How Do We Prevent Sexual Abuse of Minors? – Is the Responsibility of Parents or Teachers?

My stomach churns at the mere concept of an innocent but vulnerable youngster being a sexual sick and twisted target of an older individual’s sexual sick and perverse fantasies as an Early Childhood Educator. A common but surprisingly shocking reaction I heard from educators while discussing the topic of preventing child sexual abuse was “It’s the parents’ obligation to do that.” The thought of youngsters in foster care who don’t even have parents made my heart sink to the depths of the ocean. Those in the system who are being violated behind closed doors need to be reached by whom?

Compared to children who have both biological parents, foster children have a sexual abuse risk that is ten times higher. So, in a system where they are already forgotten, these children are left behind if prevention education is left solely in the hands of parents. What about those children who are raised by a single parent and a live-in girlfriend or boyfriend? These children are particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse, with a 20-fold increase in the likelihood of abuse compared to those who live with both of their biological parents. The worst-case scenario is a family in which neither parent received adequate training nor resources to protect their children from abuse and neglect. It is not just the responsibility of parents to teach their children about the dangers of child abuse, but it is also the educator’s duty.

As educators, it is our duty to provide assistance to the families of the children entrusted to our care, and this includes supporting the children’s academic as well as their social, emotional, and mental development, all of which can be harmed by long-term sexual abuse. Look at the comments of a little girl whose father had been abusing her sexually. As a young girl lying under my sheets, “you took away all of my innocence and left me dead inside.” “I’m broken, I’m just a shell of what I once was.” The teen committed suicide at the age of 17 because of the long-term effects of the maltreatment. How can we claim to be educators if we teach about everything but the prevention of child sex abuse?
One subject that is rarely broached in the classrooms, despite the fact that it impacts a large number of students. When they reach the age of 18, 1 in 4 females and 1 in 6 boys have been sexually molested. In the United States, there are presently 42 million people who have been abused as children. How can we just stand by and do nothing while children we claim to care about are abused?

Whether we like to admit it or not, there are children in our schools who have been sexually abused in the past, are now being sexually abused, or who may be subjected to further sexual abuse in the future. In light of the high suicide incidence among victims of sexual abuse, why not educate something that could potentially save a child’s life?

While she should have been playing hopscotch, going to the playground, making lifelong friends, and having sleepovers laced with late night girl discussion, Erin Merryn was unable to do any of these things at the time. She had a life-changing experience at a friend’s sleepover. A friend of a family member began sexually abusing her, and she was abused for many years by this person. When they first met, he said, “This is our little secret and if you tell anyone, no one will ever believe you.” She will never forget those words. It wasn’t made public until she was 13 years old. Unfortunately, after the abuse with this individual ended, another person began sexually abusing her for years. What if Erin’s school had a Child Abuse Prevention class? If the abuse was still going on, would Erin have kept that a secret for so long? Erin would have known what to do after the first unforgettable and frightening violation if prevention was taught in schools like other drills such as fire drills and lockdown drills. One of the few, Erin Merryn, survived what had been done to her and set out on a mission to make child abuse prevention a required course in schools across the country. In my opinion, it is beneficial for parents to teach their children about child abuse prevention, but I also believe that it is the educator’s role to step in for those children without parents or whose parents refuse to do so for whatever reason.