What would you do to protect a single child from sexual abuse?

When our communities have the tools that they need we can prevent child sexual abuse. Child sexual abuse is 100% preventable. There are things that we can all do to make that possibility a reality if we are willing. It is adults’ responsibility to ensure kids grow and develop in a safe and healthy environment. There are common sense solutions that can help.

  1. Train adults and kids in healthy relationships and boundaries
  2. Give school administrators the needed support to make sound hiring decisions
  3. Support victims’ ability to receive justice and identify their abusers

Prevent Child Abuse Iowa advocates for policies that would require school employees to receive training on child sexual abuse prevention. This training helps educators identify warning signs and stop sexual abuse before it happens. It also keeps the responsibility of protecting kids where it belongs—on the adults in their lives.

Our teachers are undeniably busy. A vast majority of teachers want to be able to identify and interrupt these behaviors before abuse occurs. Teachers in Iowa want the same access to this valuable training that their colleagues in three neighboring states already enjoy.

Prevent Child Abuse Iowa Advocates for legislation that would bring transparency and accountability to school hiring processes. Giving administrators a clearer picture of an individual’s professional history of working with children before they bring them into their schools and communities. Giving employees the ability and protection to provide accurate and complete references in good faith to future employers. Stop any potential problems from occurring again in another community rather than just passing it along.

Our administrators and schools do their best to make sound hiring decisions with the information that is provided. When employers can not or will not share important information about inappropriate behavior for whatever reason it passes on a problem to a new community putting kids at unnecessary risk.

When it comes to the expense, the cost of prevention pales in comparison to the societal cost of child abuse. A 2018 study estimated the lifetime cost of abuse at $280,000 per victim, or $326,000 today.  Last year’s founded abuse cases come with a price tag of $256 million for society—not including the incalculable emotional cost to each child whose story is contained in that number.

Prevent Child Abuse Iowa advocates for policies that would eliminate the civil statute of limitation for sexual abuse, meaning that a victim who comes forward in adulthood may never receive justice. Providing individual victims of abuse with a way to seek justice and our courts needed tools to identify abusers and prevent them from continuing to abuse new victims.

In a recent example, it was reported that a woman, whose father plead guilty providing her with enough alcohol to lose consciousness then rape her when she was a child, was attempting and unable to sue him because of the current Iowa law preventing her to do so since she did not attempt such legal action before her 19th birthday. Despite their being legislators on both sides working to address this issue, multiple laws that we presented last legislative session did not have enough support to pass.

Good policy is critical to preventing abuse, but it’s only one part of the solution. Individually, it’s up to all of us to step a little outside of our comfort zones and take actions that will help protect children.

  • Communicate: Talk to kids about sex and relationships. It might feel awkward, but when we do, they’re more likely to recognize an unsafe relationship and talk to someone they trust.
  • Use Correct Terms: Talk with kids about bodies and use anatomically correct terms like penis and vagina. It might feel uncomfortable, but when we do, children have the words to communicate their own boundaries and tell someone before a problem escalates.
  • Speak up: Speak up when the behavior of a child’s family member or trusted adult concerns us. It might be difficult, but when we do, we create safe environments where children can thrive.
  • Contact your Legislator: Call a legislator or a school administrator to ask them what they are doing to prevent child sexual abuse. It might be intimidating, but when we do, we communicate our shared priorities and hold our leaders accountable for protecting the next generation of Iowans.

Child sexual abuse is uncomfortable to think about, even harder to talk about, and worse still for a child to experience. According to the Iowa Department of Human Services, there were 799 confirmed cases of child sexual abuse in 2021. Because this number makes up only 4% of the 19,000 confirmed abuse cases last year, it’s tempting to believe that child sexual abuse isn’t a big problem in our state. It’s easier to avoid the discomfort of talking about it, and easier to believe it’s not happening in our own communities.

Decades of research show that the number of reported cases does not reflect the true prevalence of child sexual abuse. The CDC reports that 1 in 4 girls, and one in 13 boys, will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday. This type of abuse is especially difficult to detect, report, and prove. There is seldom physical evidence, and the abuser is almost always someone the child or family knows. Children may hesitate to talk about what’s happening to them because the abuser may be a relative or close family friend. Because of these unique challenges, the average age victims report—if they ever do—is 52 years old.

The good news is that child sexual abuse is 100% preventable. While there is no magic fix to immediately end abuse, there are steps we can take as a state to protect our children – but only if we’re willing to do so.

There has been progress in Iowa. While we applaud any steps toward keeping children safe, most recent efforts have focused on responding to the abuse after it happens. children are better protected by stopping boundary-violating behaviors before they escalate into abuse.

It’s easy to assume that child sexual abuse is not happening, and it’s uncomfortable to accept the reality that it is. Fortunately, there are things each of us can do to make a difference. The things we do matter to the children in our lives, children across the state, and children of generations to come.

What would you do to protect a single child from sexual abuse?