Van Beek: Sexual abuse and children | VailDaily.com

Van Beek: Sexual abuse and children

Imagine this …

You’re in bed and it’s almost morning. You begin thinking about the day.  You’ll be meeting new people and you’re excited about all the many things that will be happening today. What will you wear? It will be an amazing day!

Then the door creeps open. Your heart sinks. You decide to pretend to be asleep. Then the covers are lifted and an all-too-familiar, heavy weight is upon you. Hands are everywhere. Underwear is pulled down and there is heavy thrusting. You’ve learned to think about other things; it helps to take your mind off of the regular visits. You know to just keep quiet and soon it will be over.

A few minutes later, the door closes. You’ve been warned not to say anything, or things will get really bad. You get up and clean off, trying to get your mind back on this great day ahead. You put on your best clothes and run out the door, so as not to be late. You arrive, just in time to hear … “Welcome, class, to third grade.”

It’s never easy to discuss child sexual abuse. With the Jeffrey Epstein case dominating the news, I wanted to cover this very sensitive element of abuse that is often overlooked. There is no such thing as sex with underaged women or underaged men … it’s sex with children and no one is immune to the dangers. With online predators, or worse, vulnerabilities with a trusted adult, the situation is a silent threat across all communities. 

According to Crimes Against Children Research Center, one in five girls and one in 20 boys are sexually abused by age 18. While it is a difficult topic to discuss, we must be reminded that our communities are safe, but only because we are aware, and make a conscious effort to protect one another. 

Sexual abuse is not just the stuff of headlines, and it can happen to both girls and boys. The Epstein case simply highlights that those who appear reputable can be sexually abusive, and yes, even to children. Sadly, many of these cases cannot be prosecuted because the victims are too scared to testify, and often, they worry that they won’t be believed, or worse yet, that they somehow deserve it.

Looks can be deceiving

We often stereotype an abuser, which almost gives a free pass to those that don’t fit the expectation. These behaviors cross all barriers — economic, cultural, age, gender, professions. It can happen anywhere, even in Happy Valley. The most tragic is discovering that it is within a family, perhaps from someone you trust implicitly, which becomes their ticket to do as they please with little inhibition.

Online predators are the hardest to spot, especially with children. They engage their victims through games and chatrooms, usually disguised as another child. Parents assume it is an innocent interaction, not realizing they just let a child predator indirectly into their home. It usually begins with fun chats about the game, then moves into more personal information about school, friends, and family. 

Predators exploit vulnerabilities the child expresses, causing the child to question the love and loyalty of those around them, redirecting it toward their new best friend, “the only one who truly cares.” They become the child’s secret confidant and ultimately the in-person invitation is extended.  It is always a secret meeting with specific instructions. Sadly, it is often the last time the child is seen. 

Warning signs

How do we recognize sexual child abuse? 

According to the organization, Child Molestation Victims, many of us are not aware of the warning signs of sexual child abuse. We sometimes discount certain behaviors as simply exposure to inappropriate movies or video games from an older sibling, but that misconception is what the abuser counts on to provide them cover. 

The three main types of sexual abuse in children are, touching, non-touching, and exploitation. Touching is obvious and will sometimes be disguised as a game. Non-touching can include viewing pornography, live or on film, or exposing private areas. Exploitation may involve taking pornographic images or videos or at the extreme, soliciting a child for prostitution. 

Some signs of abuse may include physical signs, but also, unusual fear, excessive crying, eating disorders, sleep disorders — too much or too little, behavior regression, being overly clingy or dependent, anxiety, bedwetting, nightmares, social withdrawal including family, friends, or favorite activities, aggression towards others, depression, academic decline, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts, and other uncharacteristic behaviors. 

Of course, sexual abuse is not limited to children, and in Eagle County alone, we have had over 500 sexual abuse cases since 2009, from inappropriate fondling to rape, from young children to adults. In pornography cases, it is often difficult to identify the perpetrators, making prosecution difficult. This is why being aware and not staying silent is so critical. You may be saving a life. 

Finding help

If you are concerned, contact anyone in law enforcement, they will get you help; if urgent, 911 will get an officer out immediately. We have trained specialists who will work to bring victims to safety, regardless of age or gender or circumstance. 

Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453)

Prevent Child Abuse America: 1-800-CHILDREN (1-800-244-5373)

James van Beek is the Eagle County sheriff. You can reach him at james.vanbeek@eaglecounty.us.