Sexual abuse in childhood is far more common than most people realize. Since the New York Child Victims Act went into effect last August, more than 1,300 victims have come forward, filing lawsuits under the Act’s one-year window of time for pursuing justice. And that number likely represents only a small fraction of adults who were sexually abused as children.
While many of those claims involve abuse that happened years or even decades ago, child sexual abuse remains a widespread problem. According to The Advocacy Group, a staggering 1 in 3 girls – and 1 in 5 boys – experience sexual abuse before the age of 18.
Reversing those statistics requires addressing the all-important question, Why? How can such abuse take root in modern society?
There’s no easy answer, but many factors contribute.
Perpetrators are smart (and sneaky)
Sex abuse rarely involves a stranger snatching children off the street. Most perpetrators are known to the victims. In fact, they’re often respected members of the community, holding trusted positions of authority. They’re neighbors, priests, pastors, teachers, Boy Scout leaders, friends. They have daily contact with a broad group of children. They select and groom their victims carefully, choosing those who are least likely to raise the alarm.
Organizations don’t take accusations seriously
Understandably, victims are often scared to come forward, particularly when they’re young. And those who do speak up often aren’t taken seriously, which further compounds the abuse. History is littered with examples of powerful institutions actively covering up abuse allegations to avoid damage to their reputation.
As long as victims don’t feel safe coming forward, such abuse will continue to smolder behind closed doors.
The courts are often closed to survivors
For complex reasons, survivors of childhood sexual abuse frequently don’t forward until years or even decades later. Unfortunately, most states have strict deadlines that prevent survivors from filing civil lawsuits against the organizations and institutions that harbored their abusers. In essence, the courts are closed.
Thankfully, the New York Child Victims Act addresses that issue. It opens the courts to survivors for a limited time, allowing them to finally seek the justice and accountability that are long overdue.