To the Editor:
With the recent high-profile stories exposing sexual abuse and exploitation of children, many of us are incensed that this type of exploitation continues unabated. We are outraged at perpetrators of sexual abuse, yet how often do we really think about the victims – the loss of innocence, trust and control over their own bodies; the burden of potential lifelong mental health issues. With the recent disclosure of credibly accused priests in the Catholic Diocese and Jeffrey Epstein’s arrest for trafficking children, we have evidence of abuses that have occurred in secrecy, with others being complicit in covering up and/or engaging in the illicit activity.
The stories sensationalize the perpetrator and do not tell the full story in order to protect the victim’s identity and privacy. Yet the crisis is revealed in the victim’s story, which is what needs be told. Infants and toddlers are sexually molested – children irreparably harmed before they even have words to describe the assault. Pre-teen children and teenagers are sexually abused and the emotional trauma can make it difficult to find the words to tell others. Children carry the shame of sexual abuse despite it being the behavior of an adult perpetrator.
Sexual abuse is a difficult crime to prosecute. There is rarely physical evidence of an assault. Telling the truth can tear families apart and result in the child victim being ostracized by his/her family. The child can be blamed for the abuse. If the perpetrator is the breadwinner, the financial fabric of the family can be torn apart. Not all families are supportive of the child victim, which only compounds the trauma the child has experienced. For young people whose families believe and support them, the negative impact can be mitigated but not erased. A supportive family is a major factor in a healthy recovery from sexual trauma.
Regarding the children who are lured into trafficking, many have sexual abuse or trauma histories and are searching for a sense of belonging. Traffickers take advantage of this need and indoctrinate the children into their “families.” Youth who are tricked and seduced into the “life” may feel that the traffickers give them what others don’t; love, affection, a sense of belonging and material things. The exploited youth often do not recognize trafficking as abuse. There is a price to pay for being a member of the “family.” The price is being sold to fulfill the sexual whims of (primarily) adult males. The young people trapped in this life begin to believe that their worth as a person is tied up in being a sexual object.
For over 30 years, St. Mary’s Home for Children has been honored to alleviate the emotional pain of those we serve, assist in repairing family relationships and help children develop the coping skills and resources they will need to be successful. We have always admired the strength and resilience of those we serve, respecting their ability to find hope, healing and light. It is their story that deserves to be understood.
Carlene Casciano-McCann, LMHC
St. Mary’s Home for Children