We need to talk about child sex abuse

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category icon Columns, Opinion

By De Stewart, Guest Columnist

Childhood sexual abuse — it’s not a topic that most people bring up at the dinner table, but it should be.

Statistics vary among reporting agencies but according to the National Center for Victims of Crime, one in five girls and one in 20 boys are victims of childhood sexual abuse.

While it may feel safer to believe that it is the stranger on the street, in a store or at the park who is the perpetrator, statistically we know that approximately 94 percent of the time the victim has a close relationship with their abuser; they are current or former partners, siblings, other family members or family acquaintances.

The consequences of childhood sexual abuse are too dire to be ignored. Victims may experience challenges such as lower self-esteem, anxiety, depression, substance abuse disorders, self-harming behaviors, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as well as an increased rate of suicide.

Childhood sexual abuse thrives on secrecy. We need to tear down the walls of secrecy and talk about prevention. We need to normalize the conversation around safety and body integrity. We need to talk about it at the dinner table and with family members and friends. But, most of all, we need to talk about it with our children.

For the past four years, YWCA Clark County has been offering a four-week bystander intervention workshop series for parents and caregivers to learn how they can keep their children safer from sexual abuse. I am proud to be one of the workshop facilitators. During the workshop series parents and caretakers learn how to: recognize the grooming behaviors of perpetrators, effectively intervene as bystanders, talk to their children about healthy relationships and talk to their children about healthy sexuality in developmentally appropriate ways.

Participants in the workshops have shared the following comments: “The program was so helpful to address and offer tools for dealing with uncomfortable topics and acknowledging how these are not easy for parents to talk to kids about” and “It raised awareness of things to look out for that are red flags.” Finally, “I have power to take action, and I am responsible for helping my children learn to be safe and protect them by advocating for them.”

YWCA Clark County Sexual Assault Program relies heavily on volunteer advocates who act in a variety of ways, from providing support for our hotline to medical advocacy during hospital forensic exams or what are commonly known as “rape kits.”

I first became involved with YWCA Clark County as a volunteer in 2013, and wanted to make a difference in the lives of survivors of sexual assault. Volunteers are highly trained, undergoing at least 30 hours of accredited training before becoming an advocate.

The program is looking for volunteers who want to make a difference. If this is something you feel drawn to, please contact Laurie Schacht at YWCA Clark County by calling 360-906-9116 or emailing

In 2015, I was hired as an advocacy specialist within the Sexual Assault Program. I’ve worked in a variety of capacities — from facilitating support groups to providing medical advocacy during forensic exams to legal advocacy for cases that are prosecuted. Perhaps the most rewarding role, though, has been that of prevention education for parents and caregivers of young children.

Too many people, both men and women, can identify with the #MeToo movement that has shed light on widespread sexual assault and harassment. Too often, the beginnings of this assault occur in childhood.

My mission is to help parents and caregivers tear down the walls of secrecy, and help them with the tools they need in keeping their children safer from childhood sexual abuse. I am excited to facilitate our next Where We Live workshop, which begins Monday, June 4. Those interested in signing up for the free workshop, can contact me, De Stewart, at YWCA Clark County by emailing or calling 360-906-9151. Interpreters can be made available upon request.

Children are precious and deserve every opportunity for promising, healthy futures. Breaking the silence around childhood sexual abuse can be a giant step in helping children thrive.

De Stewart is an advocacy specialist with YWCA Clark County Sexual Assault Program. The program’s mission is to reduce the trauma of sexual assault by providing nonjudgmental support, information and referrals for victims/survivors who have experienced sexual assault at any time during their lifetime.