“The lady helped me put my handprint on the wall with all the others. Mine was pink. The lady said something like ‘You put your handprint here to show that you got your voice back’. Back then, I thought getting my voice back meant getting justice, too.”
Child Abuse Awareness Month last year was painful. I saw the pinwheels planted for the abused children. I saw the handprints of the abused children on the walls of the advocacy centers. I heard a lot of concerning statistics such as that 1 in 10 children will be abused before the age of 18; 95% of children know their abuser. I heard a lot about educating children so they will report if they are being hurt. I heard a lot about getting adults and mandatory reporters to do the right thing and to report.
What I did not hear one word about is what happens after a report is made.
- I didn’t hear that most reports of the rape and sexual assault of children are not prosecuted.
- I didn’t hear that nationally there is a 29% arrest rate that DROPS to 19% if the child is under 6 years old. (Source)
- I didn’t hear anything about what happened to the children the 300 pinwheels represent after they reported.
- I didn’t hear anything about all the missing pinwheels of the hundreds of children that reported but either did not get a ‘true finding’ or those that had the ‘true finding’ overturned by a horrific appeals process.
It hurts to know your child was betrayed by the very system most supposed to protect them. It hurts to know that in a month supposed to bring awareness to your child’s pain, they are betrayed again – forgotten and ignored. It hurts driving around town all month watching the pinwheels spin while my child that stays awake at night from night terrors never had a pinwheel representing her because even though she did what everyone told her to do, she was not defended.
I know I’m not the only one that hurts. I know my daughter is not the only one that hurts. Because I know that statistically, most children that reported did not get justice. It hurts every time ‘child sexual abuse’ is in the news. It hurts every time an advocacy center posts how many children came in that month. It hurts when there is a ‘child sexual abuse’ conference or when the advocacy centers host their yearly events; because NO ONE talks about this. It is not okay that no one is telling these children’s stories. It is not okay that no one is telling the truth about what happened to these children. Because not telling the whole story is misleading, only benefits abusers, and keeps us from addressing the real problem.
Not telling what really happens when a child reports is misleading to everyone.
Children’s advocacy centers are in good faith bringing children in and helping them. The handprints on their walls represent a sacred memorial to the children the advocacy center has stood with, listened to, and provided critical services for. The advocacy center makes the unbearable a little more tolerable. But that’s not the whole story. Because walking into an advocacy center also means walking into the doors of the justice system. What I Didn’t Know The Day We Walked Into The Justice System, explains what I didn’t know the day we first walked through those doors.
The truth is our justice system is not prepared to handle reports of the rape and sexual assault of children unless there is a confession. Even with a confession though, the abuser will likely get a plea deal with a greatly reduced sentence or no prison time at all. Nationally, an arrest in a child sexual abuse case is rare. If the handprint of every child not defended had their handprint crossed off, what would the walls of the advocacy center look like? Or, if the handprint of every child that had their abuser believed instead of them had their handprints scratched off the wall?
Every handprint represents a child unbelievably harmed. Every handprint also represents an abuser. The whole story tells what happened to the child AND the perpetrator. The whole story tells:
- Was the child protected and defended?
- Was the abuser stopped?
- How many reports last year lead to a conviction? prosecution? plea deal? or even arrest?
- How many perpetrators unknown to us were left free to harm again in our community because a child was not defended?
The children not believed and defended deserve to be a part of Child Abuse Awareness Month too. The children without a pinwheel because their abuser was believed – not them. The children now in the statistic of children who reported but not in the statistic of those confirmed. Child Abuse Awareness Month needs to bring awareness to the whole story – the truth and the reality these children have to live with every day.
Not telling the whole story only benefits the abuser that is likely already manipulating the system to their advantage.
I always thought that if a child discloses something as horrific as rape or sexual abuse, the child is, of course, defended. Well, I was very wrong. The truth was shocking. Shocking to hear that only 1-2% of the colorful hands on the wall of the advocacy center had their case even sent to prosecution. Shocking to hear my daughter’s counselor say that only 3 of the 150 children she treated had their cases sent to prosecution. Shocking to learn that most reports of child sexual abuse do not result in a conviction, prosecution or even an arrest.
