When silence is not golden

Before you read this issue, I dare you to pick up the phone and call your mom. Ask her if anybody in your extended family has been sexually abused. I bet that if you can get a straight answer, eight out of 10 of you will get a “yes.” You might not get all the gritty details, but you’ll finally find out that a child in your extended family was sexually abused.

For some of you, the answer won’t just be a confirmation that abuse happened, but that it happened repeatedly to multiple people–”your cousins, nieces, nephews or even your own siblings.

I don’t know the answer in my own family, but I have my own suspicions based on the level of dodging and weaving my mother executed when family member A or B offered to take us somewhere or to baby-sit. “The girls are asleep” or “They’re too tired” or “They don’t do sleepovers.” Not everyone can be trusted with your kids, sometimes not even your own family.

The level of sexual abuse throughout the nation is rampant, and possibly even more so in black communities. In this issue’s cover story “Safe at Home?” reporter Jeff Kelly Lowenstein digs into the calls placed to a special hotline set up by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. He found that black kids were the subject of most of the calls in Cook County. And just 20 percent of those calls statewide were found to be valid. This continued to resonate with me after I read an article with a curious title: “What will future generations condemn us for?” The story was about the criminal justice system and care for senior citizens, but it could be applied to this issue, too.

So, what will our future generations say about our response to child sexual abuse?

They’ll ask whether black families were discriminated against because they were subjected to the most investigations and because the vast majority of those allegations were proven false.

They’ll wonder why enough wasn’t done to overcome cultural barriers to report the sexual abuse of Asian children. The number of cases among Asians is believed to be underreported.

They’ll say that we cut jobs knowing it could result in greater abuse. DCFS officials complain that their staff reductions have made it harder to complete investigations on time. Personally, if DCFS thinks it’s going to cut abuse by cutting staff, they’re mistaken. Though the number of child sexual abuse allegations has remained relatively constant, the number of investigators available to handle the calls has steadily declined since 2007. The end result has been an increase in the number of cases each investigator must handle. And in some instances, investigators don’t meet the required 60 days to complete investigations.

Not all the blame rests on the government. Families are at fault, too. The veil of secrecy is smothering. Whether because of shame, doubt or disbelief, our families protect offenders and discredit the victims. Did it really happen? Are you sure? But when the truth is revealed, families are slow to rally around victims.

Families need to be an empowering place, taking a stand against abuse as strong as it is against racism, throwing an arm around victims as if someone is slamming on the brakes, spreading awareness as fast as gossip and getting offenders help so that the next unsuspecting victim won’t be your child.

Comments are closed.