The scandals rocking the Roman Catholic Church have brought new awareness to the issue of child and adolescent sexual abuse. Across the country, child advocates, prosecutors, police and medical experts say the intense spotlight will likely speed along a growing movement to treat all young victims of abuse with more sensitivity. They also say they expect that more victims may feel comfortable coming forward - and that now is the time to improve the ways young victims are treated.
Child advocates say the treatment of victims varies greatly state by state, according to the laws in place, and community by community, according to the people charged with protecting children and how well they coordinate with each other. "Our concern is that child victims are being lost in the process," said Anne Lynn, project director of the Northeast Regional Children's Advocacy Center at Philadelphia Children's Alliance. Most efforts are focused on getting doctors, child advocates, prosecutors, police, psychologists, and clergy to create a community response that makes sense from the victim's point of view.
Child advocates, police, prosecutors, doctors and clergy in every town can talk about what they've learned from the Catholic Church scandals and how they are changing the way they investigate sexual abuse crimes and care for young victims.
Why it matters
The societal costs of child sexual abuse are immense. Studies show that child sexual abuse can lead to criminal behavior in adulthood, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, high-risk sex, spousal abuse and eating disorders. Better treatment of children and adolescents who have been sexually abused and more effective preventative measures could reduce the financial and societal costs to communities.
Skip to sources in your region
• Allison Turkel, senior attorney with the National Center for Prosecution of Child Abuse, which is part of the American Prosecutors Research Institute in Alexandria, Va.. She cites several ways that the Catholic Church's problems may affect all child sexual abuse cases: It might help the overall jury pool if more people are informed about the issue. If the public can believe that priests can abuse children, they may be more likely to believe that fathers or grandfathers or other trusted adults can, also, she said. Judges might be more likely to allow subpoenas and search warrants to be served on the Catholic Church or other institutions. It could draw clergy into being better advocates for children in their communities. She cautions, however, that the Catholic Church cases are not typical; most cases of child sexual abuse occur in the home. Ms. Turkel is featured on a webcast about handling child abuse cases. Contact 703-549 4253.
• Information on the societal costs of child abuse.
• The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that more than 100,000 children were sexually abused in 1998.
• Statistics on the impact of sexual abuse on children are available on Dr. Nancy Faulkner’s web site.
In your region
State by state
• The National Children's Alliance lists hundreds of member organizations in 49 states across the country.
• The National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information offers a state-by-state look at child abuse statutes. It also offers contact information for state chapters of Prevent Child Abuse America.
• The National Association of Child Advocates lists member organizations in nearly every state.
• The American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children, a group of social workers, psychologists, attorneys, physicians, nurses, researchers, law enforcement officers, and protective services administrators. The group's aim is to make sure everyone affected by child abuse and maltreatment receives the best possible professional help. State chapters are listed here.
In the Midwest In the Northeast
• Bernardine Dohrn, director of the Children and Family Justice Center at Northwestern University, specializes in children's rights and the law and juvenile justice and welfare, 312-503-0135, firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Julie Pape, project director for the Midwest Regional Children's Advocacy Center. As part of the National Children's Alliance, this office encourages a multi-agency approach to prevention, investigation and treatment of child victims of sexual abuse throughout the Northeastern United States, 888-422-2955, MRCAC@childrenshc.org.
• Michigan Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, 517-347-7000.
• Minnesota Center Against Violence and Abuse.
• Interfaith Sexual Trauma Institute in Minnesota.
• Dr. Ann S. Botash, Department of Pediatrics, State University of New York, is an expert on child abuse treatment and prevention, email@example.com.
• Anne Lynn, project director of the Northeast Regional Children's Advocacy Center at Philadelphia Children's Alliance in Philadelphia. As part of the National Children's Alliance, this office encourages a multi-agency approach to prevention, investigation and treatment of child victims of sexual abuse through the Northeastern United States. Call 800-662-4124 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
• David Finkelhor, sociology professor at the University of New Hampshire, is considered one of the nation's foremost experts on child abuse, 603-862-2761, David.Finkelhor@unh.edu. • The New York State Child Advocacy Resource and Consultation Center promotes multidisciplinary responses to child sexual abuse. Brooklyn office, 718-330-5457, Syracuse office, (315) 488-3116 or email email@example.com. • Massachusetts Citizens for Children.
• Connecticut Voices For Children.
• Rhode Island Office of the Child Advocate.