You didn’t hear any of that during the Child Abuse Awareness Month though. We heard there were 35,000 calls to the state’s child abuse hotline; 977 reports in our county; 353 confirmed. So that means 353 children were defended and their abuser stopped, right? Does that mean 624 reports were found NOT true/confirmed? This is a shockingly high number considering research proves children do not lie about abuse.
If the child is telling the truth, perpetrators are arrested, right?
What are we to think when someone we know is accused but not arrested or prosecuted? Well, we think something else must be going on then, right? If all those pinwheels represented children that told the truth, and there were that many ‘false’ reports, then if this report was true the accused would be arrested, right? As impossible as it is to believe child sexual abuse happens, it would be just as impossible to believe an abused child would not be defended.
The abusers use this to their advantage and can now claim they were falsely accused. Abusers manipulate the very system meant to protect the child to abuse them again and to keep harming. Read The Consequences of A Child Not Defended. Children not defended by the system deserve for people to know the truth. Most reports do not result in an arrest. Not every child that came forward and told the truth has a pinwheel. Pinwheels do NOT mean a child was defended. Perpetrators sure know this, and they use it to their advantage.
Not telling the truth leaves us ignorant and keeps us from doing something about it.
Advocacy centers need to tell not just the number of children that came forward. They need to be able to tell the whole story of what happened to the child; the number of children that were or were not defended. They need to be able to tell the truth and acknowledge the pain of the many children they see being more hurt by the system than helped. They need to tell if their highly trained skills are not being used to prosecute an abuser.
Advocacy centers are there to help a child heal from the abuse. They are not there to help a child heal from the abuse caused by the system. Advocates say they are trained to tell a child that it doesn’t matter what happens legally; the child should just be proud they told and focus on healing. But it DOES matter. It matters a lot.
It matters if that child is not defended and put back in the care of their abuser. It matters to the child fearful everywhere they go that they might run into their abuser. It matters a lot to the child lying awake at night wondering what other child is being abused by the perpetrator and feeling guilty that they were not able to stop it from happening. It matters to the child whose family is now torn apart because many took the side of the abuser and called the child a liar. You can hear Sarah describe this in her own words – click here. All of these things happen all the time. It matters.
Telling a child to come forward but not defending them is another form of abuse. Reframing something bad as something good feels very much like what the abuser was doing. It’s not okay.
- Advocates need to be able to advocate for the child not be a shield for the system causing more harm.
- Police need to be able to tell the truth of the hours and risk taken to investigate the accused to only see the case not go to prosecution, or a sexual assault charge be reduced to a misdemeanor and the person they spent so much time to investigate be let go free.
- Prosecutors need to be able to tell the truth about not being able to get a jury to back them up and having to put a child through trauma with the process because defense attorneys are given the freedom to emotionally abuse a child and call it due process.
None of these professionals in these jobs want to watch someone that raped a child walk away free. But, if less than a fourth of reports result in an arrest, WHY is no one talking about this? We can’t change what we don’t acknowledge.
Children deserve the truth
I constantly see advocacy centers reporting how many children came forward that month. But those numbers really don’t mean anything if we don’t bring awareness to the whole story of those children. The numbers are misleading. What happened to the confirmed cases? What happened to the not confirmed or overturned cases? Abusers know what the statistics are, and they are using the system to their advantage. We tell how many children left their handprint, but we don’t tell how many named abusers walked out without even being fingerprinted.
We honor survivors by honoring the truth they are living. We are not ‘giving hope’ by withholding the truth. Telling the truth gives hope because you acknowledge and unify with the pain of the survivors. You stand up and say this is the way it is, and it’s NOT OKAY. We as a community deserve accountability and transparency from our legal systems. Legal systems deserve to be empowered to handle these cases so that every handprint represents a child they were able to protect.
Shine hope – give the truth
If we are going to ‘shine hope’ then we need to give the truth. It’s not okay to turn Child Abuse Awareness Month into fun children’s activities when so many children are living in the reality of their pain. It’s not okay to only focus on the harm done by the abuser but not the harm done by the system that was supposed to protect. It’s not okay to focus on hope unless we’re also focusing on what needs to be changed so that every child that takes the ultimate risk to walk into the justice system doors is believed, protected, and defended. Children deserve the truth. They don’t deserve to be more hurt and forgotten in a month meant to honor them.