April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. It is a time when our country normally turns its attention to recognition of a problem that affects far too many young children and teens every day during the year. According to experts, victims come from all walks of life and no definitive profile of offenders exists. Child abuse is a scourge that often lives beneath the surface in everyday American life, out of the sight of most people. Yet the depth and breadth of childhood abuse has far-reaching and long-lasting effects upon victims.
But with COVID-19 invading neighborhoods across the nation, America’s attention is elsewhere this month. As residents are being ordered to stay home, children are being confined to the very places where they often undergo abuse. A recent OPB article reports that Oregon’s Department of Human Services is seeing a dramatic (72%) decline in child abuse reports coming into their statewide hotline in just the past month. This is sad news for Oregon’s victims because they are not attending settings where they can safely disclose ongoing abuse. Disclosures often take place to trusted adults and mentors in schools and other youth-serving organizations. Unfortunately, with the COVID-19 virus in town, victims are unable to reach out for help.
Restore Hope is a Gresham nonprofit dedicated to halting child sexual abuse (CSA) and helping survivors heal. The organization, which celebrates its 10-year anniversary in June, delivers on that mission through community interaction and education, according to Founder and Executive Director Pam Congdon. Their work includes facilitating Darkness to Light’s nationally-recognized, 5-step child safety training known as Stewards of Children©. Congdon takes protecting the safety of children under 18 very seriously.
The organization offers online educational brochures on the signs and symptoms of abuse and how adults can react responsibly to abuse suspicions or disclosures. Newly-created videos featuring three local CSA experts offer compelling stories and insights into the special challenges sexually abused young people face. The resources, along with survivor assistance information and links to regional child-supporting organizations can be found at www.restoretheirhope.com.
“This is a problem that is buried below many people’s social awareness, like cancer was 100 years ago. For there to be real progress reducing the incidence of abuse, we must educate and openly talk about this issue like we now do with cancer,” says President Eric Jones. He reports there are currently 42 million CSA survivors in America, compared with 15.5 million cancer survivors in 2016. Statistics indicate that one in four girls and one in six boys will be abused before they reach 18, Jones says, adding those numbers vastly underreport the problem. “Most survivors never report their abuse due to personal trauma and feelings of guilt and shame,” he says. Jones is author of a book written for survivors, My Climb Toward Healing from Child Sexual Abuse. “The best practice for CSA prevention is education and bringing the subject of abuse out of darkness and into the light,” he states.