Some atrocities are so repugnant, that we are loath to even think about them, let alone utter the words. Rape of children is an unspeakable atrocity. Child sexual abuse is a crime that thrives in a climate of silence, secrecy, and shame. Unspeakable! It is so horrible that the victims — some so young that they haven’t yet learned to speak — are burdened with a physical and psychological trauma that robs them of their innocence, their confidence, their vitality, their sense of self-worth, their happiness, their health, and sometimes, their lives.
So if it’s so hard for us to talk about it, how can we expect these young victims to be so brave?
Here are some facts that may shock you. One in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused, and 90 percent know their abuser. And these horrible acts are not just happening in someone else’s community. You’ll find child victims everywhere, in every single socioeconomic bracket, in every neighborhood. They are babies, three-year-olds, nine-year-olds, and 17-year-olds. These children are living in poverty, and living in luxury. They are being raped by teachers, coaches, scout leaders, priests, fellow students, family friends, and family members. The rapists are people who generally have power over the children; people the children are typically trained to trust. Often, they are people the kids thought were friends. Friends? The act is unspeakable. The perpetrators are predators. Rape and sexual molestation are criminal acts. We read about these stories in the news and squirm. But these are not made-up stories. These horrible things are the truth — and these unspeakable atrocities are happening much more often than any of us want to believe.
The children who have been raped run the gamut of our society, and they are scared into silence. Often, they feel isolated and fearful about what will happen if they tell. Can you imagine? They have a right to be afraid, because their attacker may threaten them with every nightmare imaginable. The fear of what else might be done to them or done to others they love stuns them into obedience, making them even more vulnerable. Children are easy targets — easy to manipulate, easy to humiliate, easy to bully, easy to scare.
This atrocity tears our social contract to shreds. How can we allow this to continue? How can we sit on the sidelines, silent — while we know this is going on?
I’m a rape survivor, and though I talk about it now, I was silent about it for years. I know firsthand how long it can take to reclaim some semblance of self-worth, vitality, and self-esteem after being brutally violated. I know how long it can take to feel safe again. And I wish it could have been as easy as taking a self-defense class, like Krav Maga, but trust me — those classes don’t repair the inside damage. When I was a rape victim, I didn’t have the benefit of psychological help, nor was there a program that taught the police how tointerview, not interrogate rape victims. In my case, the police were insensitive, and made me feel worse. Suffice it to say, I was re-victimized by the system, which is often how a rape and assault victim feels. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
While it may be next to impossible to prevent every case of rape and molestation, I’ll be darned if I’ll sit by silently and watch these children continue to suffer. The very least we can do as a society is provide a safe place where they can tell what happened to them — where they can heal, and begin to live again.
Stuart House is such a place. A nationally recognized model, it’s an extraordinary program of the Los Angeles Rape Treatment Center at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center, and a partner of the LAPD, and other law enforcement agencies, the District Attorney’s Office, and the Department of Children and Family Services. Its mission is to serve sexually abused children. At Stuart House, a child will see every professional she/he needs to see, and it will all occur under one roof. There are specially built, non-threatening child-sized forensic examining rooms, where evidence is gathered in the gentlest way, with the end goal of sending it to a criminal court. There are comfortable rooms with toys where children can relax and just be kids.
Stuart House therapists, social workers, police officers, and prosecutors treat the children with the kindness, gentleness, and respect they deserve. Stuart House helps the families deal with the trauma of knowing their child was raped, and helps them navigate the justice system. Stuart House helps their young victims heal, and protects the rape victims from more harm.
Stuart House in Los Angeles is a beacon of light, safety, and healing for these violently wounded, frightened children and their families, and that’s why Viola Davis and I are Co-Chairing The Rape Foundation Capital Campaign to expand Stuart House. We’re raising money to build a larger building so we can help even more children and their families. It’s heartbreaking that we need such a place, but as I mentioned at the onset, one in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused. We must take care of them.
One father, the parent of a 13-year-old, had this to say about Stuart House:
When our daughter was raped, every strength my wife and I had established over three decades of marriage — and the raising of our three children — was marshaled in the battle to bring our daughter back from the brink, and rescue her from the terror and loneliness into which she had disappeared. Stuart House understood the scope and urgency of that battle and, in times of our deepest despair, they stepped up and fought it for us. They gave our daughter her life back, and they gave her back to us. That is the gift of Stuart House.
Please help us do something vitally important for children who need us now. Call us, (310) 451-0042 or visit us online. www.therapefoundation.org