusers can frequently get away with multiple incidents, even if reported.

Churches, rather than acknowledge the incidents, may simply transfer a pastor to a new, unsuspecting congregation with a stern warning to the pastor of, “Don’t let this happen again.”

Least Likely to Suspect

Sexual abuse is nearly always committed by the last person one would expect. Sexual predators look like everyone else. They coach little league, teach, operate day care centers, act as youth pastors and serve as leaders in youth organizations such as the Boy Scouts of America. In fact, no one looks like a sexual predator. As a result, children fall victim to people who look and seem trustworthy and credible. This is how the wrongdoer gets away with it. None of us willingly leave our children with someone we suspect is a sexual abuser.

Steven is a 13–year old 1st Class Boy Scout, dutifully climbing the ladder all the way from Cub Scouts. Harry, the assistant scout master, has been at Steven’s side throughout his progress. While on a camping trip, Steven is alone one night in his tent, as his expected companion was home with the flu. Harry crawls quietly into Steven’s tent, snuggles up next to him, and silently starts to fondle him. This progresses to future campouts, and although Steven now shows an increasing distaste for such trips and continually asks his parents if he can quit scouting, his parents keep reinforcing the benefits of scouting. Harry now manipulates the other scouts so that Steven consistently has a tent of his own at campouts.

Associated Stigma

It is the stigma that attaches to even allegations of abuse that becomes one of the very barriers to reporting.  Once someone is called a “rapist”, can he/she ever escape such an allegation even if innocent? Righteous anger of the alleged abuser plays into this recognized stigma. In short, it is this very stigma and the potential that an allegation is false, that stands in the way of protecting children and punishing the truly guilty.

Emotional Barriers

Victims are scared and rarely report abuse themselves. They are afraid of reprisal from a host of sources, most of whom may be difficult for outsiders to understand. Victims fear their abusers but may even have an unhealthy and hard-to-understand affection for their abuser. Hence, it may be difficult for a victim to ever report abuse.

Attempts to report to parents, school administrators, and the like, may be dismissed as unbelievable. Why, Coach Smith is such a fine and upstanding fellow, how dare you impugn his character?

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