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Kelly Brevig: The importance of reporting suspected abuse

“Why should I get involved?” “It’s none of my business.” “I’ll probably make things worse.” “I’m sure I’m over-reacting, I’m reading too much into this.” There are many reasons we don’t speak up when it comes to other people’s problems. Getting involved in someone else’s business can be risky, and downright scary, but if we don’t step in, will anyone? April is both Child Abuse Prevention Month and Sexual Violence Awareness Month. It is the optimal time to learn how to cast those fears aside and help those who need it most, our children.

Statistics tell us that one in four girls will be the victim of sexual violence before the age of 14. One in six boys will also fall victim of sexual violence before they are old enough to drive a car legally. Native women and girls are sexually violated at a rate of 2.5 times higher than their non-native peers. With statistics so high, we have an obligation to be on guard to protect those around us. We have an obligation to step in (safely) and speak up for our children. We have to be a voice for those who are being silenced.

Mandated reporters are people in our community that have regular contact with vulnerable individuals such as children, disabled persons, and/or senior citizens that are legally required to report abuse if it is observed or even suspected. Teachers, child care workers, medical and therapeutic professionals and even some volunteers are among those expected to report even the slightest suspicion of abuse. What about the rest of us? While we may not be in a position of having to be a “mandated reporter” by law, we have a moral obligation to share our concerns about others with social services and even with law enforcement.

Typical “body safety” presentations teach young children that our bodies are special and no one has the right to touch them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable. We often talk about the “icky” feeling we get in our tummies when something just doesn’t seem right. We teach young children to “tell a trusted adult” if someone touches or hurts them, and to “keep on telling” until someone finally listens. The irony of “body safety” presentations is that we are expecting 4-, 5- and 6-year-old children to protect themselves from sexual violence. Considering that the majority of child sexual abuse comes from a “trusted adult,” we are asking quite a lot from such a vulnerable population.

The questions we need to be asking, are “How can we allow this to happen in our community?” and “How can we make a difference and speak up for those without a voice?” We can start by making it our business. We can make reports to Social Services and even to law enforcement if we feel that a child is in potential danger. It is not our job to investigate crimes, but rather to report our suspicions to those who can help. Social service agencies were created to help families and protect children. They have a difficult job and can only help when those of us brave enough speak up and report that “icky feeling” we may have about a child’s situation.

In order to “Move Upstream” and stop sexual violence before it starts, we have to be vigilant. This April is the perfect time to renew our commitment to our children by promising to speak up when we need to, to demand change for our environment, and make sexual violence obsolete. For more information on how to intervene safely, please contact Support Within Reach Sexual Violence Resource Center at 444-9524.