Child sex abuse ‘serious and pervasive’ throughout all US society

child sex abuse

Child sexual abuse in the United States is at epidemic levels.

More than 60,000 children are reported to have been abused every year, outnumbering those killed by guns or cars.

Those who survive are often left not only with physical wounds, but also with psychological wounds that may never heal.

These wounds exact both a profound personal and social cost.

Much attention has been focused on the issue of child sexual abuse and the Catholic Church, and rightly so.

Allegations of abuse by clergy and church workers as well as cover-ups and bureaucratic mishandling by bishops, dioceses and religious orders have caused terrible pain for survivors of such abuse and their families.

It also has resulted in disillusionment on the part of ordinary Catholics.

The cost of this abuse and its aftermath totals more than $4 billion so far, according to the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Child and Youth Protection.

Every one of the accused priests in the Pennsylvania report was either deceased or had been removed from ministry. Only two priests had been accused of abusing a child in the last 20 years.

While the Catholic Church continues to struggle with this legacy, it has instituted a wide variety of steps to improve oversight, identify abusers and protect children.

One under-reported fact from the recent, highly publicized Pennsylvania grand jury report is that for all of the many horrors it identified, the good news was that it appeared to document the decline in current cases.

As Jesuit Fr. Tom Reese told America magazine in its Dec. 24 issue, every one of the accused priests in the report was either deceased or had been removed from ministry, “and only two had been accused of abusing a child in the last 20 years.”

More than 60,000 US children are reported to have been abused every year, outnumbering those killed by guns or cars.

During these same 20 years, however, an estimated 1.2 million children in this country were abused nationwide in schools, organizations, churches and families.

Understanding the plague of sexual abuse in this country means going beyond the immediate headlines and understanding what experts are saying about this scourge.

It also means looking not only at the Catholic Church but at all institutions and societal structures where abuse can take place.

So far, no grand jury, congressional committee or law enforcement organization has undertaken a broad societal investigation of what is happening to children in public or private schools, in sports and other youth-oriented programs and organizations, in pediatric facilities and perhaps most common, in families. (In Australia, a Royal Commission investigation of child abuse in nongovernmental organizations took five years.)

“Sexual victimization of children is a serious and pervasive issue in society. It is present in families, and it is not uncommon in institutions where adults form mentoring and nurturing relationships with adolescents, including schools and religious, sports and social organizations,” said the John Jay report issued in May 2011 on “The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010.”

“If you want to talk about sexual abuse of minors, you’re talking about families, foster care programs, public schools,” New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan said in a recent Sirius XM interview.

“You’re talking about organizations, every religion, you’re talking about public schools — it is a societal, cultural problem. There is no occupation that is freed from it.” Continue reading

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