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Treating Child Sexual Abuse: Advice for Parents July 30, 2005 1:03 PM

by: Joan Tabachnick

So many of us are willing to hide from the reality of child sexual abuse, to hope that it won't happen again, and then end up simply waiting until it is too late and another child is hurt. Yet there is hope and help available.

Consider this circumstance: a child is abused at a very young age. As he gets older, he acts out his anger by abusing another child. This child who has abused, was finally placed in a specialized treatment program for adolescents who abuse children, but will soon be released from that residential program not because he has successfully completed treatment but because he will be considered an adult at the age of 18. His parents want him to stay in treatment so that he does not act out again and hurt another child. His parents want him to learn how to control this anger and how to stay safe so that he does not hurt himself or anyone else. But his current program does not treat children over the age of 18. Would you know where to turn?

First, it is important to remember that there is hope. There are others around the country that will take in young men and women who have abused and need help to live in a community again. If the young adult is just turning 18, many youth programs accept them up to the age of 21 if the intake is taken before the age of 18. There are also other residential programs around the country for adults of any age who have sexually abused children. The first step in finding a program near you is to have a complete psychosexual assessment of the youth to determine what he needs at this point in his treatment. If you have already had an assessment, you may want to call the Safer Society Foundation, Inc. in Brandon, Vermont. The Safer Society has the only database of treatment programs in the country and can give you a referral to a treatment program that addresses your needs in your part of the country. If your treatment provider cannot call, you may call them directly at (802) 247-5141. The referral line is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 1:00 to 4:30 PM (EST).

One of the most difficult parts of getting help is to acknowledge the problem. Like other addictions, if you ignore the problem for years, it becomes much more difficult to stop the behaviors and heal. Children and teenagers can benefit most from our willingness to identify a problem and get help for our children.

Research shows that this is a treatable condition, especially when it is identified at an early age. I want to emphasize this point for other parents who see sexual behaviors in their children that are not appropriate to their age. Seeking help at an early age will help the child who is "acting out" and prevent the sexual abuse of another child. If parents have concerns about the sexual behaviors of their children or want to know more about age appropriate sexual behaviors, they can call our organization STOP IT NOW! VERMONT at (802) 247-0105 for an informational brochure "Do Children Sexually Abuse Other Children?" For parents who want to talk to staff confidentially, they can call our toll-free helpline at 1-888-PREVENT on Mondays through Fridays from 1:00 - 5:00 PM (EST).

Researchers agree that in 30-50% of the reported cases of sexual abuse, the abuser was under the age of 18. With national studies showing 700,000 cases of child sexual abuse each year,we know that many of the abusers were children in loving families. One organization working on public policies to ensure that our young people are given a chance at treatment coupled with accountability for the crime is the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers. This national organization provides information and research information about people who sexually abuse others. They can be reached at (503) 643-1023.

At a recent public forum sponsored by STOP IT NOW! a parent explained "My older son sexually abused my younger son. I reported the abuse so we could all get help. We are healthier and closer than we've ever been. I encourage parents to do whatever is necessary to identify and stop the cycle of abuse now." Another mother told us that she wished this parent would write a book about how she had the courage to turn her own 14 year old son into the legal system to get the treatment he needed. We believe it is time to shift the responsibility of talking about this from our children's' shoulders to our own. It is critical for every adult in the situation to begin speaking about child sexual abuse and breaking the silence. We encourage everyone including adult survivors, recovering sex offenders, parents of victims and the parents of sexually abusing youth to speak out about this issue. In response to parents talking about their isolation, STOP IT NOW! is developing a newsletter for parents of sexually abusing children to share their stories and provide support to each other about how to keep their children and our communities safe. Any parent wanting more information about this newsletter should call the STOP IT NOW! VERMONT office at (802) 247-0105.

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