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home : opinion : perspectives

4/6/2017 9:00:00 AM
Bringing child sexual abuse to light

Recently, I read about two individuals -- actress Jane Fonda and WNYT-TV's Jason Gough -- recounting their experiences with sexual abuse as children. I admire the strength and courage they showed in speaking out about their experiences, as it is a difficult subject to talk about.

Their stories are things we hear about on a daily basis at St. Catherine's Center for Children in Albany. The majority of children we serve in our residential program have suffered some sort of sexual abuse. Often, this is the primary reason they are taken from their parents. This is the harsh reality with which our children suffer.

A 2014 article from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry claimed there are up to 80,000 reports of sexual abuse each year. But the article also points out that a far greater number of incidents go unreported because children are too afraid to come forward.

Child sexual abuse is a problem that breeds in secrecy, so simply speaking openly and publicly about it will enhance efforts at prevention.

The psychological impact of child sexual abuse can be significant. It is not unusual for a child to develop post-traumatic stress reactions. Children who have suffered multiple traumas and received little parental support may also develop depression or an anxiety disorder.

At St. Catherine's, we see a number of different reactions from our children who were sexually abused. Some are scared, shy and do not want to talk. Others are angry and aggressive, demanding answers and wanting revenge.

Their ability to trust adults to take care of them may also be jeopardized. Sadly, when children do not disclose sexual abuse and/or do not receive effective counseling, they can suffer difficulties long into the future.

On the other hand, children who have the support of an understanding caregiver and effective treatment can recover without long-term effects.

Child sexual abuse should not be a taboo subject. It is a serious tragedy that anyone could have experienced, whether they are one of Hollywood's most celebrated actors, a local weatherman or a child at St. Catherine's Center for Children.  

The horror, pain and memories of abuse in children can have severe effects. Pain, anger, resentment and even guilt can linger in someone who has been sexually abused. Some are able to rise above it, like Ms. Fonda and Mr. Gough. But if they do not receive proper treatment, there can be psychological damage that will affect the child for the rest of his or her life.

At St. Catherine's, we have seen both ends of the spectrum, so we know how imperative it is that the subject be brought up and dealt with properly at the hands of professionals and experts who can help with the healing process. Do not be afraid to speak out!

(Mr. Pindiak is executive director of St. Catherine's Center for Children in Albany, which offers human services for Capital Region children and families coping with abuse, neglect, mental illness, homelessness and trauma. St. Catherine's offers residential services for children, a homeless family shelter, a therapeutic foster care program, an elementary school for children with special educational needs, and community-based prevention services. See www.st-cath.org.)

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