The public's general reaction to a case of child sexual abuse probably goes something like this: "The adult who did that is evil and should burn in hell."
Such a response is understandable, but abusers tend to be smart--and that can make it extremely difficult to intervene in child sexual abuse cases.
That was the take-home lesson from a conference recently that featured several experts in one Midwestern state. The event took place as the Missouri Task Force on the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse is focusing on solutions to a problem that has made headlines since the Jerry Sandusky case broke at Penn State last November.
All of this resonates with your humble blogger because the conference was in Springfield, Missouri, my hometown. I can't remember ever hearing about a case of child sexual abuse when I was growing up. But now my old neck of the woods apparently has a significant problem with it. From The Springfield News-Leader:
Mark Webb became Marionville police chief after retiring from the Springfield Police Department.
Although Springfield has far more than its fair share of child sex abuse cases, Webb said he was shocked to find the proliferation of child abuse in the more rural area where he now works.
Is child sexual abuse becoming more and more of a problem in the countryside? The Missouri experts have seen evidence indicating the answer is yes:
The more (Webb) thought about it, the more it made sense. Perpetrators were picking small towns and rural regions.
“They go to these areas because they know there’s no law enforcement and what there is is very limited in their ability to investigate,” Webb said.
“Their risk of being apprehended, these guys, they know the risk is minimized. They’re out there with the police they might hang out with at the coffee shop.”
That goes back to what experts have learned about child abusers--they can be crafty and elusive. From the News-Leader:
The truth of the matter is, many adults who prey on children for sexual gratification are smart.
They know where they’ll be trusted. They know who will look the other way.
They know the kids who won’t tell.
Sexual abusers tend to be someone close to the child, often within the family. From the News-Leader and Barbara Brown-Johnson, executive director of the Springfield Child Advocacy Center:
Parents are the vast majority of perpetrators of sexual abuse against children, Brown-Johnson said. That’s because trust is the primary tool of a sexual predator who seeks children, and children are born with a certain amount of faith in their parents.
But it’s also common for others to build bonds with families to prey on the children. The term is called grooming, and often the parents are groomed right along with the kids.
The Sandusky case has brought child sexual abuse to the nation's front pages, and it has become a frequent topic on our blog. We have seen evidence that Sandusky persistently groomed his victims, even while they were on the Penn State campus, and we have followed similar cases from around the country over the past six months or so.
I have many fond memories of growing up in Springfield, Missouri. I can't imagine a better place to have been a kid. But that was in the 1960s and '70s; it doesn't sound as if Springfield is quite so idyllic for many kids now.
That is sobering to learn, but it's encouraging to know that professionals are making a serious effort to root out the evil of child sexual abuse that has taken root in my hometown. Perhaps that will help lead victims, parents, community leaders, and others to speak up when they see signs of a child being victimized--not only in Springfield, but across the country.